Laura Faure stands in the Gannett Theater in Pettigrew Hall at Bates College in Lewiston on Thursday morning. Faure, who has directed the Bates Dance Festival for the past 30 years, is stepping down this season.

As renown program nears, retiring director to unveil her ‘love letter to Lewiston.’

A dance major at Hofstra University, Larry Keigwin was unsure of his talent and his future.

Then he received a scholarship to attend the 1992 Bates Dance Festival.

The experience transformed his life.

“Oh my God, it was like I was having a coming out party, a coming out as a dancer,” said Keigwin, now a New York City choreographer with his own contemporary dance company. “I blossomed that first year at the festival; I was able to freely express myself.”

Keigwin, like the thousands of other dancers who have attended, performed and choreographed at the Bates Dance Festival, thrived in a program that nurtures and inspires creativity.

“I found my artistic voice as a dancer, and then years later I found my artistic voice as a choreographer,” said Keigwin, who travels internationally with his New York City based Keigwin & Company and will return this year to teach and perform at the festival.

Held during the summer in Lewiston, the Bates Dance Festival marks two milestones this year: the celebration of its 35th year and a bittersweet farewell to Laura Faure, the woman who has directed the festival for the past 30 years.

Faure, over the past three decades, has built the festival into an internationally renowned and respected program where dancers like Keigwin can evolve and produce acclaimed and groundbreaking work.

“Laura has had a big impact on the contemporary dance world and how and why dancers create,” said Keigwin. “She’s really made a mark on a lot of people’s lives. A huge dance community has blossomed under her wing.”

Immersed in dancing since she was 15, Faure was passionate about creating a diverse program with broad interests and global participants. Her vision and relentless efforts to improve the festival each year have paid off, said Nancy Salmon, who has taught dance at Bates College and worked as the festival’s assistant director for the past 10 years.

“Laura has created not only a nationally respected festival but one that is world famous,” said Salmon, a veteran dancer and former director of Arts Education at the Maine Arts Commission.

Though she has guided and grown the festival, Faure credits the students, dancers, choreographers for their contributions.

“What we are today is a composite of so many people’s energy, passion and ideas,” Faure said. “It’s all one glorious stew with a lot of tastes.”

Under Faure’s tenure, the festival has attracted internationally acclaimed participants, such as Bebe Miller, Doug Varone and David Dorfman, who return year after year to dance, choreograph, teach and create new work.

The festival, which offers workshops and performances, includes dancers as young as 10 and as old as 73. Along with cultivating talent among the world’s elite dancers, the festival provides scholarships and programs for local youth, who cannot afford dance classes.

“For 24 years, we’ve been running the youth artist program that we developed specifically because we saw this population of students in the public schools, which do not provide arts training or access,” Faure said. “We live in a country that doesn’t value the arts and contemporary artists. I’ve tried to create place that gives artists a home, a place where they can make and show their work.”

The youth program has served over 2,000 kids over the years, Faure added, including several who needed scholarships to attend.

“We are blessed to have the festival in this community,” said Elizabeth Hansen, owner of The Dance Center in Auburn. “So many of my students have attended the program. Laura has made sure that dance has been accessible to as many as possible, both locally and internationally.”

Held on the Bates College campus, the monthlong festival’s workshops and programs offer a nurturing environment for dancers of all ages and experience levels.

“The dance world can be cutthroat, competitive and intimidating,” said Keigwin. “But the festival is a safe place to build confidence, to grow and to make amazing connections.”

Zackery Betty-Neagle is one of the many aspiring dancers who have benefited from the festival. Neagle was a student at Bonney Eagle High School and attended the festival for three years from 2007 through 2009.

“The festival was a pivotal point in my career; it really opened up many connections of friends, of dance colleagues, of mentors,” said Neagle, who is now a dancer with Keigwin & Company.

Neagle also appreciated the festival’s lack of hierarchy and communal spirit. Everyone at the festival ? dancers, students, choreographers and teachers ? has a voice, explained Assistant Director Salmon.

“It’s a whole notion of creating community,” said Salmon. “The festival blends the experiences of people with diverse backgrounds and skill levels. They all work together.”

This year, the festival will welcome 305 students and 80 performers and faculty, and present 13 major offerings, including dances, concerts and exhibits, all available to the public.

Several alumni will also gather to collaborate on a gala performance to commemorate and honor the festival’s 35th anniversary and the contributions made by Faure and the late Marcy Plavin, the festival’s founder. The gala will take place at 7:30 p.m., July 28 and 29, in Schaeffer Theatre.

“The gala will be a history of the festival with all the artists I’ve been working with for a long time,” Faure said. “It’s really going to be a fun way for me to close out my tenure.”

Though stepping down as festival director will be bittersweet, Faure, 66, has made sure her final year ends with heartfelt and poignant performances, including “Mill Town.” The new performance honors Lewiston’s history and will be staged in and around the Bates Mill complex on Aug. 3 and 4 at 8 p.m.

Three years in the making, the work incorporates more than 50 professional and local dancers, scenic and media installations, video footage shot in the city and artifacts from Museum L-A.  

“I see ‘Mill Town’ as my love letter to Lewiston, my farewell project,” Faure said.

Bates Dance Festival

When: July 7 to Aug. 5

Where: Bates College

Who: Works by David Dorfman, Doug Varone, Bebe Miller, Larry Keigwin, Sara Pearson and Patrik Widrig, among many others.

What not to miss: The production of “Mill Town,” a site-specific performance designed by Stephan Koplowitz and taking place at the historic Bates Mill Complex on Aug. 3 and 4 at 8 p.m.

Cost: Some events are free; others charge a fee and require tickets

More: www.batesdancefestival.org

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