LEWISTON – Once again, the Bates Dance Festival is about to step out with more than three weeks of sensational performances and community programs.

The festival, which began modestly 26 years ago, has become a world-class showcase of contemporary dance and music. From the streets and stages of New York City to the beauty of Japan and the politically charged emotions of Africa, many top choreographers and dancers are bringing new and exciting works to Lewiston-Auburn between July 15 and Aug. 9.

The festival has achieved international stature, but to Laura Faure, festival director, one of its most important accomplishments has been introducing the world of dance to this area’s young people, to low-income families and to others who are discovering its wonders.

She said it has been thrilling to see the increasingly large crowds of local people at the numerous events.

The opening program of the festival is particularly well suited to those who don’t think of themselves as dance fans. It’s an appearance by Keigwin + Company, which is being called one of the hottest new troupes emerging on the national scene.

On July 18-19 at Bates College’s Schaeffer Theatre, the eight-member group will present the Maine premiere of “The Elements,” commissioned by the festival, and “Love Songs,” a suite of dances by three couples.

“This program is just right for all ages,” said Larry Keigwin, founder of the troupe. He said his choreography emphasizes contrasts and ironies with athleticism and a variety of moods.

“I see art as being an extension of an artist’s personality,” Keigwin said. “I’m a people person, and I think that comes through in these works.”

Keigwin explained that “The Elements” features two suites inspired by the natural elements. The earth suite contrasts urban and nature, reality and fantasy, animal and pedestrian, and classical and pop.

“It’s an interesting juxtaposition,” Keigwin said. The dancers in the earth suite are dressed in preppy style, the movement vocabulary is lizard-based, and the music is from the ’80s.

In the water suite, Keigwin’s choreography makes use of water bottles and the implications of wasting water in today’s world.

In “Love Songs,” dancers interpret different aspects of love – independent, co-dependent and dependent. It’s done to the music of Aretha Franklin, Neil Diamond and Nina Simone.

Keigwin will open the Bates Dance Festival Tuesday, July 15, when he conducts a free lecture demonstration at 8 p.m. at the Olin Arts Center Concert Hall on the Bates campus.

Movement (R)evolution Africa will present the work of nine African choreographers at 8 p.m. July 24 at the Olin Arts Center.

The program on July 25-26 is “Africa/NOW,” a shared evening featuring provocative new works by South African choreographer Gregory Maqoma and Zimbabwean performer Nora Chipaumire. Maqoma, who performs all over the world, will present an excerpt from his compelling solo work “Beautiful Me,” which looks at the beauty of humanity. Chipaumire is known for provocative and politically relevant multimedia dances that illuminate the struggles of human identity in an increasingly borderless world. She performs an excerpt from “Chimurenga,” a post-revolution solo.

The “Africa/NOW” concerts are at 8 p.m. July 25 and 26 in Schaeffer Theatre.

Zoe Scofield and Juniper Suey of Seattle will perform the Maine premiere of “the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t” at Schaeffer Theatre Aug. 1-2.

Known for their mesmerizing intensity, technical precision and lush design, Scofield and Suey recently received a prestigious National Dance Project award for the creation of this exceptional new work.

“Different Voices” on Aug. 7-8 will showcase diverse styles and perspectives from across the United States and Japan. It features an excerpt from “Not About Iraq” by Alpert-Award winning choreographer/filmmaker Victoria Marks, which examines government rhetoric, “double-speak” and the outrage that occurs when words lose their meaning.

Also on the program are excerpts of new works by artist/activist Ananya Chatterjea, the contemporary dance duos of Nugent + Matteson Dance and Chris Aiken & Angie Hauser, Japanese experimental movement artist Yutaka Joraku and emerging choreographers Christopher Williams and Heather Maloney.

There will be a musician’s concert at 8 p.m. July 29 at the Olin Arts Center Concert Hall and the Festival Finale will be at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 9 at Alumni Gymnasium.

Other lectures and showcases of youth choreographers are scheduled during the festival.

There are several options for buying tickets to the main stage performances. Prices range from $20 to $5, and there are numerous free events. More detailed information is available online at www.batesdancefestival.org.

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