Ambitious Artpark offering representative of Exec. Director Sonia Clark's vision
Preview by Joshua Maloni
Soon after Artpark & Company's new executive director, Sonia Clark, was introduced to the community at the beginning of this year, she introduced a slate of artistic programming that had some people scratching their heads.
When Clark spoke of replacing the mild-mannered Fairy House Festival entertainers with aggressively costumed European performance troupes, and swapping out the recently Disney-themed stage musical with a Brazilian dance company, people undoubtedly said, "You want to do what?" Or, perhaps, "Are you crazy?" Or worse.
Indeed, this writer could nary go somewhere without being asked, "What is going on at Artpark?"
But it's as the famed poet W.H. Auden once said, "No good opera plot can be sensible, for people do not sing when they are feeling sensible."
Amused, intrigued, and possibly bewildered, people at the Fairy House Festival were laughing, dancing, listening to the stories and taking lots and lots of pictures. Children were running around and having a great time with the strange new costumed characters. Lines around some of the performances were six and seven deep.
Clark's experiment - her first real test - was a success.
"I've had so many great messages and letters about the Fairy House Festival," she said Wednesday.
It's with that momentum Artpark & Company heads into test No. 2.
While the performing and visual arts venue had success in recent years with musicals "Cinderella," "Mary Poppins" and "Peter Pan," those shows existed in a box, so to speak, performed on and confined to the Mainstage Theater.
This summer, with "Baila Brazil," Clark and Artpark are not just offering an hour or two of entertainment, but a parade down Center Street and a carnival inside the Fourth Street state park.
The dance company Artpark is teaming with is called Bale de Rua. One of its founders, Fernando Narduchi, can relate to what Clark's experiencing.
In a 2015 interview with The Australian, he recalled how, in 1992, at the beginning of Bale de Rua, the "established" dance community looked down upon, or at least vigorously questioned, his company, which had its roots in street dance.
Undeterred, Narduchi vowed to work even harder to show others the value of his work.
Today, "We've been traveling a lot to many different places and countries around the world, and everywhere we have been very welcomed with a lot of applause and ovation in the end," he told NFP Thursday.
"Baila Brazil" has sold out the Sydney Opera Hall and drawn standing ovations at the Casino de Paris. The Scotsman called it "stunning," while The Times of London declared, "Their outpouring of energy borders on the ecstatic."
"Baila Brazil" (Photo by Frederic Desmesure)
Narduchi said "Baila Brazil" is "very rich on music and dancing."
"We tell the story of the company, Bale de Rua, and somehow the story of Brazil, too," he said. "The spine of the show is the Afro-Brazilian heritage. We bring to the stage a little bit of the history of the black people of Brazil who came from Africa."
That includes "the music, the religion, the food, the dances - everything."
"It's not possible to talk about Brazil without talking of this heritage," Narduchi said. "And so everything goes around this spine."
While there is an intertwining of music and story, Narduchi said "Baila Brazil" is not a musical.
"No dialogue - there are no speeches in the show," he said. "The dancers, they dance and they play. And the musicians, of course, they play. And the singer is a wonderful girl. She sings. But there is no dialogue. We try to tell a story, but not like a theater, when you have dialogue. ...
"This show portrays a picture of the Brazilian culture, because there is a mix of many influences in Brazil. If you go to the north, you find a kind of music and dance. If you go to the south, it's completely different. And so, the view is thoughts of many influences.
"We try to show a little bit of the richness of the Brazilian culture in this show. And you will find, of course, a little bit of samba, because everybody knows the samba. But it's not the only kind of music and rhythm we have."
Clark said, "It's a multilayered story, but, at the same time, it's all about a good party. It's about celebration. It's about dance and music."
She explained, "It is strange. It's different. But at the same time, it's very, very accessible once you are there.
"My huge challenge is to communicate the message to the people that it is for you. It's nothing to be afraid of. It's actually not foreign at all. It's really human beings coming together and relating to each other and having a good time."
Narduchi said, "What we want is to touch the people - to touch the peoples' heart. And to touch with joy. To touch with love. And I think we are reaching them, because we've been listening (to) a lot of comments. After the show, when we leave the theater, the people stay there to talk to us.
"It's not only the set or the lights or the costumes, but we want to bring to the stage the truth. We don't pretend; we don't fake anything. When the dancers smile in the stage, they are really smiling, because that's what we expect from the dancers since the beginning of the company: To make it real. To make it for sure.
"The energy we try to give to the audience ... it comes from our heart. That's the experience of Bale de Rua.
"It's not just like a ballet, where you go to see the movements and the lines. It's amazing; I love ballet. But, we try to bring the energy, the emotions from the heart.
"And so, I think it makes the show seem bigger and bigger, because we fill the stage with energy and emotions."
"Baila Brazil" (Photo by Frederic Desmesure)
"I wanted to find a show that may possibly connect to the community that is already here, to the people who go to the concerts, to the community who lives here, to the community in Buffalo, and also raise it up in terms of level of production," Clark said. "And this company, what they do is really celebration. Just a very accessible, very successful show.
"And it brings a sense (of) - this word I keep using, 'celebration.' And that's what I wanted the most at Artpark this year - that sense of coming together; sense of celebrating ourselves here at Artpark. And this show seemed to translate that message the best.
"And they are very charming. And they are very easy to work with, (the) artists. And they are also very eager to share their own story. And I feel there is also a connection between their story and our town here. They all come from a small town. They've built a community center."
It's fitting that, just as Bale de Rua was born on the streets of Brazil, Lewiston's introduction to "Baila Brazil" will commence on Center Street.
Prior to an evening performance on Saturday, July 16, a procession will take place from Portage Road to South Fourth Street.
