by Steve Desroches
The Outer Cape has for over a century been a robust and rich region for the arts, with first-class examples of painting, theater, drag, photography, architecture, sculpture, and more. But until recently the art of dance has been woefully absent in the arts on the Cape tip. This weekend the Cape Dance Festival brings to Provincetown seven professional dance companies and solo performers in what they hope is the first of many more to come.
“It’s one of those things where the stars seem to line up,” says Stacey-Jo Marine, co-founder and producer of the Cape Dance Festival. “We’d been talking about doing this for years. We decided that this was going to be the year.”
There have been fits and starts in bringing dance to the Outer Cape over the years, with the most successful to date being the Provincetown Dance Festival each October, now in its ninth year. But dance is usually not an option on the otherwise diverse and jam-packed summer arts and entertainment roster.
“Dance was something you just couldn’t see on the Cape,” says co-founder and producer Liz Wolff, a lifelong Cape summer resident and former dancer. “There is world-class visual art and theater, but no dance. You have dance in Western Mass. and on Martha’s Vineyard, and other places. For how culturally sophisticated the Cape is, it was lacking dance.”
The Cape Dance Festival is bringing in the Project Moves Dance Company, CorbinDances, Lady Luck Burlesque, Lorraine Chapman the Company, Yesid Lopez, Justin Prescott from the Broadway shows Fela! and Memphis, and the Paul Taylor Dance Company. In addition to wanting to bring dance to Outer Cape audiences, the goal was also to bring a wide array of genres.
“We definitely wanted to expose people to different styles of dance,” says Wolff. “If you don’t see it you don’t know.”
In addition to traditional contemporary dance and ballet, the festival also includes tap, burlesque, modern, as well as ensemble and solo pieces in an evening of 10 separate dance pieces. All companies and performers attending are professionals, but Wolff and Marine paid close attention to not just including those from New York City in this their inaugural year, pulling in dancers from all over the East Coast. Of all the companies coming in the Paul Taylor Dance Company is perhaps the most accomplished and well known. Newsweek wrote shortly after the young choreographer’s debut in 1954 that “… in the beginning there was Martha Graham, who changed the face of an art form and discovered a new world. Then there was Merce Cunningham, who stripped away the externals and showed us the heart of movement. And then there was Paul Taylor, who let the sun shine in.”
Taylor’s company has performed in more than 540 cities in 64 countries, representing the United States at arts festivals in more than 40 countries and touring extensively under the aegis of the U.S. Department of State. The Company has also been invited to enormous celebrations around the world. In 1997 the Company toured throughout India in celebration of that nation’s fiftieth anniversary, and in 1999 they traveled to Chile and earned the honor of being named the Best International Dance Event of the year by the country’s Art Critics’ Circle. In the summer of 2001 the Company toured in the People’s Republic of China and performed in six cities, four of which had never seen American modern dance before. In the spring of 2003 the Company mounted an award-winning four-week, seven-city tour of the United Kingdom. And in 2007 The Company’s performances in China marked its fourth tour in the country.
While continuing to garner international acclaim, the Paul Taylor Dance Company performs more than half of each touring season in cities throughout the United States. The Company’s season in 2005, marking its fiftieth anniversary, was attended by more than 25,000 people. In celebration of the anniversary the Taylor Foundation presented Taylor’s works in all 50 states between March 2004 and November 2005. That tour underscored the Company’s historic role as one of the early touring companies of American modern dance.
In addition to increasing the presence of dance on the Outer Cape, the Cape Dance Festival is also putting the spotlight on the amphitheater at the Province Lands Visitor Center, which goes largely unused, despite being fairly easy to book for an event.
“It’s just a park permit,” says Wolff in regards to what it takes to produce a performance at the amphitheater. “[The Seashore was] really receptive. I think the amphitheater alone is a draw.”
“I love the space,” says Marine. “It’s a great venue. A great venue for dance. It’s really going to be a great night. Something for everyone.”