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The Arts

A big undertaking

How Brenda Siegel helped create the Southern Vermont Dance Festival, four days packed with classes and performances

For ticket and other information, visit www.southernvermontdancefestival.com/ticketwindow.

BRATTLEBORO—Brenda Lynn Siegel, artistic executive director and founder of the Southern Vermont Dance Festival (SVDF), had long wanted to organize a dance festival for her hometown, but it was only after a series of recent disasters in Brattleboro that she actually resolved to make her dream a reality.

From Thursday, July 18, through Sunday, July 21, in downtown Brattleboro, the first-ever SVDF presents a celebration of dance open to professionals, novices, families, and anyone who wants to move to the music and contribute to a sense of place.

The event aims to showcase the works of choreographers and faculty from New England and New York – and to encourage the revival of Brattleboro’s downtown after its recent disasters, the Brooks House fire and Tropical Storm Irene.

Brenda Siegel’s love and concern for her hometown are at the heart of her interest in the festival.

“I, myself, lost everything in Irene. I have watched our downtown devastated by flood and fire, and I know firsthand that this moment, two years post-flood, is the hardest one,” she says. “All of the reserves have run out, but there are new disasters [to prepare for]. Relief efforts have shifted to other areas, yet as a town and as individuals, we are not fully recovered.”

Seigel says she believes that SVDF will boost economic development and morale for her beleaguered community.

“If I am going to organize and host a dance event that takes place in Brattleboro, it has to help rebuild our businesses. It has to contribute to the growth of our local economy in a real and tangible way,” she says.

Something for everyone

The four-day festival will be filled with lectures, performance, live music and community events taught by world-class faculty. There will be workshops for all levels of technique and interest, including a significant amount of yoga, Pilates, and other movement styles offered throughout the festival. Free live music and performances will be hosted by various local businesses.

Dance classes will be offered in ballet, modern, Middle Eastern, Jazz, hip hop, composition, African, yoga, Pilates, and more.

Instruction will be given by people such as Donlin Foreman (a former Martha Graham dancer), Billbob Brown (director of Dance at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst), Felice Wolfzahn, (dance faculty member at Mount Holyoke and Bennington colleges), Maria Simpson (dance faculty member at Bard College), Lorraine Chapman, (director of LCTC – Lorraine Chapman the Company, and a faculty member at the Boston Conservatory), and world-renowned choreographer Adrian Hawkins.

Evening gala performances on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday will include work by such notable groups, dancers, and choreographers as Chaos Theory Dance, Chapman of LCTC, Jennifer Weber from Decadence Theatre, Wolfzahn, Jessica Howard, Siegel’s own IBIT Dance Company, and many more.

Siegel knows what kicks

For more than a decade, Siegel has been a vital figure in the Southern Vermont dance community. She is co-founder of IBIT Dance Company and has owned and operated Flow Yoga and Dance Programs for 10 years.

Moreover, Siegel has taught breakdance, belly dance, and ballet around the area, including for the Windham Regional Career Center’s high school program, working with students and faculty to create new work and produce performances.

Siegel was born and raised in Brattleboro, but after college, she moved away for many years. Ultimately, she decided to return because she believed Brattleboro was a great place to raise her child.

“I returned to Vermont in July of 2001 and I opened Flow Yoga and Dance Center,” she says. “We started as a center for breakdance and Astanga yoga and quickly became a haven for alternative dance styles. My dance center is most known for having window shows at Gallery Walk (the first Friday of every month). This was site-specific work, shown in my studio’s second story store front window on Elliot Street.

“Additionally, Flow became known for its work in the local schools. Just seven years after opening my doors, I restructured and closed my studio space and became a floating business. For the past two years, the business has specialized in teaching after-school programs, workshops and residencies in schools all around Vermont. I work with kids in schools and venues to bring them confidence building access to movement, oftentimes working with children who may not otherwise have access to dance.”

Siegel recently opened IBIT Dance Company.

“Here I put a strong focus on working with my dancers and their unique abilities,” she says. “I thoroughly enjoy working with dancers and movers of different technique levels who have a mature quality. I use improvisation and writing to begin to set movement on the group. I often ask my dancers to challenge not only their bodies, but also their psyches to allow themselves to dig deeply inside of themselves to show their vulnerability. I find that working with my dancers, as opposed to simply choreographing them, allows for the art to really unfold in its entirety.”