Tanis Winslow, Artpark & Company's director of visual arts and family programs, said children at Academy Park can have their faces painted, and take various costume elements to adorn themselves with as they prepare to dance down to Artpark.
New York City-based director Carin Jean White is helming the parade and park carnival.
"About 1 o'clock, the company Bale de Rua will be at Academy Park," she said. "We will have between 20 to 30 students from Lewiston Dance joining us for warm-ups. We also are in talks of getting members and confirmations from a few other dance companies. So, we will have quite a crowd to start with at Academy Park."
"And then we will begin the procession down Center Street," White said. "The idea is that, as the group plays, people can join in. So, instead of sitting on a chair watching the parade go by ... you can jump into the parade and join.
"We'll grow as we go down Center Street and turn on Fourth and into Artpark. It should be a pretty big celebration, I would say."
"They've been working on the parade portion of their performance - the carnival performance with their costumes. They also have videotaped these steps to send to Lewiston Dance, so the Lewiston Dance students can learn these steps and be a part of the parade, as well. They'll be very integrated," White added.
Lewiston Dance owner and teacher Rachel Novelli said, "It's amazing."
"We're so excited," she continued. "The fact that they get to dance with them - that 'Baila' is going to send us a video - and I'm going to break that video down; I'm going to teach that for kids - is just amazing.
"And then, even more exciting, almost, is that the dancers themselves, the Brazilian dancers, want to come to the dance studio to see what kind of dancing we do here in the United States with children. My kids are going to get to perform for them."
"I hope we can show them what we got! This is their first time here, so it's super, super exciting," Novelli said.
Speaking again of the parade, she added, "We don't want anyone in chairs. We want all these people to join us and walk to Artpark, because, at Artpark, there's going to be a carnival. ... We want everyone to come with us there. We want everyone just to do whatever they feel comfortable doing."
"The spirit of this parade is you listen to music and you can move," White said. "So knowing that it's open in that regard, that you can just join and walk in the parade or you can dance in a way that feels good, is something that you can do. It's very, very open. And that's something that Fernando ... has really emphasized.
"We are recruiting members from a couple other different groups - not just dance groups. ... Different organizations that might want to be a part of the parade, and they're not necessarily learning steps. They're just joining in."
Narduchi said, "We are very, very excited about this idea, to make this parade. It's really amazing, this moment, when we are very close to the people. We can interact with the people. We are preparing this parade very carefully. We want to create a very high-spirit joy moment. A moment with joy and to be happy and to dance like we have in the carnival in Brazil."
"Baila Brazil" will be well represented in the parade.
"The whole company will be there; the musicians, too," Narduchi said. "All the music will be alive, because we will put the musicians in the truck with the sound system. And then we go behind the truck and play and dance and have, like, a carnival."
He said his company has been working on the parade for weeks.
"We hope we can bring a moment of happiness ... to the people," Narduchi said.
"I guess it will be really, really good for us. I'm sure it will be unforgettable. We like to interact with the local people to meet people, to make new friends, and to talk about everything," he said. "I hope it works, and I hope the people come to join us."
The carnival "begins when we roll into Artpark with Bale de Rua," White said. "There will be dancing demonstrations that the Bale de Rua dancers will be giving at different locations in and around the terrace space, right by the Mainstage (Theater)."
Children can participate in Brazilian games, face-painting and opportunities to make maracas and headdresses. Brazilian food also will be offered.
"It should be a really festive, fun day for families - for anyone, really," White said.
"And it's free," Novelli noted. "It's amazing."
The event continues until 4 p.m. For those who want to stay for "Baila Brazil" at 8 p.m., tickets start at $25.
"Baila Brazil" (Photo by Frederic Desmesure)
Future Theater Shows
While the idea of "Baila Brazil," with its accompanying parade and carnival, is promising, Clark admitted, "It's a challenge, definitely. It's definitely a challenge for all of us internally and our board of directors and our sponsors."
Fortunately for Artpark & Company, "M&T Bank came on board very enthusiastically," Clark said. "They felt it was a very right move for us to make, and they supported us to great extent. Really surprised me in an amazing way. And they subsidized all the tickets so that we can keep (prices) low."
Clark stressed, "This is not the only kind of show that we'll be doing over the years. The idea is to layer them and have all different kinds of shows.
"And musicals are most definitely coming back. There's no question about it. I needed time to sort of learn about the local arts community, the theaters, the talent, the actors, the choreographers who I can work with before we can step into production of a musical. And I think we're going to have something wonderful next year, absolutely.
"We did plan also another production for children, more specifically, 'Hansel & Gretel.' But due to challenges that are sometimes faced when developing new work, at this point in time I had to make a decision that it's not quite ready for an audience, and we don't have enough time or resources to give it its due.
"So, with the creative team and, again, the board, we decided 'Let's do it next year.'
"And I know it's a disappointment to the local community not to have a show ... on our stage specifically for children. But what we're doing with 'Baila Brazil,' also, we're building a parade and a carnival for kids."
"Saturday afternoon I specifically arranged as a free event for everybody - and especially for children," Clark added. "So, many things we're doing in Artpark this year are for kids, very specifically. They may not be in the form of a musical, but there are very many different forms of theater."
Clark said her goal is to connect Artpark and Lewiston with the regional, national and even "global community."
As people have begun to see her work unfold, they've bought in, and "I'm quite pleased, actually," Clark said.
"As I thought, this community is very smart; very curious; very supportive; and I think we have a really great future together - with challenges, which we'll overcome," she said.
"Baila Brazil" (Photo by Daniel Boud)
'Baila Brazil' on Stage
The show will be staged at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, July 15-16, at Artpark, 450 S. Fourth St., Lewiston. Tickets are available at the Artpark box office; online at www.tickets.com and www.artpark.net; or by phone at 1-888-223-6000.
Watch a preview: