A dancer performs during the Bates Dance Festival last year, when it was held exclusively outdoors. Photo by Graber Jensen/courtesy of Bates College

After two years of festivals restricted by COVID-19, the Bates Dance Festival is back for its first full-sized event since 2019, just in time for its 40th anniversary.

The festival will bring with it a packed performance calendar from Monday, July 11, through Aug. 6 with artists new and returning, some of whom were scheduled to come in 2020.

Performances, workshops, training programs and open classes will be offered throughout the month in Afrofusion, ballet, modern, dance-theater, contemporary, jazz and hip-hop technique, and choreography. There also will be pilates and improvisation workshops. Performers, instructors and dancers come from all over the country to exchange styles, techniques and passion for the art form.

Despite limited opportunities to gather over past two years, “we never stopped working toward having another festival at some point. And we never stopped supporting artists along the way,” festival director Shoshona Currier said.

Some groups were forced to drop the projects they had planned and switch gears, but others will be bringing work this summer that’s similar to what they had intended to bring two years ago.

The festival comprises youth dance programs, open classes, and community performances and workshops. Among the events are a musical concert and a dance photography gallery organized by LA Arts in tandem with the festival. The exhibit will showcase work by the late Arthur Fink, who photographed the festival for 10 years.


The festival also has partnered with local organization Indigo Arts Alliance to bring in artists and facilitate a talk that started the summer’s dance conversation on June 22.

One of the biggest shifts performance-goers will see is in the pricing. Instead of one fixed price for shows like in past years, audience members will have the choice between $5 and $25 tickets and are free to select whichever option they want.

Inspired by pay-as-you-can Zoom dance classes she took during the pandemic, Currier said she “didn’t want there to be a barrier to access” to the festival. She encourages families to pay what makes sense for them, whether it’s $25 per person or $5 for everyone.

Additionally, she hopes this can be an opportunity for the community to think about their investment in local arts.

“I think if we sort of flatten that hierarchy and say this is all work that’s of value whether it’s indoors or outdoors, community based or professional company, this is investment in your community to come and see an arts festival in Lewiston. This is an investment in the arts, it’s an investment in yourself to experience this.” 

Currier has been in her role for nearly five years, but this will only be her third full-sized festival. After seeing the possibilities for outdoor dancing during the pandemic, the festival plans to make it a bigger part of the experience going forward.


“Outdoor festivals are an enormous part of our ecology and how we live and work in the world,” choreographer Stefanie Batten Bland said.

Batten Bland’s Company SBB, based out of New York City, is one of the groups performing on the outdoor stage. In its first appearance at the Bates Dance Festival, SBB brings a dance-theater work entitled “Embarqued: Stories of Soil.” The piece explores soil and the word’s many definitions, as well as African American heritage as it exists as American heritage. Research for the project began at the African American Heritage trail on Martha’s Vineyard and involved the company combing through oral histories and testimonies. The dramatic performance uses fabric and flags to tell history through movement. Additionally, Batten Bland emphasized the presence of all aspects of research and the value of physicality itself as a form of research.

SBB dancers performing ‘Embarqued: Stories of Soil.’ Photo by Emmanuel Bastien/courtesy of Bates Dance Festival

“(‘Embarqued’) looks at how African American Heritage is American heritage, it looks at how performance through textiles is inside and inherent in all cultures, from the beginning of storytelling time. And it allows us to take a voyage and find ourselves in our present tense by appreciating the past,” she said.

The group will also lead a community workshop about flags and identity, and Batten Bland will teach during the festival’s professional training program.

Batten Bland’s choreography is currently active at American Ballet Theater, Alvin Ailey II, Transitions Dance Company in the U.K. and Frontier Danceland in Singapore. After the Bates Dance Festival, “Embarqued” will travel to the Brooklyn Academy of Music and then the Next Wave Dance Festival in New York City.

Batten Bland encourages anyone who attends the festival to interact with her piece by attending as an audience member and asking questions. She said the great thing about touring is meeting new people, introducing them to her work and finding the points “where they find dialogue together.”


To Currier, the most special aspect of the festival this year is “knowing there’s been 40 years of affecting the community, of affecting young people and of offering these opportunities.”

In addition to the performance series, the festival will host a 40th anniversary weekend celebration July 29-31 that will include performances and awards presentations. Bates dance professor Carol Dilley is one of the people who will be recognized.

Dilley first attended the Bates Dance Festival as a dancer in 1991 in “her introduction to Maine and to the college.” Because of her experience at the festival, she later applied to work there. “That is part of the sort of ripple effect of the festival,” Currier said. “It brings people to me, and they get to see this amazing place where we live, and they get to consider these spaces.”

“I regularly hear from dance artists who tell me that BDF changed their lives,” Currier said.

Even if all festival attendees won’t go on to work at the festival like Dilley, Currier believes “that there is a point of entry for everyone,” and encourages Mainers to check out the festival’s website to see what might be fun to them.

With flexible ticket prices and a variety of types of events, workshops and performances, she said, “you can really kind of choose your own adventure, and make a decision about what feels like the right commitment for you.”

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