What would it take to create a site-specific work in and around the Bates Mill Complex, a former textile factory in downtown Lewiston, Maine?
It was a question Bates Dance Festival executive director Laura Faure posed to internationally renowned site choreographer Stephan Koplowitz. Four years later, with a $100,000 budget, Mill Town will premiere this week, to close out the festival's 35th-anniversary season and will be Faure's final performance season with the festival.
The full-length multimedia work features 50 dancers—professionals, pre-professional students, festival participants and youth community members—performing to original music by award-winning composer Todd Reynolds. Audience members will move throughout the 19th-century complex to view live performance, video filmed throughout the city and artifact installations from a local museum.
"Underlying the Bates Dance Festival's mission is to involve and be a part of the greater Lewiston-Auburn community, and that's an important part of this project. It's something that Laura certainly has valued in her 30 years of being director," Koplowitz says. "I'm honored that it is her last commission at Bates, although that does add a little pressure."
Stephen Koplowitz's Mill Town. Photo by Ellen Maynard, courtesy of BDF
Faure retires this year, having led the festival for 30 of its 35 years. She's guided it from having fewer than 50 students, a few concerts and a handful of faculty to 320 students, 13 concerts and more than 80 artists who teach and perform each year at the festival. In addition to a mainstage performance series with contemporary dance artists from around the world, there is a Young Dancers Workshop for pre-professionals ages 14 to 18, a Professional Training Program for dancers ages 18 and up and a seven-day Teacher Training Workshop. Community outreach includes the Youth Arts Program, which provides dance, music, theater and visual arts training for ages 7 to 16 and culminates in a 20-minute performance where the students create all the music, choreography and costumes.
Bates also offers the Emerging Choreographers Program, the International Visiting Artists Program, the Africa Contemporary Arts Consortium and the Community Dance Project, which invites local residents to collaborate with a choreographer and dancers to create a new work.
"The growth has been organic—our community has all had a hand in what the festival is today," Faure says. "I'm very proud of the work we've done to create such positive energy, and my deepest hope is that it will always remain an incubator for emerging artists and a safe space for collaboration."
Mill Town, premiering August 3 and 4.
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