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Back to roots: Shoshona Currier takes over the helm at Bates Dance Festival

Shoshona Currier.
Shoshona Currier.

Many of us have lives that take unexpected twists and turns, in different locations and endeavors. Sometimes, we find ourselves back to our roots. Shoshona Currier is a Maine native who worked for many years as Performing Arts Director with Chicago’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events, but has recently been appointed as the new Director of the Bates Dance Festival in Lewiston, Maine.

All signs point to that she can leverage the skills she gained working in Chicago to lead the festival toward growth and thriving. She has some wonderful ideas regarding accessibility, inclusivity and providing space for artists to create and refine work. Dance Informa spoke with Currier to get her perspective on coming into the role, what she hopes to have happen under her leadership and what it’s like to come back to her home state.

What was your dance and arts journey leading up to being appointed the new Director of the Bates Dance Festival? Were you always a leader, or did the skills of – and drive toward – leadership evolve within you? 

Chicago-based Erica Mott Productions. Photo by Jon Satrom.

Chicago-based Erica Mott Productions. Photo by Jon Satrom.

“I actually grew up performing in community theater and only dancing a little bit, with a local dance studio. I left Maine when I was 17, and went to the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City to study acting. Then I lived a really typical actor-hustle life in NYC – doing childrens’ theater tours, performing in really low-budget shows in basements, and eventually started a theater company with some friends. Through that company, I learned how to produce shows. I eventually ended up working at Performance Space 122 and Dance New Amsterdam, venues in NYC specializing in contemporary performance.

I was then part of the inaugural class of the Wesleyan program, the Institute of Curatorial Practice in Performance, which is a great program founded by Pam Tatge and Sam Miller, total giants in our field. And that program gave me the skill boost I needed to work on larger scale projects and hone my leadership skills and values.”

You’re coming to the position from Performing Arts Director with Chicago’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events. How do anticipate this work will be different? What will transfer for you? 

Claire Porter and Sara Juli. Photo courtesy of Shoshona Currier.

Claire Porter and Sara Juli. Photo courtesy of Shoshona Currier.

“Government is really its own special breed of punishment and reward! The work is hard and the paperwork is epic, but everything that the department presents is free and accessible to the public in many neighborhoods around Chicago. It is very inclusive, meaningful work that I’m proud to have been a part of. And the priority around access to the arts has definitely transferred to all the work I do. This year, the Bates Dance Festival is presenting more free programs than ever before, and in partnership with locations all over our city – the libraries, the YWCA, other performance spaces. My goal is to lower as many barriers to access as possible.”

On that note, what challenges do you anticipate? What are you feeling confident about? What excites you about coming into the position? 

“It’s always challenging moving to a new community. I want the work I do to be resonant and meaningful to the people in Lewiston. It does take time to get to know the needs and interests of community members. And while serving the local community, the work needs to also speak to a wider national audience of arts-lovers, culture enthusiasts, dance students and dancemakers. It’s a tall order, but the challenge is what’s most exciting!”

Do you have a vision about where you might want to take the Bates Dance Festival? What might be important to you to preserve? 

“I want to increase and diversify the points of entry to the festival. Audiences and dancers will have many choices about how to engage – buying tickets, taking a community class or workshop, attending a lunchtime talk with an artist for free, or learning social dance and enjoying live music. There are so many ways that the Bates Dance Festival is poised to reach many, many people.

Nora Chipaumire company. Photo courtesy of Shoshona Currier.

Nora Chipaumire company. Photo courtesy of Shoshona Currier.

I also plan to build capacity in our residency programs, with artists from Maine, as well as renowned national artists. We are developing our first year-round artist-in-residency program this year with Zimbabwean choreographer Nora Chipaumire. We are increasing the residencies during the festival – with Philly-based Jaamil Olawale Kosoko and NYC-based Johnnie Cruise Mercer, as well as Maine dancers Riley Watts and Laura K. Nicoll. I want the festival to support a wider range of dance artists and provide resources to help them build work.”

I read a headline stating that you’re coming ‘home to Maine’. As a native of the state, does it feel good to come back? Do you have an understanding of the culture, and/or perhaps contacts or networks, that you can beneficially leverage in the position?

“It’s great to come home after being away in New York and Chicago for 20 years. Most of my family lives here. And it’s great to reconnect with old friends, many of whom are really engaged with their local communities, as well as with arts and culture. I think I have a pretty good understanding of the culture and way of life. I hope I’ll be able to draw from my network and local knowledge to find support for the Bates Dance Festival – and that everyone will come to the shows!”

Tickets are now on sale for this summer’s Bates Dance Festival. For tickets and more information, visit www.batesdancefestival.org/performances.

By Kathryn Boland of Dance Informa.

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