Gary began the yearly festivals because she wanted to present different programs with a variety of choreographic voices. Organizing the event provided her with an avenue to remain connected to the big world of dance. It’s one she knows about, having performed and instructed for more than 30 years. She moved to Richmond in 1979 from the University of Kansas to help create Virginia Commonwealth University's department of dance. Since the mid-1980s, she’s been a single performer and toured throughout the state under the auspices of the Virginia Museum Artists Workshop series. In 1991, she received a Choreographic Project Grant for a solo show inspired by the life and paintings of Georgia O'Keeffe.
She founded the nonprofit K Dance in 2000. Then she chose to create the “YES! Dance Invitational." It's supported in part by the Virginia Commission for the Arts.
“So often, in particular in modern dance, you’re not just dancing but doing back stage work and changing light gels, and you’re not getting paid, or not very much,” she explains. “I was determined that the festival wouldn’t run that way.” YES! dancers are compensated and she put together a crackerjack running crew to keep the program moving.
The festival even pays air fare — which is important if the talent is coming from the varied points of the compass.
Every year, Dance magazine puts together a “25 To Watch” list that Gary researches. That's how she ran across the Los Angeles-based Bodytraffic, recently well-reviewed on the University of Southern California's Neon Tommy site. Reviewer Wiebke Schuster credited co-artistic directors (and dancers) Lillian Rose Barbeito and Tina Finkelmann Berkett with creating dance pieces in which “humor and wit successfully share an evening’s bill alongside a work that takes the viewer on a journey to the basement of our dusty souls.” Barbeito, the writer observed, “is a powerhouse, leaping from a great height to her whole body lying flat on the floor in a split second, without noise. Spiraling arms and swiveling turns reverberate to infinity.”
An example of Bodytraffic's work.
“It’s one of those things that I wish it could last a little longer, but time doesn’t allow that, so we want people to come down to Manchester to see the show,” Gary says.
She is also taking on The Dog, a short play by David Mamet — who is not often associated with movement theater. "it's just real fun," she says.
The Mighty Sam McClain, still bringing the soul-stirring R&B at age 70 and backed by a group playing, he joked, “New Hampshire funk,” concluded the event from the Altria Stage.
Dancing around in the mud, I realized that we all looked like insects strapped on a Pest Strip. But nobody cared.
Considering the averages, the Folk Festival’s fortune with weather is better than the State Fair’s. Since it started, we’ve had weekends of unusual heat, chilly breezes and, yes, wind-driven drizzle, but the worst in terms of conditions was the first almost a decade ago. Thus, the attendance numbers may be down from previous years, which affects the bottom line as the festival relies on donations from its Orange Bucket Brigade. The Folk Feast, held a few days before the big event, may have eased that deficit a little.
The inclement situation may have kept away the Fair Weather Festers, but, as for us, we came, we listened and we shook our cabooses.
I was profoundly moved by Nathalie Pires’ interpretation of the Portugese “fado” — the blues of Lisbon’s alleys and back-street cabarets. She sounded like Edith Piaf, resembled a Picasso drawing, and her sense of operatic drama made every song — most of them fairly short — an epic of emotion. Her backup band wasn’t bad either.
Maggie Ingram and the Ingramettes on Sunday afternoon just wrenched the living daylights out of their ecstatic audience. The legendary gospel group yanked audience members onto the stage as though pulling them up into a lifeboat from a tempest-tossed sea. And I suppose that’s part of the point.
Pires’ fado and the Gospel According to Maggie are quite different approaches. Pires describes her music as speaking (alliteratively) of “living, loss, loving and lamenting.” She sang one song of intense affection followed by a break-up tune that included something along the lines of, “I'd rather die not seeing you than see you and want to die." The Ingramettes brought love that passes understanding, as well as redemption, hope and sweat.
Between the two sets, I went weak in the knees. It was astounding. Then I was treated to the Whitetop Mountain Band, an Appalachian string band and family group. Back in 2009, Martha Spencer was a cute youngster wth a big voice. Now she’s a woman who reminds me of June Carter Cash. Her voice can soar and pluck the heart, too. While enjoyable, these songs are about real people and their lives, and trouble is not always far away. Plus, that Southwest Virginia accent is blessedly unbesmirched by sounding like a television presenter.
We’d heard about the planned No BS! flashmob via Facebook. It involved synchronized dance moves that I didn’t think I’d be able to learn on short notice. But I was pleased to be on hand to watch those who committed.
It was the perfect coda for the weekend.