The rollout of vaccinations is helping the U.S. turn a corner during this coronavirus pandemic, and artists and audience members alike are looking forward to enjoying live performances once again. It couldn't be more perfect timing, then, for the inaugural Kaatsbaan Spring Festival, which will feature 16 presentations on two outdoor stages in New York's Hudson Valley. Taking place May 20–23 and May 27–30, the festival brings together luminaries from multiple disciplines, including dance, music, poetry, sculpture and the culinary arts.
"During a challenging year such as this, we really wanted to provide artists from various genres opportunities for support and work," says Sonja Kostich, Kaatsbaan Cultural Park's executive director.
Dance fans will enjoy two world premieres from American Ballet Theatre choreographed by Helen Pickett and James Whiteside, as well as performances from Dorrance Dance, Mark Morris Dance Group, Martha Graham Dance Company, Yannick Lebrun of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, and New York City Ballet's Maria Kowroski, Ask la Cour and Gonzalo Garcia, who will all be celebrating their final seasons with the company.
The festival will operate at less than 3 percent capacity to promote safety. Tickets for the performances are now available on Kaatsbaan.org and advance registration for free digital offerings is available (with donations welcome) throughout the month of May.
Maria Kowroski and Ask la Cour in Christopher Wheeldon's After the Rain
Paul Kolnik, Courtesy Kaatsbaan Cultural Park
A Series of Firsts
For Kowroski, this will be her first time performing onstage in front of a live audience since the pandemic began.
"These moments onstage are so cherished, especially now," says Kowroski, whose farewell performance with NYCB is scheduled for October 17. "It's sacred time. You can't compare anything to performing."
Kowroski's performances during the spring festival include Christopher Wheeldon's After the Rain, with la Cour, and a George Balanchine solo entitled Pavane.
"It will be my first time dancing Pavane," says Kowroski. "It's a solo I have wanted to cross off my bucket list for a long time."
For Pickett, the spring festival marks her first time working at Kaatsbaan and her first time choreographing for ABT. Pickett received a call from artistic director Kevin McKenzie inviting her to create a piece on the company. He had been following her work for some time and experienced her full-length ballet The Crucible with Scottish Ballet.
Set to new music by composer Peter Salem, Pickett's ballet will feature five dancers (two women and three men) and highlights the "energies within human beings and how society shapes those energies inwards and outwards," she says. "It will also draw on some of the societal themes present within Gustave Flaubert's novel Madame Bovary."
Helen PIckett (third from left) with American Ballet Theatre dancers Erica Lall, Blaine Hoven, Carlos Gonzalez, Joo Won Ahn and Zimmi Coker on the grounds of Kaatsbaan Cultural Park
Courtesy Kaatsbaan Cultural Park
Keeping Art Alive
With all of the challenges over the past year, it's hard to believe that Kaatsbaan's artistic director, former ABT principal Stella Abrera, has only been in her role since January 2020. Last year she oversaw the successful Kaatsbaan Summer Festival, which was a direct response to the challenges the dance industry was facing in the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
"I feel I could write a novel with all I have learned so far," quips Abrera. "Sonja has guided me and has been so encouraging and supportive. I am thrilled to still be part of the dance world and support my fellow artists from this side."
Kowroski, Abrera's long-time friend, says, "I am so proud of Stella for opening Kaatsbaan to artists during this past year. She has really shined."
The return of live performances heralds a renewed hope and enthusiasm for the arts.
"I remember as I was watching a dress rehearsal for our first show during the pandemic," recalls Abrera. "It just reaffirmed my love for the art form again."
"Art always thrives out of times of great hardship," adds Pickett.