More than 20 performers will participate in Netta Yerushalmy’s “Paramodernities” at Bates Dance Festival. Photo by Noor Eemaan, courtesy of Bates Dance Festival

LEWISTON — For 35 years, the Bates Dance Festival has drawn dancers and dance enthusiasts to Lewiston from across the country and across the world. In doing so, the festival on the Bates College campus has evolved into an important gathering place where choreographers and dancers can create work and try new ideas.

In its 36th year, the festival is making dramatic changes to its public performance schedule in hopes of building on what festival director Shoshona Currier calls “the good energy” that has infused Maine’s dance scene in recent years. This summer, the festival will compress most of its performances over two weekends in July instead of stretching them over five weeks in July and August, and Currier has arranged for a performance of a piece that explores issues of contemporary black queer life at Space in Portland as part of the First Friday Art Walk in August.

The idea behind the change is creating an energetic atmosphere with multiple events in a condensed period of time. Currier is using a $10,000 grant from the Maine Office of Tourism to expand the festival’s regional marketing with advertising in Montreal, Boston and Philadelphia. She hopes people in Maine come, too, and is banking on two “really loaded weekends with a lot of action during the week” to bring people out of the house to experience cutting-edge contemporary dance.

And for the second year in a row, there will be beer gardens.

“Go big or go home,” she said. “That’s the idea. To see if something like this works, you can’t go incremental. Let’s see if we can do this and let’s see if Maine can support a nine-day contemporary dance festival. I think Maine is ready for this, and I think our audiences who have been attending a long time will be excited for something different and something new.”

Performers from Doug Varone and Dancers are shown here performing from “In the Shelter.” Photo by Erin Baiano, courtesy of Bates Dance Festival

There are three clusters of performances – the kickoff weekend July 12; the four days from July 25-28; and the following weekend, from Aug. 1-3. There are events during the week in between, as well. With matinees and evening performances, the new schedule creates more access and opportunities for people from Lewiston and around Maine to see multiple shows in a single day, and it should make the festival a destination for people from around the region who are interested in contemporary dance. “We want people to come to Lewiston and see a few shows and spend time in our community and in Maine,” she said. “We view it as a sampler, where you can come and see as much as possible.”

The professional training component of the festival, targeting teenage dancers as well as professionals 18 and older, in still in tact and encompasses three weeks, with options for one-, two- or three-week classes, as well as a new array of drop-in options. Currier added more one-week classes and drop-in options to lure dancers from Portland and southern Maine who can’t commit to a full week or more.

Doug Varone, a choreographer and director who has performed and taught at Bates several times, is this year’s artist in residence, along with Nora Chipaumire, a Zimbabwe-born, New York-based artist who uses her art to challenge and embrace stereotypes related to Africa, the black body and aesthetics. She’s a 2018 Guggenheim fellow and three-time Bessie Award winner, which recognizes excellence in New York dance.

Joanne Kotze performs this summer at Bates Dance Festival Photo Maria Baranova-Suzuki, courtesy of Bates Dance Festival

Some of the highlights of the summer schedule:

  • A Festival Prelude begins July 12 with hip-hop dance and music by the Reminders and MaMa2 with DJ Man-O-Wax.
  • Doug Varone and Dancers kick off a four-day performance block on July 25 that includes the return of Linda Winfield, Netta Yerushalmy and Reggie Wilson and the Fist and Heel Performance Group.
  • The final festival weekend Aug. 1-3 includes performances by Joanna Kotze, Nora Chipaumire, and Jamatatu M. Poe and Jermone Donte Beacham.

Poe and Beacham are co-choreographers of the piece “This Is Formation: Intervention,” which Currier describes as “part performance and part public action.” It’s based on a performance style and culture known as J-Sette, which derives from the female dance team of the marching band at Jackson State University. The piece explores issues surrounding black queer life and was created partially in response to the Pulse nightclub shootings. On Aug. 2, the day before they perform at Bates, they’ll be in Portland as part of First Friday.

Co-choreographers Jumatatu M. Poe and Jermone Donte Beacham will present the New England premiere of “This Is Formation: Intervention” in Portland and Lewiston. Photo courtesy of Bates Dance Festival

Indigo Arts Alliance, the new community art space in Portland’s East Bayside that opened earlier this month, is presenting the Space program in partnership with the festival. The details of the First Friday performance haven’t been worked out, but Currier envisions a moving dance party that begins at the new Indigo space on Cove Street and ends at Space on Congress Street.

Through partnerships with established arts presenters like Space and new organizations like Indigo, which is focused on art-making and the creative processes of artists, Currier hopes the festival can create lasting inroads in Portland. The contemporary dance scene in Portland is healthy and growing with many new opportunities for presenters and dancers alike, she said.

In conclusion of her residency at Bates, nora chipaumire presents “100% Pop” at Bates Dance Festival in July. Photo by Ian Douglas, courtesy of Bates Dance Festival

The festival is a partner of Portland Youth Dance, dance artists Sara Juli and Riley Watts, and Portland Dance Month in the next installment of Maine Moves, with new work by Maine artists, on June 1 at the Portland Ballet Studio Theater.

At the same time, Maine dance is being exported to New York. On Thursday and Friday of this week, Brooksville-based choreographer and Pilobolus Dance Theater founding artistic director Alison Chase will present the New York premieres of “No Plan B” and “The Interview” at Martha Graham Studio Theater. Chase originated the pieces in Maine in 2017 and 2018.

“There’s really good energy around the dance scene in southern Maine right now,” Currier said. “This feels like the right time to try something bold.”

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