A big undertaking

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

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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