March 10, 2010

Creating on the fly at Bates

— Most of us experience art in its finished form.

A symphony perfected by rehearsal. A painting informed by experience. A stage portrayal sharpened by direction and repetition.

The Bates Dance Festival in Lewiston, ongoing into August, is about the process of art. The festival brings together many leading contemporary dancers from around the world and gives them opportunities for collaborations and conversations. It gives them studio time to create and to teach.

Students come to Maine from around the globe to study with the leading edge of contemporary dance.

A public component of the festival presents itself in a series of performances, offering audiences the chance to see new works, hear from innovators and celebrate global culture.

''Bates has this marvelous reputation in the dance world,'' said Kate Weare, who brings her dance company to Lewiston for two weeks to teach, perform and develop new work.

''It's really known as an artist-focused festival,'' Weare said. Some of the others are audience-focused, and the producers at those festivals tend to choose work they know can sell. They're not necessarily looking to invest in a relationship long-term.

''Bates is different. I feel like at Bates, there is a different ethos, a different vibe,'' Weare said.

Laura Faure, the festival's director, has cultivated Bates' reputation by encouraging an environment that's responsive to artists and their needs.

Dancers such as Weare enjoy coming to Bates because of the work-first environment, and because Faure ''quite frankly is more knowledgeable about the way artists work in the studio. She has a fantastic reputation among artists, who love going to the festival,'' Weare said.

''Artists feel they can connect with one another at Bates, and build relationships that are not based on selling tickets and filling seats,'' Weare said. ''It's a very market-driven art world now, but at Bates, it's really about creating work.''

Weare arrives at Bates fresh from the New York season.

Her first week there, she worked with young dancers, mostly teenagers. She also used her studio time to generate new material with members of her company. The process is about experimenting, improvising and ''thinking out loud with my dancers,'' she said.

This wee, the second week of her residency, she will teach and perform publicly. Weare will give a free lecture-demonstration at 7:30 p.m. Monday at Olin Arts Center, 75 Russell St., at Bates. She'll talk about her work and demonstrate aspects of it for the audience.


At 8 p.m. Saturday at Schaeffer Theatre, 305 College St., also on the Bates campus, she'll perform the festival's opening concert. It's a prestigious slot, one occupied in recent years by Keigwin + Company and Rubberbandance.

''I like opening the season with an emerging company,'' Faure said. ''I see it as service to the field, to showcase a bright light, a young emerging company that is starting to get attention.''

Faure calls Weare's work ''smart and sophisticated, just really intelligent, very thoughtful and contemporary. Kate's work is small, and not flashy. Just four dancers, and Kate is one of them. It's very subtle and small in scale.

''But she makes work about the human condition and human relationships, which is an indication of where my interests are as festival producer. She does it astutely with a lot of craft and artfulness, in a small-frame way.''

On Saturday, Weare will perform two pieces: ''Bridge of Sighs,'' which she premiered in 2008 at Jacob's Pillow Dance in Massachusetts, and a new piece, ''Lean-to,'' which she premiered in New York in June.

''Lean-to'' is heavy on production values, with a sculptor-built steel set and a live orchestra. Weare wasn't sure how much of the set the Schaeffer Theatre stage would accommodate for Saturday's concert, and she was in discussion about pulling together a Bates-based orchestra. Lacking a live orchestra, she will perform with a recording.


Other performers at the festival include Robert Battle, whose company is known as Battleworks. Described as an ''aesthetically daring ensemble,'' Battleworks provides the most mainstream accessibility at the festival.

The company will host a lecture-demonstration at 7:30 p.m. July 13 at Olin, and fully staged concerts at 8 p.m. July 16 and July 18 at Schaeffer.

Tania Isaac Dance (8 p.m. July 24-25 at Schaeffer) falls into the emerging-artist category. She will perform ''stuporwoman,'' an operatic fairy tale about motherhood and parenting in the 21st century.

Tania Isaac Dance illustrates the festival's ability to support an artist. Faure became familiar with Isaac a few years back, before Dance Magazine named Isaac one of 25 to watch.

Faure traveled to Philadelphia, where Isaac is based, to see her company perform. She was impressed. ''I saw a real voice that I thought should be supported,'' she said.

Through the festival, Faure built a professional relationship with Isaac. To date, Bates has commissioned Isaac to create two pieces. Her return to Lewiston this summer confirms her commitment to the festival, to dance education and to creating new work, Faure said.

Also returning will be the Bebe Miller Company, headed by a mid-career artist. Miller has performed at Bates many times over the years, and will be back to teach and perform at 8 p.m. July 31 and Aug. 1. She'll also do a video talk about creating new work at 7:30 p.m. July 27 at Schaeffer.

Faure is proud of this year's festival. The lineup includes a range of artists, from new and emerging to mid-career and well-established. All are creating work that Faure finds interesting, and hopes others do, as well.

''This is art that addresses core issues in our society, and I want to share that with our audiences,'' she said.

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

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