by NATHANIEL NELSON
Get ready Winona –– next spring, a new festival will be coming to town. Last week, the Page Theatre announced that it would bring the first annual Driftless Dance Festival to Winona next March, with performances, workshops, and classes from some of the biggest names in dance today.
Theresa Remick, managing director of the Page Theatre, explained that she has been hard at work planning the festival for close to two years. While the Page Theatre is renowned for its dance programming through the Page Series and its affiliation with the Minnesota Conservatory for the Arts, she found that the region’s support for dance could use an extra boost.
“I’ve seen Winona’s art scene grow and the festivals have become a big part of that. We wanted to take something that was our strength and to complement the rest of the festival scene,” Remick said. “We have festivals about bluegrass, classical music, films and theater, but we don’t have one for dance. Our expertise put us into the position to offer that as the next festival for Winona.”
Over the last year, the Page Theatre was awarded several grants from the Minnesota State Arts Board, the National Endowment for the Arts, and Southeast Minnesota Arts Council to get the ball rolling on the festival’s debut year.
The festival, which will take place from March 27 through March 29, 2020, will feature three major performances in addition to events throughout the weekend and week prior. Each of the three acts, she explained, were chosen specifically to offer a wide spread of different genres and styles of dances for festival-goers.
“I really wanted to give a way to celebrate dance and showcase that landscape in Winona,” Remick said. “The type of dance that will fit on our stage and fit at our venue isn’t necessarily the most marketable. So through this, I’d like to build trust, so that our audience would be more open to seeing something like post-modern dance.”
The first performance, titled “SPEAK,” combines the Indian dance form known as Kathak with tap, with four performers each playing with the warring styles as well as different nationalities and gender roles, Remick explained.
Rina Mehta and Rachna Nivas of San Francisco’s Leela Dance Collective will dance with internationally-renowned tap dancers Michelle Dorrance and Dormeshia Sumbry-Edwards, in a celebration of women’s voices in the midst of Women’s Month and during the 100th anniversary of the women’s suffrage movement.
“Tap dance has been a traditionally male-dominated form, and [Dorrance and Sumbry-Edwards] have been groundbreaking in their own tap work and innovative in unique ways,” Remick said. “The really cool thing about it is the interplay between the two forms. They interact with each other, play with each other, but it’s not fusion.”
The performance will be accompanied by two musical groups –– one performing traditional Indian tunes while the other plays modern jazz, continuing the theme of warring and merging genres.
The second performance, set for the evening of March 28, will feature the James Sewell Ballet, who will be touring and presenting a repertory retrospective celebrating the company’s 30th anniversary.
Unlike the modern, eclectic style of “SPEAK,” the James Sewell Ballet will be a more traditional form of dance, Remick explained. On top of it being the company’s 30th anniversary, it will also be the ballet’s first time at the Page in more than 12 years.
“We think it will be nostalgic for a lot of our patrons, and give a nice complement to the other forms of dance,” Remick said.
On Sunday, the festival will be capped off with a day focused on local talent –– a Winona dance showcase.
“This performance is really designed to show all the wonderful dance activity that is happening in Winona,” Remick said. “Winona showcase was built to highlight the great stuff within Winona, from student performers to professional-level performers, all doing great work. We wanted to gather them all to celebrate each other.”
Unlike the other two performances, the exact scope and contents of the showcase are still in the works. Later this summer and into early fall, the festival will be opening up submissions for individual dancers, troupes, and other performers to propose and perform a dance as part of the showcase. According to Driftless Dance Festival Program Manager Crystal Hegge, the specifics of the submission process are currently still being planned, but submissions will likely be due in September, with performers notified in early November.
Raina Racki, a dance instructor at MCA, explained that she is excited for the festival, and is already looking forward to seeing some of her students potentially perform, as well as the community’s response to new styles of dance.
“I think it seems like it will help expand people’s visions and understanding on what dance is and its potential impact on each other and the community in general,” Racki said. “I think it really just shows a diversity of an art form. It has so many different modes of experience, in a sense, and each one can connect with people in different ways.”
Racki has performed in major dance festivals herself, and explained that bringing a festival to Winona will not only help the local community embrace dance, but also bring people from around the region together under one roof to celebrate a single art form.
She also explained that, as an artist and dancer herself, being exposed to different teachers and dancers helps her in her craft as well, and expands the way she is able to teach her students.
“Some students may perform, and it would be wonderful to give them an opportunity to perform for a different audience and venue,” Racki said. “Also they can learn from really renowned teachers through the master classes and workshops. It’s a different world for them, when they can interact with them, and it’s inspiring for them in their own artistry.”
In addition to the main performances, the festival will present numerous activities throughout the weekend, building on the idea of a full-fledged festival. These will include master classes with the artists, artist talks, workshops for both dancers and non-dancers, pre- and post-show discussions and other social events –– hosted both at Saint Mary’s University and across town.
The goal for these events, Remick said, is to get audiences talking about and interacting with dance and dancers both at the theater and closer to home.
“I want the festival to bring unique and special performances to the area that Winonans wouldn’t be able to see otherwise, but I also I want to find ways to make dance more approachable and accessible,” Remick said. “Dance can be, not necessarily elitist, but confusing for some. It can be hard to grasp if you aren’t a dance aficionado or a dancer.”
The goal for the festival, she explained, is to open up avenues of communication between artists and audiences. For example, the master classes will allow interested dancers to work hand-in-hand with national and internationally renowned teachers, while artist talks and seminars will allow non-dancers a place to ask questions and learn about different kinds of works.
“We want to build an audience interested in new work and interested in seeing the possibility of what dance can do,” Remick said,
The first annual Driftless Dance Festival will occur from March 27 through March 29, 2020, with events set at various locations around town. More information, including the full event schedule, performance submission, and ticket information will be released over the next few months. For more information, contact Remick at email@example.com or call 507-457-1714.