New festival puts dance back in the spotlight

Unfortunately the term “struggling artist” has become so common that it’s now a cliché; in fact, it could now be called a term of endearment. But this year the performing arts community is fighting back right here in the Triad, claiming the attention it deserves and bringing to light the need for more opportunities and collaboration in the area.

Early this spring we saw a successful first annual Ruby Slipper Fringe Festival, in which Paper Lantern Theatre Company and other local organizers pulled together a free festival to give performance space and voice to new female artists. And now that sentiment has carried over to the world of dance with another free festival: On Site/In Sight: A Downtown Winston- Salem Dance Festival.

“I had a desire to see dance outside of the theater,” said lead organizer Helen Simoneau of Helen Simoneau Danse (sic). “(To see it) in non-traditional spaces and unexpected places. I wanted to try to get to a new audience and maybe get people to experience dance who had never experienced it before.”

“The different ways of engaging with movement is what inspired the festival,” Simoneau continued. “I also had a desire to work with other makers, other choreographers and performers in a way that was more of a collaborative effort.”

The festival seeks to create a conversation about dance and lack of performance opportunities in the area. The performances will take place throughout the downtown Winston-Salem area as popup, rooftop and courtyard performances at different venues.

“I thought about how vibrant the downtown (Winston-Salem) area is now and how dance could fit into it,” Simoneau said.

The performances are mostly modern dance pieces and vary, with each one being a new experience for the audience. Some pieces have a solo artist, while others have a group of dancers, and some pieces have projections or set pieces.

Simoneau began developing the concept and reaching out to co-organizers, artists and possible sources of funding about a year ago.

Simoneau enlisted the help of six local artists, including Cara Hagan, an assistant professor of dance studies at Appalachian State University, who was also a co-organizer for the Ruby Slipper Fringe Festival.

“I accepted the invitation because I believe that there is a desire from Winston Salem audiences to see new things happening in the city, as the city continues to grow and change,” Hagan said. “And while I don’t live in Winston Salem anymore, I like to stay connected to the community when I can. I hope that the community feels like this is an opportunity to get closer to us as artists. Not just physically, but creatively, too, as we illuminate common spaces in new ways.”

Though the performances are free to attend for the public, the artists are fortunately getting compensated, something that Simoneau was passionate about.

“(Compensating the artists) was crucial to the festival,” she said. “We have to begin with this notion that what they are bringing to Winston has value.”

With the help of the venues volunteering their spaces, as well as funding from the Arts Council of Winston-Salem and Forsyth County and other donors, Simoneau’s ideal became a reality. PAZ Studios is also donating free movement classes to the public after the performances.

“(The classes) are about a group of people moving together and having fun, and really celebrating movement,” Simoneau said, as the classes are for all ages and experience levels. “It gives an instant sense of community.” !


Performances are scattered throughout Winston- Salem Thursday through Saturday. See Playbill for schedule details.