Tuesday, 27 February 2018 14:44

Leotard Laboratory: RAD Fest brings the most experimental dances to West Michigan

Written by  Kayla Tucker
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Aaron McGloin Dance. Aaron McGloin Dance. Photo by Benjamin Mobley

More than 1,000 attendees are expected to show up at this year’s Midwest Regional Alternative Dance Festival at The Epic Center in Kalamazoo.

Rachel Miller, the curator of the nine-year-old festival, said this is the most alternative and “experimental” dance festival in Michigan. Some performances even contain nudity and adult content.

“In terms of modern, contemporary and postmodern, it would be on the edge of that. It’s unique in that way,” Miller said.

The festival hosts multiple live performances, a film screening and workshops taught by professional dancers. Attendees can range from professionals to people with no experience — anyone is invited.

“It’s an opportunity for dancers to take workshops from people they wouldn’t normally be exposed to,” Miller said. “A lot of the artists who are teaching the workshops are from different cities and have different experiences. Some of them are coming internationally.”

About 250 total dancers — 170 of them professionals — are expected to perform at the festival, working with 40 choreographers.

“RAD Fest has been a welcoming artistic community,” said Gierre Godley, artistic director of Project 44 Dance and an annual attendee. “I’ve been able to make new connections as well as reconnect with dance friends from undergraduate school. Ultimately for me, RAD Fest has been an amazing experience and something that I’d recommend for every artist.”

Master classes are given from visiting artists, and attendees can connect through networking events for all dancers. Big name dancers are on the list, including Godley, Marta Renzi, Stephen Featherstone, Lisa Kusanagi and Julius Brewster-Cotton.

“We discuss current topics that are relevant to the dance world … centered around funding for the arts, sustainability,” Miller said. “We’ve gotten into conversations about gender and performance, politics and performance, things like that.”

Miller said she’s sure politics will be a hot topic at this year’s festival.

“I’m guessing we’re going to be discussing a lot this year about the current political administration and where we fit into that as artists, and I’m sure we’re going to end up talking about how it’s our job to express resistance to it,” Miller said.

Last year, Miller noted, the election was very recent and “fresh,” so the topic was more or less avoided.

More than 200 submissions came in last fall, and 49 were chosen to be part of the festival. It’s Miller’s job to comb through the submissions, along with planning concerts, promotions and marketing and production.

There will be five live performances throughout the weekend — two on Friday, two on Saturday, and one youth performance on Sunday. In total, 40 original works will span those five performances. The shows and master classes require a payment, but the film screening, coffee hour discussion and networking events are free.

Nine films were also chosen to play in the Screendance Series on Saturday at the Kalamazoo Institute for the Arts. Miller said this type of performance is a “fun, new medium” for dancers.

“About five years ago, I pushed to include screendance as part of the festival because it’s a genre that a lot of choreographers are experimenting in right now,” Miller said. “Screendance allows a choreographer to show detail; for example, a close-up on a hand. It allows the choreographer to change settings really quickly and it’s pretty popular now among contemporary choreographers. … It’s just a natural progression for them. Choreographers already have this aesthetic palette and ideas, narratives, cohesion and how that works.”

Big name festivals around the world, like Cannes and Sundance, are now including screendance as a category.

Miller is a contemporary dancer, with an MFA in dance from Hollins University. She’s an adjunct dance professor at Grand Valley State University, a screen dance producer, and a company dancer and choreographer at Wellspring Dance Company in Kalamazoo, in addition to being the curator for RAD Fest. For her, dance is a feeling like no other.

“Moving is very healing and it makes me feel the most honest about who I am,” Miller said. “It doesn’t lie. That fleeting moment when you feel alive when you’re dancing is an incredible feeling. And I think that’s why I’ve made it my passion, my career.”

RAD Fest
Wellspring Theater in Epic Center
359 S. Kalamazoo Mall, Kalamazoo
March 9-11
midwestradfest.org, (269) 342-4354

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