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Artpark’s 7th Annual Fairy Festival – Free & Foxy at the Summer Solstice Celebration

Authors: Kara Mann and Maria Provenzano

“Is this where the fairies live?” This was one question hot on our minds as we pulled up to the Summer Solstice Celebration at Artpark last Saturday.  Excited for this new experience, we hopped right out of the car and into the 7th Annual Fairy Festival. We arrived around 6:00pm and were delighted to see the festivities still in action. Powerful and lively drumbeats echoed through the area, drawing us right into fairy action.  Then came the costumes, wings, dancing, stilts, feathers, sparkles and glitter, oh my!

Brightly colored fabric panels accented the park, provoking a magical ambience as they danced in the light refreshing breeze. One tent was covered with so much fabric that we could only see short glimpses of inside as the wind blew through. “Please come in”, the sign out front stated.

We turned to each other with a big smile, and into the Tea Room we went to meet our first fairy friends. They welcomed us with open wings and a tepid ginger tea, served out of adorable handmade miniature tea cups. Pillows created nests for both humans and fairies to relax. Just as we thought that things couldn’t get any better, they let us keep our fairy tea cups!

Luckily, right before we took the fairy oath and threw in our towels as humans, we ran into our friends from Buffalo Aerial Dance. Their costumes were beautifully made and fit perfectly into the fairy vibe. Plus, they provided the very important element of flying at this event. At this moment, we realized there was way more out there in the fairy world, and we had better get going.

“We had it set up so there were events going on all the time,” said fairy world orchestrator, Jon Lehrer of Lehrer Dance. “Guests watched the aerialists, then the spoken word, then we had the solstice dancers, the drummers, and then it just rotated for the first two and half hours (starting at 4:00pm). We tried to keep it flowing. People could come and go as they wanted. Then it led right up to the Lehrer Dance show. Then to here… the after party! Literally a journey through the park. It’s just all about this cohesiveness, which is great, and bringing the artists together.” 

With an extra skip in our step, we wandered through the park, weaving through giant wooden flower bud huts, slowly feeling our inner children taking over. A little fairy approached us complete with wings and a flower crown to say hello and ran off into the wilderness. We heard though the fairy vine, that in the afternoon, the festival was swarming with winged children. Between the wish tree, build your own fairy house, face painting, wing decorating and so many more fun activities, we could see how a kid would totally never want to leave this place! Not to mention, the adults!

As time quickly passed, especially when we caught glimpse of the Candy Shoppe, a Slyboots style procession filed by us, overflowing with more energetic rhythms and dancing, leading the crowd to the next big event.  This moving crowd was entertained from start to finish, on our journey to the colorful and newly recreated, “Niagara 79” striped parking lot, containing a large white platform stage ready to hold the athletic and energetic movement of Buffalo’s own Lehrer Dance. The seating options ranged from numerous folding chairs and a hill where one could experience “balcony” seating. As dancers ourselves, we choose the “balcony” so we would not miss any floor choreography. The choice was a very good one, but also a very “nature-ful” one, including an encounter with some large ants who had some serious personal space issues. However, we could appreciate this authenticity, especially after hearing Jon Lehrer explain some of his objectives for the event and his team’s intention to fully integrate each performance into the park.

Back to the view – amazing and obstruction-less, we loved seeing these pieces from this perspective. When talking to Jon, we asked him about how he chose the pieces to be performed for this event. He explained the consideration he had taken with the environment and aimed for each piece to ideally enhance its park surroundings. Choosing his first piece, Chukchi definitely fit the bill. The dancers’ nude unitards with black tribal paint combined perfectly with driving, rhythmic, and dynamically diverse music by the Eskimo Ensemble. The basis of this piece tugged at our heartstrings and brought us in touch with that part of dance that can teach us about each other, and promote the value of true cultural diversity. While on tour in Russia, Lehrer Dance was able to spend the day with an indigenous tribe from the far east of Russia, exchanging dance choreography and traditions.  This dance was a way for the dancers to say thank you to the tribe for welcoming them into their community, which they had enjoyed so much [tear]. 

After the first piece, we spotted some fairy nymphs hanging in the crowd, joking and dancing with each other. Then there were some on stage, sliding around with towels. We realized these weren’t just regular nymphs but special Lehrer Dance helper nymphs. Not only did they keep the stage free and clear of fairy sparkles (aka sweat) they kept us humans from getting into any trouble while the dancers changed and quickly rested between dance pieces. We thoroughly appreciated the distraction and laughs as we anxiously awaited the next piece to begin.

Some of the following pieces were classics, which we had previously seen at other venues. We thought it was interesting to see how natural light versus the light of a classical proscenium stage affected the feeling of the pieces. The vibe of “Loose Cannon”, was definitely a little different and harder to read in broad daylight. Dancers in their pajamas fall in and out of sleep, having silly dreams, temper tantrums and even appear to play some tricks on each other. Long time company member Rachael Leonard really amped up her unforgettable charm and drove the piece straight down its intended lighthearted and humorous path reaching all the way to the back of the audience. As Lehrer Dance fans know, and Jon admits himself, it isn’t a Lehrer Dance show without a little humor!