Siegel’s approach to modern dance technique and composition is a deep exploration of each dancer’s individual qualities, and meticulous attention to breath and body alignment. These qualities, combined with a strong grasp of the creative process, allow for dancers to explore their full potential in movement.

She says she relishes her role as a teacher.

“At this stage in my career, I am not interested in pushing my own technical abilities, but rather working with dancers and creating work [with] them,” she says. “Occasionally, I find myself with the desire to put myself on stage, but, mostly I like to paint the picture and sit back and watch the execution of my art.

“As a single mother and business owner, I am responsible for the management of so many things. I find it very interesting that my largest desire is to create work and then relinquish control, leaving the dancers to execute the art that I have created. I have often thought of that release of control as the climax of my work, the moment at which I let go and allow the art to be what it is.”

Making of art in the spotlight

Currently, Siegel is working with a local sculptor and several musicians to create an evening-length work about the making of art. It’s inspired by the art work of Hugh Joudry.

“This promises to be both experimental and moving, using multimedia to create several layers of impetus and theory,” she says.

Excerpts from this work will be shown at the festival in the Friday gala concert.

Siegel says she is convinced that dance allows her to express her best self.

“Dance inspires me to use my strengths and weaknesses positively,” she says. “When I ask myself, Why dance? Every time the answer is simple: Dance is who am. I have no other choice. Dance may not be easy work. It requires extreme dedication and commitment. But if you love it — I mean really love it — then it’s all worth it.”

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Tamara Stenn
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Tamara Stenn (Brattleboro, Vermont, US) says...

Thanks for writing this Elayne. I was thinking the same thing myself. The silence we received from the hospital is quite deafening. Unfortunately we\'ve had to continue working with the hospital as other (minor) heath issues come up.

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Judith Skillman
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Judith Skillman (Newcastle, US) says...

Excellent and informative writing about the media and about the state of our nation. We must support the press speak truth to power, now more than ever before.

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Ruby Bode
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Ruby Bode (Westminster, Vermont, US) says...

We are also obliged to criticize the press when they merely echo the lies of the powerful. In this case, much of the press has taken a side, not just against the policies of the President, but against the election itself on behalf of the parties of war and Wall St. Just as the US has in the past agitated in other countries for coups against democratic outcomes they don’t like, much of the press, including this editorial, is now agitating for a coup here at home.

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Peter Ford
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Peter Ford (Dallas) says...

Nailed it - Thank you.

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TB Smith
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TB Smith (Ba, Oklahoma, US) says...

The divisiveness brought on by this shamefully poor excuse for a president has been once again, borne out by this article, and the responses to it .. his most devoted followers are the most gullible and easily swayed sheeple since the \"Kool-Aid party in Jonestown\" ... those who stand up the most fervently to this dictator \"wanabe\", will , inthe end, see him and the fellow purveyors of his garbage rhetoric like FOX News, Alex Jones, Breitbart, etc., crumble and be dumped like stale crackers (pardon the pun) .. we must impeach this tyrant before too much damage is done, either from within or outside our borders.

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Ruby Bode
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Ruby Bode (Westminster, Vermont, US) says...

So it’s OK that access to outlets that simply recognize Trump as President is indeed being shut down? But isn’t that exactly what this editorial is against? Should outlets that cheered on Obama’s wars and love of Wall St have likewise been shut down? Only John Birch Society–inspired screeds against Trump indicate the “legitimate” press?

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Ruby Bode
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Ruby Bode (Westminster, Vermont, US) says...

TB Smith’s comment in apparent support of the us-vs-them tone of this editorial illustrates why so many people distrust so much of the press (although, again, it appears to be only pro-Trump and anti-imperialist outlets that are actually being shut down): They are promulgating hysterical claims about fascism, Russians, and “crackers” not in the interest of the people, but wholly on behalf of the neoliberal/neoconservative program of Reagan, Clinton, Bush, and Obama to deny Trump the Presidency and even remove him from office – not democratically, but by coup if necessary. That makes the press rather anti-democratic and, indeed, against the people.

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Amelia Stone
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Amelia Stone (E Dummerston, Vermont, US) says...

Kudos to the Boston Globe for encouraging newspapers across the country to remind us all of the value of a free press, and to the Commons for hearing that call. The NYTimes article, A Free Press Needs You, concludes with the following: \"If you haven’t already, please subscribe to your local papers. Praise them when you think they’ve done a good job and criticize them when you think they could do better. We’re all in this together.\" Today I plan to subscribe.

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