Alumni performers to help Bates College celebrate Modern Dance Company's 35th anniversary

More than 100 Bates College alumni will return to campus from all over the country to attend or take part in a performance marking the 35th anniversary of the college’s Modern Dance Company. Beginning at 8 p.m. Saturday, May 1, in Schaeffer Theatre, 305 College Street, The Alumni Concert is open to the public at no charge.

Highlights of the performance include “Canonic 3/4 Studies,” a 1982 piece by Mark Morris, one of America’s most respected choreographers, and Alwin Nikolais’ 1953 “Tensile Involvement.” For more information call 207-786-6157. No seat reservations will be accepted.

The Modern Dance Company was founded by Marcy Plavin, of Lewiston, who started at Bates in 1965 and retires as director of dance this year. A program that helped pave the way for the college’s current robust offerings in the arts, including the nationally renowned Bates Dance Festival, Plavin and the company are the object of deep loyalty among its veterans — many of whom will dance on May 1.

“In the midst of this very intensive academic experience, it was incredibly different and open and freeing to have part of our experience be about being creative,” Suzanne Carbonneau told the college’s alumni magazine in 1998. A member of the class of 1976, Carbonneau is a dance critic and historian. “It was always about exposing us to a lot of different stuff and encouraging us to go where our interests were.”

Alumni from classes as far back as the mid-1960s will take part in the May 1 performance. The first half of the program features two pieces danced by current members of the dance company: the Nikolais work, for which the dancers perform with elastic bands stretched across the stage like a giant cat’s cradle, and Morris’s teasing takeoff on traditional ballet, for which obtaining performance rights was something of a coup. “We’re all honored by this great gift,” Plavin says.

Short works danced by alumni constitute the remainder of the first half. The program’s entire second half will be choreographed and danced by alumni, with an opening section choreographed by Michael Foley — class of 1989 and assistant professor of modern dance at the University of South Florida — and a closing by John Carrafa, class of 1976, a Tony Award-nominated choreographer acclaimed for his work on the Broadway hits “Urinetown” and “Into the Woods,” among other credits.

This isn’t the first MDC anniversary for which alumni have trekked back to Lewiston, but it’s an especially significant one because of the impending retirement of Plavin, who was first hired at Bates by the director of women’s physical education. “Marcy might have been the first adult who wanted me to call her by her first name,” Geri FitzGerald, a member of the class of 1975 and a Bates trustee, told the college magazine. “In many ways, she was the first adult friend that I had.”

“They’re my extended family,” Plavin says. “We’ve had great times together. Dance seems to build those kinds of friendships.”

During Plavin’s tenure, the dance program has grown dramatically — from two courses in the PE department to a rich slate of academic offerings that students can take as a secondary concentration. In the not-too-distant future, Bates hopes to offer a dance major. Since 1983 the college has been home to the Bates Dance Festival, which Plavin founded and which today ranks in the top tier of such events in the United States.

Plavin will remain a presence at Bates, but succeeding her as head of the dance program is Carol Dilley, who arrived last fall. Dilley’s resume includes stints on faculty at the University of Washington and in a variety of dance programs in Sydney, Australia. She has also run a dance company in Barcelona, and attended the Bates Dance Festival as a student in the early 1990s.

“Carol will do wonderful things,” Plavin says.