by Suzanne Daub
As writers use words to articulate the human condition, dancers uses movement to express human emotion. Both artistic endeavors require dedication and imagination, hard work and passion, giving into rhythm and continuing with intention. Whether you use an interplay of words or an interplay of motion, both writing and dance communicate. As author Lene Fogelberg wrote: “Dancing is like poetry written by our bodies: our outstretched arms our words of longing.”
It seems natural that our Nantucket Atheneum presents as its major annual fundraiser a festival of dance that brings stars of ballet to the island.
For four days this July, a selection of the nation’s best ballet dancers will perform to benefit our island’s public library. Now in its 14th year, the Nantucket Atheneum Dance Festival is a major source of funds for this beloved community center for learning, culture, education, and pleasure. For the first time, Dance Festival performances will be outdoors and free.
In 2007, a committee of Atheneum staff and board members conceived the idea for a dance event that would serve the dual purpose of raising funds and sharing culture. The committee included many appreciators of dance who were donors, patrons, and board members at the New York City Ballet and the Boston Ballet. Together, they organized a single dance performance.
This single performance event evolved and grew over the next twelve years into a multi-day festival with classes, lectures, films, demonstrations, dinners, and gatherings that culminated in two days of star-studded performances.
Then came the pandemic.
Last year Artistic Director Tyler Angle, Atheneum staff, and the dedicated committee who plan the festival pivoted and created a virtual dance festival with
“really wonderful film projects,” Angle explained. “We had live musicians, performed what had been planned, and filmed it. It was a bright light for us as performers during a dark time: we could practice our craft and help a worthy organization.” Donors were generous, and the library received needed funds.
It takes months to plan the Atheneum Dance Festival, so organizers had to start on the 2021 Nantucket Atheneum Dance Festival at a time when they did not know what restrictions would still be in place. “It was a wildly changing landscape, with the realities of the pandemic and dancers being out of work for a year and a half… there were a lot of moving pieces,” said Angle. “We realized that we could not plan an indoor festival with any surety.”
“Everything is different this year,” added festival co-chair Cathy Weinroth, “We wanted the festival to be live if possible, but we weren’t sure how.”
After much discussion, the concept of an outdoor venue was considered. Planning was intense and focused: an outdoor festival involved juggling many new issues and calculations, permits, technical challenges, and equipment. The hours of hard work have come to fruition, and on July 22, 23, and 24, six free performances of the 2021 Nantucket Atheneum Dance Festival will be held at Children’s Beach.
Each of the six performances will be one hour long. Three different programs are planned: two performances of each. Eighteen dancers and five musicians will perform during the three days. “There were a lot of discussions on the program… we wanted to make it visually and musically interesting. In a normal year, we do two performances: same cast and same pieces,” Angle described. “This year, because we are doing slightly shorter programs with no intermission—and with two performances a day—I did not want the performers to be doing the same movements in every program.” The final plans are for what Angle describes as “three beautiful jewel box performances: each with five or six pieces—they are jampacked full of dancing.”
Dancers in this year’s festival are high-caliber principal dancers and soloists from New York City Ballet, Miami Ballet, Boston Ballet, the L.A. Dance Project, and Houston Ballet. Many of these bright talents performed in the 2020 virtual festival. “I felt strongly about asking all the dancers who put all the work in during 2020 to come back this year and perform. Some of the pieces are those that were filmed, but they will be different: dancers draw a lot of energy from the audience,” said Angle. Musicians include world-renown and critically acclaimed performers and composers. A list of performers can be found on nantucketdancefest. org
In addition, for the 2021 festival a “Choreo Challenge” was designed around “music that was interesting and rigorous, but very danceable by Timo Andres.” Judges chose two winners: Eric Trope, a dancer with Miami City Ballet, and Abdul Latif, a choreographer from New York City. Their original choreographed dances will be part of each performance.
Changing the venue from the large, modern auditorium of Nantucket High School to Children’s Beach required strategizing. The sheltered bandstand stage will be built out so the part of the stage will be outside the pavilion, lighting and sound systems are being brought in, chairs will be provided for ticketholders. “In performance—no matter where you are—an otherworldly focus happens… the difference between indoor and outdoor is mostly for the audience. There will be more stimulus around the audience… it is a more active show with more light over the audience: not dark and anonymous… I think it will be bustling with energy,” said Angle.
“The biggest thing is weather,” he added. “Weather on Nantucket is usually glorious…and most of the dancers and all of the musicians have done performances in outdoor theatres…there are three distinct programs with completely different works, so we can change the programs if there are weather issues that might make the stage slippery.” Dance festival organizers plan to proceed with performances in light rain or mist, but will need to cancel in the event of more severe weather. Ticketholders should check nantucketatheneum.org the day of performance to find out if the show will be impacted by weather. “We have an enthusiastic dance audience here, and not all weather changes lead to cancellation,” Angle added.
Cathy Weinroth, who is again co-chairing the dance festival with Jane Tyler who has been on the dance festival committee since it began, said they “are extraordinarily excited about the performances being free to the public. We can reach people who are not dance aficionados. Many of our generous donors have come to love dance because of the dance festival.”
“The choice to make it a public event was due to the support of our donors, who really want poeple to have opportunities to see the dance performances,” added Atheneum Executive Director Ann Scott.
Giving out free tickets to a primary component of a fundraiser does bring a few questions to mind. The Nantucket Atheneum Dance Festival is their major fundraiser: unlike many public libraries, the Atheneum must raise 75% of its annual operating budget. Donations are accepted at nantucketatheneum.org, and Weinroth explained that major Atheneum Dance Festival sponsors get tickets to performances and to behind-the-scenes events with the artistic team. “Plus, after each performance, a champagne evening reception will be hosted at the Atheneum. We want our donors to have a chance to get to see each other again… that will be such a joy. And a party will be held at a private Nantucket estate.”
“It makes my heart glad,” added Ann Scott, “that we can juggle the need to raise all this funding with our mission to give access to all.”
As of our press date, the Dance Festival performance tickets are nearly all claimed. If you have reserved seats but cannot use your tickets, contact the Development Office at the Atheneum at 508-228-1110, x114. And if you’d like to make a donation or become a sponsor to help the Nantucket Atheneum continue its mission, please visit NantucketAtheneum.org or call 508-228-1110.