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Vanaver Caravan: Dancing on the Bluestone 

click to enlarge The Vanaver Caravan performs at venues throughout the Hudson Valley this month. - PHYLLIS MCCABE
  • Phyllis McCabe
  • The Vanaver Caravan performs at venues throughout the Hudson Valley this month.

For the past 41 years, Bill and Livia Vanaver, founders of the Vanaver Caravan, have been traveling the globe and absorbing the varied forms of dance and music that inhabit it. Romanian stick dances, Appalachian clogging, stomp dances, body percussion, Chinese ribbon dances—the Vanavers have seen and mastered more forms of dance and music than most people have even heard of. "I think my experiences with traveling and being immersed in all these different cultures has really informed the diversity of the Caravan's repertory," says Livia Vanaver. That diversity can be seen at the Vanaver Caravan's four upcoming performances for its SummerDance series of shows, an annual tour that highlights the talent of the Caravan's summer students.

The Vanaver Caravan was established in 1972. Since then, its mission has remained the same: to share and celebrate the diversity of the world's cultures. France, England, Cyprus, and Tunisia are just a few of the countries where the extensively touring dance company has performed. One of the fundamental passions of the Caravan is sharing the experience of other cultures with children. "I love working with children," Livia Vanaver says. "Their enthusiasm and energy is outstanding." The goal is to promote a sense of openness toward other cultures to make what once seemed foreign, familiar.

Livia Vanaver has been a leading advocate of arts education for the past 35 years—she has pioneered the teaching of world dance styles in schools all over the world and creating community through dance. One example: In 2012, the Vanaver Caravan traveled to Udaipur, India, where they worked with young students who didn't have access to arts programs. The Caravan has returned to Udaipur every year since.

The Caravan's commitment to teaching children dance culminates in their annual SummerDance on Tour! "SummerDance started when we had our first group of kids that had grown up with us," Vanaver explains. "We wanted to enhance their dance experience, and we knew the summer was the perfect time for an intensive workshop." Soon the program expanded into an annual workshop for kids ages nine to nineteen. Modern, percussive, flamenco, and ballet are just a few of the dance styles the students are trained in.

Four performances are scheduled for the program's 25th year. On August 13, against the picturesque backdrop of Overlook Mountain, the SummerDance troupe is performing a site-specific piece on Opus 40's sprawling sculpture garden. The evening will begin at 5:30pm with a tour of the grounds, after which the SummerDance students and faculty will perform their "dance with the sculpture," characterized by their signature eclectic mix of dance styles. Once the choreographed show comes to a close, the performers will invite the audience up to join them in a freeform dance party.

The Vanaver Caravan's other upcoming performances include Japanese Taiko drumming at New Paltz's Bon Odori Festival, percussive and Balkan dances at the Rail Trail Café, and a perfromance at the Rosendale Theater to introduce Antonio Gades' film Blood Wedding.

The Vanaver Caravan's SummerDance troupe will perform at the Bon Odori Festival on August 9 at 11am, the Rosendale Theater on August 9 at 2pm, Opus 40 on August 13 at 5:30pm, and at the Rail Trail Café on August 14 at 3:30pm. (845) 256-9300; Vanavercaravan.org.

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