LEWISTON — Late in the day Wednesday, Laura Faure found a sunny spot on a bench in the courtyard at the Bates Mill Complex, pulled her knees up underneath her and reflected on her long tenure as director of the Bates Dance Festival and what lies ahead.

Faure, among Maine’s most respected arts leaders, is retiring from the festival at the end of this year. The festival will honor her and its late founder, Marcy Plavin, with performances by longtime festival favorites Friday and Saturday at Schaeffer Theatre at Bates College. Friday’s performances are dedicated to Plavin, who died last fall. Saturday’s program honors Faure, who has directed the festival for 30 of its 35 years.

Through her work at Bates, Faure, 67, has helped establish the festival as a destination for dancers and choreographers to refine, perfect and expand their skills, establish new work, and experiment with ideas and collaborations.

“We have created an environment that didn’t exist in the dance world and that is based in the democratic and egalitarian model that is Bates College,” Faure said. “The life of a dancer is a tough life, and what we offer is support and a safe space, and we’ve done that so successfully for a long time. We support artists through the arc of their career, and I am so proud of that.”

‘PASSION AND PERSISTENCE’

The dancers participating in this weekend’s performances reflect the festival’s long-term relationship approach to art making. All the dancers on the program have been here before – to study, teach or perform, and to use the concentrated time at Bates to develop new work. Faure hand-picked each of them to celebrate her retirement and the milestone of the festival’s 35th anniversary.

Among the artist alumni performing this weekend are Doug Varone, Bebe Miller and Larry Keigwin.

“I sometimes refer to Laura Faure as my dance mom,” said Keigwin, who has attended the festival 10 times over 25 years. “She has nurtured me as a young student and throughout my professional career. Being at Bates really feels like being at home.”

Varone said he feels “privileged to have been a part of Laura’s vision and the legacy that she is leaving behind. She has believed in my artistry from the very beginning and given me the time and opportunities to constantly grow.”

Linda Nelson, assistant director of the Maine Arts Commission, credited Faure for building the festival into an international destination for dancers, dance education and audiences who love dance.

“Her passion and persistence for supporting the advancement of dancers and the evolution of dance – often a smaller and more marginalized sector of the larger performing arts field – has had a major impact in that discipline and put Maine on the map for some of the world’s most acclaimed dancers and choreographers,” Nelson said.

‘A FIERCE ADVOCATE’

Aimee Petrin, executive and artistic director at Portland Ovations, was familiar with Faure and the festival long before she moved to Portland. The festival has a national reputation, and Faure is known as “a fierce advocate for choreographers and dance in its many forms.

There are many national and international dance-makers who count Laura as their personal champion. She is equally committed to supporting the next generation of dancers,” Petrin said.

Faure’s retirement will cause “a true shift in the field” because dance will lose one of its most vocal and consistent advocates, she added.

Faure will stay on the job until Nov. 30. Her replacement, Shoshona Currier, begins Aug. 15, so the two will work together more than three months, and Currier was on campus for a week this summer for a quick immersion.

Faure will teach Currier as much as she can, but it will be hard to pack 30 years of knowledge into three months, she said, and there’s no way other than experience to prepare for the day-to-day operation of the festival, when each day involves hundreds of details and variables. “I know it in my bones,” Faure said.

The festival has kept her busy – it’s been a good summer, with many sellouts – and Faure, only now, with the spotlight of the weekend drawing near, has allowed the reality of her retirement to surface.

She’s already been called on stage to be acknowledged, and the Maine Legislature issued a proclamation recognizing her career. Sen. Angus King sent along his regards, as well.

“I’ve been getting incredible letters, emails and messages from people,” she said. “This is my whole life and all my friends. It’s going to be weird.”

Faure, who lives in Portland’s West End, is unsure of her future. Other than traveling someplace warm this winter, she plans to stay in Portland and remain active in the arts community by being supportive and collaborative in whatever role emerges.

Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: pphbkeyes