Last winter, the Provincetown Dance Festival met viewers in their living rooms. Dancers emerged from the shadows, pirouetted, and leapt across the stage — but all within the confines of a screen.
“I found it difficult to watch dance on a computer,” says artistic director Adam Miller. “There is a vitality to be living, breathing, doing something. There is an invisible web and structure of energy that gets built between where you are onstage, across the orchestra pit, to the thousands of people in the audience. You can’t describe it, but you can feel it.”
This Friday and Saturday, the festival, now in its 16th year, will be presented on the newly built Sam’s Stage at Truro Center for the Arts at Castle Hill’s Edgewood Farm Campus. Castle Hill has been co-producing the festival since the very beginning (Provincetown Theater became a partner more recently).
The stage is named after Adam’s late brother, Sam Miller, who was the director of Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival. “He spent every August at our family’s cottage in Wellfleet for 50 years,” says Miller. Once, when they were walking around Castle Hill’s newly acquired Edgewood Farm, “Sam said, ‘That’s a great spot for a theater.’ ”
Castle Hill’s Cherie Mittenthal says that the stage had been in the works long before Covid. It was supposed to open in June, but there were delays because of supply issues. It’s now scheduled to be finished on Wednesday, Aug. 18, with the springy rubber floor laid on Thursday, Aug. 19.
This summer’s festival has an impressive lineup. “It’s the first time in a year and a half that they have been able to perform in front of an audience,” says Miller. Sokeo Ros will perform a fusion of hip-hop and Cambodian dance. Avant-garde tap artist Orlando Hernández will perform a collaboration with saxophonist Leland Baker, thanks to a grant from the New England Foundation for the Arts. Francisco Graciano will be representing the Paul Taylor Dance Company. Dancers Chyrstyn Fentroy and Paulo Arrais from Boston Ballet will present two contemporary works. Scapegoat Garden returns with a new work by Deborah Goffe.
Contemporary dancer Jade Solomon Curtis returns from Seattle. “The audience just went nuts when she was here before,” says Miller. “They were begging her to come back.” Portland Ballet also presents a contemporary duet.
“I kind of pulled out all the stops,” says Miller. “That has always been one of the missions behind what I’ve done — to give people a chance to see a real broad range of styles.” There aren’t any group dances because it was so hard to find housing this year, says Miller. Fortunately, “most dancers love to dance all alone onstage.
“I felt a mild responsibility — putting money in pockets of dancers,” continues Miller. “They have been unemployed. It has been especially hard for dance companies because they can’t work together, though some have created pods.”
While the Outer Cape is a mecca for visual artists, it is surprisingly devoid of dance, other than the festival. “This is a region that has sophisticated artistic sensibilities,” says Miller. “Plus, people are interested in and willing to deal with social issues and injustices.”
Then, why isn’t there more dance? “It’s kind of a combination of things,” says Miller. “There was literally no venue [before Provincetown Theater, and now, Sam’s Stage]. When I was at Hartford Ballet, we performed at Cape Cod Community College. Provincetown Town Hall requires so much equipment and setting up.
“It’s very hard to get the tourist audience in Provincetown to do cultural things,” continues Miller. “I’ve performed in a lot of resort communities, and most of the people who go are the winter residents, except for festivals like Jacob’s Pillow or Tanglewood.” You also need a director who “knows what they’re doing and loves to do it.”
Miller hopes this summer’s festival will get more people interested in dance, especially with the new “artistic hub” that is Sam’s Stage at Edgewood Farm. He says that the Covid year has made audiences hyper-aware of certain aspects of performance.
“I very rarely have people dance en pointe in the Provincetown Theater, because it’s really loud,” he explains. “Some people say, ‘I never realized how much noise pointe shoes make.’ They breathe, they fall on the ground, it makes a thud. People have been watching the dancers when they’re at rest, standing in the wings. People are going to see dancers getting ready — the physicality of what they’re doing. You’re going to see sweat. Then, you see the audience reacting to the watching.
“I haven’t been to a live dance performance in a year and half,” adds Miller. “So, it will be the first time for me, too.”
The event: Provincetown Dance Festival
The time: Friday, Aug. 20 and Saturday, Aug. 21 at 6 p.m.
The place: Sam’s Stage, 3 Edgewood Way, Truro
The cost: $35; students $20