Overall, we very much enjoyed seeing the company in this setting. Some other highlights were, seeing their brand new costumes (designed by Laura Vanner) which added some extra movement to their signature choreography. The organic feel of the fabric, natural colors, and ease on the dancer’s body seemed to be meant for a stage in the sun with a light breeze. The performance ended the on a very high note with A Ritual Dynamic, a piece meant to admittedly “show off their skills”. Dancers literally fly all over the stage and even right into each other’s arms. As dancers, we knew how insane this was to perform after such a demanding set. Come to find out, the stage was actually on a slight backwards slant, requiring even more effort to stay on balance. Kudos to the amazing focus and performance from all of the dancers.

Feeling really good, we were beyond ready for the after party, which of course was preceded by one more musical procession from Slyboots leading us to the festivities. As we finally put our fairy wings to rest, accompanied by a fairy juice cocktail (aka Prosecco) we caught up with one audience member to chat about her experiences. We didn’t know what she would have to say, but since she was wearing an awesome flamingo shirt, we thought we had better find out. Turns out the lovely Lara Martini is a writer from a local blog that had recently featured one of our other dance friends, Gaitrie from Devi Bollywood. “Did we just become best friends?”… is something I know both of us thought as we pulled it together and dug in for some actual insight on the task at hand. As a novice dancer and audience member, we really appreciated Lara pointing out the value of hearing some insight and history about each piece. Especially when viewing Modern Dance, she especially liked having a point of reference. This also seemed to drive home the goal of Lehrer Dance – to make their art accessible to the community.

As the party continued, the energy kept flowing. Griffin Brady gave us the inside scoop, letting us know that Slyboots still had three sets planned for the night including some awesome surprises such as pan spinning, with the crowd definitely getting up to dance too. “The crowd from tonight is a totally different one from this afternoon,” explained Griffin, which made sense, because we were already running out of steam.  

The party vibe was just starting and was planned to go until midnight. As the sun set, strung lights started to sparkle everywhere, a video projection of original graphic art lit an entire wall, and fire spinners from Pyromancy began their performance. After chatting with our last fairy friend, we took a slow walk to the car and enjoyed the beautiful night. To say the least, we will be back again! We give this artistic collaboration two thumbs up (ok, it’s us, so maybe two toes…)

Lehrer work is created here in Buffalo. The company tours all over the world. Their next show is October  6th at the University at Buffalo, featuring a special musical performer to be announced soon.

Kara Mann took her first class from Miss Sue at age 8 (1991). Her first love was ballet.  As a teen, one of her favorite experiences was going to NYC to take classes at Broadway Dance Center, which is what partly what propelled her into her future goal and life purpose of bringing dance to the forefront in Buffalo for people of all ages.  After graduation (2001), she began teaching at the studio and had the pleasure to work with so many amazing children throughout her time there. For college, she attended UB, where she received her BA in Dance and BS in Business Administration (2006) and took part as a dancer and choreographer in many student productions. During college, she also studied at Point Park where she was able to expand her training even more. She also continued to travel to NYC to stay with friends and take classes.

After graduation, she joined Buffalo Contemporary Dance where she had many great opportunities to perform for 3 years. The company however disbanded, which is when Kara and three other local dance advocates launched the Habit Dance Project. The goal was to provide opportunities for adult/professional level dancers to continue to choreograph and perform. The company paved the way through the local dance scene and served as a catalyst to many of the members creating their own niche dance companies.

One of Kara’s biggest dreams was to create a community for adults and dance. She began with adult drop in classes, once a week at a local studio and then in November of 2009 found her own space and jumped into offering a full schedule of drop-in classes for adults. As the studio has developed over 8 years, a wonderful community of adult dancers has grown. The company now offers their class at various temporary spaces in WNY in hopes to solidify their own future permanent space in the awesome developing city of Buffalo. Free Soul Performance group (both professional level and recreational dancers) have performed at many local festivals and events throughout Buffalo such as Elmwood Art Fest, The Erie County Fair, Infringement Festival, Vegfest, Le Femme Buffalo and more! She also offers specialty classes for Bachelorette parties, ladies night, choreography for weddings and events, technique training and injury prevention and rehabilitation through dance conditioning and stretching techniques. Free Soul also strives to welcome other local dance artists into their community to share their unique knowledge and cultivate their styles through workshops and masterclasses.

Kara also supports and is a member of the all girl dance group, The Foxy Diamondz, which has given her a chance to dance at events like the World’s Largest Disco, Bidwell Concert Series, local festivals and events. It has also given her opportunities to work with local photographers, music videos, and on a local TV show pilot. She is excited that she can also extend this opportunity to other dancers in the area. Little did she know, that day she took her first class, would change her life forever. Dance has proven to absolutely change people’s lives, give them confidence, help them find their way in life, and understand their souls. Kara greatly appreciates her original dance home and inspiration that Performing Arts has provided her and the value of what they offer is definitely something to celebrate!

Written by Maria Provenzano

Maria Provenzano

Maria is a dedicated dancer and dance instructor in Buffalo NY. She orchestrates a dance troupe called Foxy Diamondz and doesn't miss a chance to catch a dance show that rolls through town. Maria has been promoting all forms of dance in hopes that others have a chance to truly appreciate the local dance scene that she feels is energetic, diverse and due for some serious recognition.

View All Articles by Maria Provenzano
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