It takes a bit of chutzpah to start an ambitious performing arts festival on a shoestring. But longtime performing arts professionals Liz Wolff and Stacey-Jo Marine are doing just that with the Cape Dance Festival, July 27 at the Province Lands Visitor Center outdoor amphitheater in Provincetown. The event will benefit the 30-year-old AIDS Support Group of Cape Cod, one of the oldest AIDS organizations in the United States.
The central draw of the one-night-only event will be performances by four of the Paul Taylor Dance Company’s senior male performers — Michael Trusnovec, Robert Kleinendorst, James Samson, and Sean Mahoney. They will be dancing the iconic men’s quartet from Taylor’s provocative “Cloven Kingdom,” as well as a solo choreographed by Christopher Gillis and a duet choreographed by Patrick Corbin, both former Taylor dancers.
Though dance has graced the Cape through earlier initiatives, such as Provincetown Dance Festival and Fleet Moves, Wolff and Marine are proud to be bringing internationally renowned dance there. Raised in Boston, Wolff has spent summers on the Cape since childhood, calling it “the best place on earth.” While she now lives full time in New York City, her husband’s family has a house in Truro, so she continues to spend chunks of the summer enjoying sea and sand — but until now, little dance.
“There are so many dance schools on the Cape from tip to tip, but there’s a recognition that the Cape really doesn’t have dance in the summer,” Wolff says. “Our primary goal is to bring world-class dance to residents and visitors on the Cape and have a wonderful performing arts experience in such a beautiful location, outside in the natural environment. It makes you a little more vulnerable in the elements, but it adds to the experience. And we wanted to support the cultural community there, which is very strong, by bringing the enjoyment of dance. And through education, we’re hoping to extend it over [upcoming] years, do more than one venue, bring artists in for master classes, really get dance a foothold.”
Wolff hopes the project will not only raise money and fill a hole in the Cape’s cultural landscape but also create community among dance lovers. She calls the initiative “altruistic in nature,” following a production model from Dancers Responding to AIDS and the Fire Island Dance Festival, in which she participated as a performer for seven years. “We’ve asked performers to donate their time for a good cause, and by choosing the amphitheater, we keep production costs low. Friends are opening their homes to host the dancers, so we’re getting some extraordinary support and a lot of positive feedback. Pretty much everyone we asked said yes.”
The project started out with $5,000 from an anonymous donor, using the nonprofit arts service organization Fractured Atlas as a fiscal sponsor to provide insurance and collect donations at various levels, which provide audience members with tickets and various perks. The professional technical crew is all-volunteer as well, and the portable dance floor is a free loan from Performance Platforms.
Wolff and Marine say the Paul Taylor Dance Company is the perfect anchor for the festival program. Wolff, a former professional dancer and founding member of the contemporary ballet troupe Cortez & Company, trained with the company as a scholarship student from 1994 to 1996. (She now runs her own film consulting business and is the 2013-14 co-curator for the Dance on Camera Festival at Lincoln Center.) Marine, a veteran stage manager and technical director, was the company’s production stage manager from 1995 to 2000. She credits former Paul Taylor Dance Company board member Melinda Krasting as a big inspiration for the festival’s creation. “She has been begging me to produce or help produce an evening of Taylor and his protégés for at least three years.”
Both founders thought the powerful “Cloven Kingdom,” a work that contrasts the veneer of formal society with its primitive underpinnings, would provide the ideal centerpiece. “‘Cloven Kingdom’ is my favorite Taylor work,” Marine says. “One year, while watching it at City Center and sitting next to Paul, I had the same mind-blowing thought that I had when I saw Michelangelo’s David: How is it possible that a work of this magnitude was created in a single artist’s lifetime?”
Marine pushed not only to present Taylor’s dancers in the quartet, but for them to perform two extra pieces as well. “Being an alumni of the Taylor company is like being part of a family,” she explained in a recent e-mail. “We are all war buddies and have shared intimate moments of pain and joy. They know how much I admire them, so when they all agreed to perform the quartet, I pushed the envelope and asked Rob and James to learn a piece of CorbinDances’ repertory (‘Sea of My Soul’) specially for this event, and Michael graciously offered to share the Gillis work ‘Paean,’ one of the destroyingly beautiful solos he has been collecting in his personal repertory. We are so very lucky to have the Taylor company’s blessing!!”
According to John Tomlinson, the Paul Taylor Dance Company’s executive director of 21 years, luck had little to do with it. Tomlinson’s relationship with Marine goes back to the late 1980s, when both were in production, and he says, “This is a personal favor. It’s not that we believe in the Cape Dance Festival, it’s that we believe in Stacey-Jo. She’s brilliant, a demon of a worker, very precise and detail-oriented beyond belief, and concerned about dancers’ well-being. I know I can send people up there and they’ll be taken care of.”
While the Taylor dancers provide the festival’s artistic anchor, the founders also wanted the program to be a diverse showcase. Boston-area participants include Rennie Gold’s young contemporary troupe Project Moves Dance Company and dancers from Lorraine Chapman the Company in a new trio called “Road Trip.” Also on the program are Lady Pavlova of Lady Luck Burlesque, former Ballet Hispanico dancer Yesid Lopez in a contemporary ballet pas de deux with Eila Valls, a duet by Nelly van Bommel (one of Dance Magazine’s “25 to Watch”), and longtime Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company member Catherine Cabeen in a solo inspired by the gender politics of postmodern visual artist Yves Klein. Broadway triple threat Justin Prescott (“The Scottsboro Boys,” “Memphis,” “Fela!”) is choreographing a new musical-style tap routine especially for the occasion.
Tomlinson says, “The thing that will make this festival a success is bringing in first-class art, but also that the artists have got to want to come back, and that will happen because of Stacey-Jo and Liz. They’re working on a shoestring, begging and borrowing and putting it together on love and old, old favors. Both of them have absolute belief in the art form and the artists they’ve chosen. I predict this is going to be hugely successful.”Karen Campbell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.