Students and instructors from the Bates College Dance Festival’s Technology of the Circle course perform July 26, 2019, in Kennedy Park in Lewiston. They were partnered with the city’s Lunchtime in Kennedy Park, which included music and food trucks. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal file photo

LEWISTON — For its 39th year, the Bates Dance Festival has danced through the storms and rainbows of life, bringing together an international community of choreographers, performers, educators and students in a collaborative community to study, perform and create beautiful and new work.

This year’s festival, while similar to recent years, takes on a new meaning in the Lewiston-Auburn area, as society continues to dance near a post-pandemic world with hope, grace and wonder. Festival performances are being held between July 14 and 31, and a number of offerings will held in public spaces around the Twin Cities, with festival organizers working with L/A Arts and Lewiston city officials.

“I think it’s magical that we’re having a dance festival,” Shoni Currier, director of the festival for Bates College, said. “I’m looking forward to being together as a community. I think a lot of people have been very isolated, and I think that the arts can be incredibly healing and soothing and excite the imagination.

“We need to grieve, we need to process and we might not find ways to do that in a formal setting,” Currier said. “What we’re going to see are beautiful pieces of work, whether it’s dance, or visual arts or film, theater. I think we’re gonna see more work emerge in the next couple of years that will be the result of this time. That is some of the way that we will all be able to process what we’ve been through.”

Festival events in the community include a concert with Terrence Karn and Rob Flax at the Simard-Payne Memorial Park amphitheater on Monday, and a new participatory performance called “Funerals for the Ocean” led by Vanessa Anspaugh, a choreographer and performance-based artist from Los Angeles, also at the park.

On Saturday and Sunday at 6 p.m. in Kennedy Park, community members can look forward to seeing Emily Johnson, an artist who makes body-based work. She will delve into the power of creation to build a visual, aural, and ancestral landscape of indigenous power, according to festival organizers.

Emily DiBartolo, a dance and sociology double major at Bates College and who is part of the professional training program with the festival, said she is very excited about the event at Kennedy Park this weekend.

“Kennedy Park is a space that I think is often overlooked,” DiBartolo said. “It’s this beautiful green area. I’m really excited to step into a space with a fresh eye and really actually realize how much nature and life and art is within this space.”

Currier added that it will be “really exciting to activate many different areas of Kennedy Park through dance and storytelling.”

“To actually be in a space and watch dancers interacting with the space can really show you parts of it that you haven’t seen before,” she said.

L/A Arts contributed to the festival, hosting its Performance | Portrait installation in its downtown Lewiston gallery at 221 Lisbon St. The installation opened Wednesday and continues to the end of July.

“It’s a remarkable interactive work that engages a single participant moving in relation to video images of a dancer on a screen,” James Parakilas, chairman of L/A Arts, said. “Because the performance occupies one participant at a time, in a 20-minute session, those who attend make a reservation for a solo time slot, and we have a severe limit to the number of the people in the gallery at any one time — a perfect vehicle for the gradual reopening of our gallery after 16 months of pandemic closure.”

Parakilas added, “With this work we’re delighted to reestablish our connection with the Bates Dance Festival, a connection that has taken several different forms over the past few years, but all of them involving L/A Arts helping to bring the most innovative and thought-provoking programming from the festival into the city for all the members of our community to relish.”

In addition to the in-person, outdoor benefits of the events, DiBartolo noted the festival offerings present a chance for viewers to expand their perspectives.

“Dance is intertwined with so many other facets of life, like race and equality and environment and comfortability and space,” she said, “and I think that the people who visit these events provide a new lens to look through things and understand different aspects of social change. All these amazing artists come from different parts of the world and are bringing in different perspectives of the world that I think is really fresh.”

For everyone, including the dancers themselves, this summer will be a special one because the festival was canceled last summer. Its return marks a turning point — one step closer to normalcy.

Nia Sadler, a dancer at the festival, is most looking forward to dancing in the community with others. Sadler has been thinking about a challenging question recently: How does someone enjoy this beautiful festival knowing that so many people are struggling because of the pandemic?

“All mediums of art shape how we understand social, economic and political happenings, so there will never be a time where we don’t need access to … (artistic) classes, performances,” Sadler said. “The Bates Dance Festival is actively committed to making the festival more accessible and equitable. It’s an arduous process, but necessary work. Although people’s relationships may have changed with their respective practices, it still feels necessary to gather.”

The hope is that community members will immerse themselves in the beauty of art and enjoy whatever festival events they chose to attend, dancers said.

“I hope that people just let themselves feel confused, interested and curious,” DiBartolo said.

Most events require tickets or RSVP. Some are free. Festival organizers are encouraging people to buy tickets and RSVP online, to decrease contact, but tickets may be purchased at the event with credit card or exact cash.

For the community-based events, festival organizers are asking attendees to choose a ticket price of either $20 or $5. Organizers said those who are able are encouraged to consider the full-price $20 ticket; those unable to pay that price are encouraged to purchase a $5 ticket.

For tickets, to RSVP and for more information go to batesdancefestival.org.

Find more information about the festival’s events at www.batesdancefestival.org/performances/.

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