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Bates Dance Festival
BDF Schaeffer Front.JPG
Schaeffer Theatre
Genre Dance festival
Frequency Annual
Venue Bates College
Location(s) Lewiston, Maine, United States
Coordinates 44°06′25″N 70°12′21″W / 44.106909°N 70.205962°W / 44.106909; -70.205962
Inaugurated 1982 (1982)
  • Hedley Reynolds
  • Marcy Plavin
  • Frank Wicks

The Bates Dance Festival is a dance festival held annually at Bates College in Lewiston, Maine, United States. The program runs during the summer months and includes workshops and performances.

Festival overview

The Bates Dance Festival brings together an international community of choreographers, performers, educators and students to study, perform and create new work. The festival fosters an exchange of ideas, encouraging exploration of new ground and providing opportunities to experience a wide spectrum of dance/movement disciplines. Artists, students and audiences share their knowledge and inspiration through workshops, jams, discussions, informal showings and performances.

The Bates Dance Festival consists of four programs:

  • two professional training programs including the Young Dancers Workshop, a rigorous three-week program serving pre-professional dancers ages 14–18;
  • the Professional Training Program, serving dancers ages 18 and up;
  • a main-stage performance series featuring dance artists from around the world;
  • community outreach activities including the Youth Arts Program serving local youth ages 6–17 with dance and music training, and the Community Dance Project that invites local residents to participate in a creative collaboration with a choreographer and festival dancers which occurs on alternate years.

Festival history

Origins of the Bates Dance Festival

In 1982, Marcy Plavin, Professor of Dance Emeritus at Bates College, was approached by Hedley Reynolds, then-president of Bates, about establishing a dance festival on campus as a way to use the largely vacant facilities during the summer months. With full college backing, she and Frank Wicks, a Maine resident and member of the dance community, set about hiring the best teachers they could find. When the lineup was complete, notices were placed in Dance Magazine and other publications.

Reflecting back on the festival's first season in 1983, Ms. Plavin recalls, "we had seventy eager students whose diversity in age equaled their diversity in ability. With five class periods a day for three weeks, plus evening events and gala concerts, the format was set. The teachers that first year were David Gordon (composition), Christine Sarry (ballet), Gary Chryst (jazz), Suzanne Levy Carbonneau (dance history), Monica Morris (former Paul Taylor dancer, modern) and guest artist Jacques d'Amboise. It was an auspicious beginning."

A safe place to dance

Since 1983, the festival has offered a three-week summer program of dance training for adults. (In 1996 the Young Dancers Workshop was established to meet the demand for high-quality dance training for teens ages 14–18.) Choreographer Gabe Masson who has served on the BDF faculty, attended as a student in 1983. He remembers, "It was my first time out of the South. I came up here and spent three weeks in this place and it was amazing…For some reason it just felt safe."

That feeling of safety, not being pressured, is what many people associate with the atmosphere at Bates. Dr. Suzanne Carbonneau, who returns to the festival year after year to teach, write, and lecture on contemporary dance, has said, "one thing that happens here that doesn't happen at some of the other places is a genuine sharing at all levels of the dance field, a real sense of community… [The Bates Dance Festival] is for me a utopian vision of what an artist's life should be like. It is extraordinary to be in a place where I don't ever feel like there's competition at any level."

Administrative policies have helped preserve the noncompetitive, community spirit for which the festival is known. No auditions are required to attend but applicants must have studied modern and one other dance discipline continuously for four or more years. Resident artists and students stay in college dormitories and eat together in the dining hall. As choreographer Bebe Miller, a long-time featured artist at Bates, says, "Any time you eat together over time, something else happens. It sounds simple, but I think community is simple."

From the beginning, the festival has attracted mature dance educators who find an easy mix within the student population of dancers and professionals. One participant expressed a widely shared experience, "I came away from the festival with specific technical and creative process tools to use in the classes I teach. Additionally, the information exchanges with my colleagues were invaluable."

Nurturing the field

Laura Faure began her tenure in 1987 as festival director - following Andrea Stark (1984–85) and Elizabeth Zimmer (1985–86) - and holds the position today.

In 1988 the festival began commissioning works and providing creative time for artists. Residencies, arranged by invitation, include daily studio access, opportunities to work with festival dancers and musicians, and informal showings with critical feedback from peers. According to choreographer Mark Dendy, "[Bates is] an artistic community that is not contrived, not putting on a show of being a creative hub, but really quite busy being one. I get more work done here than anywhere else."

Projects originating at Bates have gone on to tour and receive national and international acclaim. New works by Doug Varone, David Dorfman, Rennie Harris, Tamango/Urban Tap, Liz Lerman, Bebe Miller, Jane Comfort and many others have received festival commissioning support.

Over the years, residency programs have been introduced to serve international and emerging artists. Choreographers and performers have arrived in Lewiston from Africa, Portugal, Cuba, Mexico, Japan, Indonesia, Cambodia, and a host of other countries. The festival served as a key host site for the Triangle Arts Project (1997), a collaborative program of the Asian Cultural Council, the New England Foundation for the Arts, and the Saison Foundation, dedicated to cultural exchange among Japan, the U.S. and Indonesia. More recently the festival, as a founding member of the Africa Contemporary Arts Consortium, has been hosting artists from across the African continent.

For the past decade, Community Dance Projects have enabled the local public, at-risk youth, people with disabilities, and others to work alongside choreographers to create and perform dance works. In 1999 John Jenkins, former Mayor of Lewiston, wrote "Through your creative projects you have built lasting bridges between very diverse segments of our community." Featured artists have included Martha Renzi, David Dorfman, Liz Lerman Dance Exchange, Sara Pearson/Patrik Widrig, and Judith Smith of AXIS, a company at the forefront of integrated dance. Community projects often involve festival participants in the dance making and performance process.

Life in the body

Over the years, annual traditions such as the Moving in the Moment and Musicians' Concert have held strong. The festival's public events, always well-attended, have expanded into a six-week series of concerts, lectures, and exhibits, bringing contemporary and international works to Maine audiences.

In 2003 the Bates Dance Festival became a member of the National Performance Network, a partnership that connects artists with progressive presenters, arts organizations and communities across the country. Most recently, closer coordination with Bates College is raising the program's profile on campus and nationally.

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