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Bates Dance Festival names new director

Maine native Shoshona Currier comes to Bates from her current position as Director of Performing Arts for the City of Chicago. (Photo by Mark Hackman)

Shoshona Currier, Director of Performing Arts for the City of Chicago, has been appointed as the next director of the Bates Dance Festival, an internationally renowned teaching and performance series held every summer at Bates College.

A Maine native with more than 15 years of experience in arts curation, education, and administration, Currier will start in her new position in August. She succeeds Laura Faure, who will retire on November 30 after three decades as the festival’s director.

As performing arts director with Chicago’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events, Currier has developed the guiding vision for all public theater and dance offerings in the city and has directly programmed city-run venues, such as the Chicago Cultural Center and Jay Pritzker Pavilion. Her purview has encompassed curatorial and managerial direction, as well as the administration and development of a $1 million budget.

“Joining the Bates Dance Festival is a really thrilling opportunity,” says Currier, who worked as a producer and artistic director in New York and elsewhere before taking the Chicago position in 2012. She was born in Fort Kent, Maine, and grew up in the southern Maine town of Windham. “Along with returning to a state that I love so much, I’m excited about taking everything that I’ve learned and bringing it to such a prestigious and well-respected program.”

In her new role, Currier will take charge of one of the so-called “Big Three” of American dance festivals, along with Jacob’s Pillow and the American Dance Festival. Last summer, the six-week Bates Dance Festival welcomed 270 students and 93 faculty, performers, and visiting artists, and presented nine mainstage performances that included such dance luminaries as Michelle Dorrance and Doug Varone.

Currier’s tenure in Chicago started with a large-scale strategic planning process as she oversaw a fundamental reorganization of multiple dance, theater, and music programs. In reimagining the municipal performing arts division, she enlisted a new creative team and established best practices and processes for the division.

Currier has developed critically acclaimed civic performance series, including SpinOff, focusing on contemporary dance by Midwestern artists, and the boundary-pushing OnEdge program. She has strived to bring large-scale public performance works to under-resourced parts of Chicago, aiming to ensure “that arts are relevant and accessible to many communities,” she says.

In addition to her day job, Currier has served as a producing consultant for STAGE Lab, a program for STEM-inspired theater projects at the University of Chicago’s Institute for Molecular Engineering. As a member of the grant-making consortium Chicago Dance Makers Forum, she has worked closely with local dance artists.

Before taking the Chicago directorship, Currier held creative and administrative positions at Dance New Amsterdam, Performance Space 122, and the Snug Harbor Cultural Center, all in New York City; and the Fusebox Festival, in Austin, Texas. She was a member of the inaugural class at Wesleyan University’s Institute for Curatorial Practice in Performance, and also studied at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts and at the New School, where she earned a bachelor of science degree.

“I’m extremely pleased to be passing the festival baton to Shoni Currier this fall,” says Festival Director Laura Faure. “Shoni has a truly impressive track record of achievement in the performing arts. She brings a wealth of experience, passion, and commitment to this new role, and I’m confident she’ll lead the festival to even greater heights in the years to come.”

Laura Faure was a dancer, teacher, and arts administrator – in addition to farming for 10 years – when she began her tenure as Bates Dance Festival director in 1987, following Elizabeth Zimmer, Andrea Stark, and co-directors Frank Wicks and Marcy Plavin. Plavin, who originated the Bates College dance program, founded the festival.

“One of the parts of my job that I love the most is my close relationship with artists, my ability to help artists do their work,” said Faure in a 2012 interview. “I feel like I am very much a curator and creator in some way and that the festival is my choreography.”

Under Faure’s leadership, the Bates Dance Festival has evolved into a leading center for contemporary dance nationally and internationally. Her support, both material and moral, has enabled some of the nation’s most-respected choreographers to create groundbreaking work at the festival. In turn, many of those same artists have returned during the academic year to perform and work with Bates students. Bebe Miller, Doug Varone, and David Dorfman are a few of the choreographers and company leaders who have repeatedly returned to the festival to teach, perform, and develop new work.

Taking place July 7 through August 5, the festival’s 35th season will be a special one, Faure points out. “It has been designed to celebrate the vibrancy of contemporary dance, to pay tribute to some of the exceptional artists who have contributed to the BDF legacy, and to highlight the importance of building community through the arts.”

This summer’s festival will showcase new and signature works by David Dorfman, Doug Varone, Bebe Miller, Larry Keigwin, Sara Pearson and Patrik Widrig, among many others. Faure’s final Bates Dance Festival as director will conclude on a high and historic note with “Mill Town,” a site-specific performance designed by Stephan Koplowitz and taking place at the historic Bates Mill Complex on Thursday, August 3. For more information, see batesdancefestival.org.

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