The works of dance companies from Philadelphia and New York City, along with a bevy of classes, workshops and public performances are on tap for the 17th annual Alabama Dance Festival set to begin Friday in Birmingham.
The nationally recognized dance festival, which is funded partially by a $10,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, continues to draw artists from major cities at the event that runs from Jan. 10-20 at various venues around the city.
Rosemary Johnson, executive director of the Alabama Dance Council, said this year marks a return to featuring two dance companies at the festival — something that happened first in 2012, but was short-lived because of state arts budget cuts.
“We decided that we could not financially afford to present two dance companies again without assistance from partnerships, which was accomplished for 2014.”
The Koresh Dance Company of Philadelphia, founded in 1991 by Israeli-born choreographer and artistic director Ronen “Roni” Koresh, will perform on Jan. 17 at 8 p.m. at Samford University’s Leslie S. Wright Center. The company, known for energetic and engaging performances, will also host several workshops during its five-day stay in Birmingham, including “Focus on Israel,” a talk about how Koresh’s Israeli roots have informed his choreography.
“The Alabama Dance Festival and Rosemary Johnson are well respected in the dance community,” Koresh said. “Koresh Dance Company is very invested in education, so we were happy to be invited to be involved in the festival through performance, master classes and workshops.”
Koresh said he consulted with Johnson and the staff at the Wright Center about which pieces should be performed for the festival.
“The works selected for the festival are meant to be dynamic. Some pieces are funny, others serious. … All showcase the company’s technical ability and the emotionally compelling nature of my work.”
The visually exciting work of Bridgman|Packer Dance of New York City, which blends live performances with video technology, will be on display Jan. 18 at 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. at the Birmingham Museum of Art. The company, led by Art Bridgman and Myrna Packer, is making its second appearance at the Alabama Dance Festival.
“We performed at the Alabama Dance Festival in 2008, bringing our work Trilogy,” Packer said. “We are excited to be invited back.”
In addition to the company’s live performances, it will also offer five-day intensive workshop in “Live Performance and Video Technology,” which will share with local dancers and videographers the techniques of blending the two disciplines.
Packer said the work the company will perform at the museum, Voyeur, first premiered in Oct. 2012 and has been touring nationally since then. The work was inspired by paintings by artist Edward Hopper.
“It was designed to be performed in galleries and museums as well as theaters, so it is very exciting to have the Birmingham Museum of Art partnering with the Alabama Dance Festival to present us in its Jemison Gallery,” Packer said.
The performance is adult-oriented, but the company will offer a family-friendly movement workshop at the museum earlier on the day of the performance at 11:45 a.m.
The Alabama Dance Festival started as a small summit for dancers in Montgomery, and from its humble roots has grown to attract more than 400 dancers and dance enthusiasts.
It is this continued growth that makes Johnson proud of the festival and of the council that started it. The Alabama Dance Council, in fact, will celebrate its 40th birthday this month. There will be a special luncheon on Jan. 18 at the Birmingham Museum of Art to celebrate the milestone. Al Head, executive director of the Alabama State Council on the Arts, will be the keynote speaker.
“This organization has been around a long time and the festival is what we are known for. I think the festival has definitely raised the visibility of dance here in the city,” Johnson said. “And [the festival] has raised the visibility of Birmingham, because it is now nationally recognized.”
The nonprofit group, Johnson said, has often been the catalyst for connecting the community with what is of the moment in dance across the country. A part of the council’s mission is to connect dancers with an audience, and Johnson said the Alabama Dance Festival does just that.
Johnson said the festival continues to fulfill its mission of bringing together dancers for classes and workshops that further their education and bringing dance to the public. “This is a great way to check out what the dance community is all about,” she said.
Johnson said many people have not experienced a live dance performance, except for those who have seen the holiday classic The Nutcracker. She said after seeing a performance at the festival those people “would be hooked.”
Perhaps the best example of how the festival reaches its goal of bringing dance to the people, Johnson said, is Dance Across Birmingham, an event on Saturday that offers more than a dozen free dance classes for all ages at the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Center North Meeting Rooms, along with a performance by local dancers.
Classes offered will include belly dancing, traditional Irish, Indian and African dance, hip-hop and Zumba. In between the classes on Saturday, the Birmingham Dance Showcase will serve as the first performance of the festival.
“People can take two classes in the morning and then break for lunch at the Alabama Dance Showcase performance,” Johnson said. “Then they can take two more classes in the afternoon.”
The festival will showcase talent from across the country with its New Works Concert at the Wright Center. That showing will feature works by 15 up-and-coming choreographers from Alabama, Louisiana, Georgia, Mississippi, Illinois and Israel, who were selected through a competitive process. Johnson said the number applications for the New Works Concert increased in its second year because of the success of the program.
“Dancers love to dance,” Johnson said. “And when you give them the opportunity to perform and take classes they will definitely want to come.”
For a full schedule of events, click here.