Open Fields: The Inaugural Kaatsbaan Spring Festival | Festivals | Hudson Valley | Chronogram Magazine

When your arts editor and Stella Arbrera, the artistic director of Kaatsbaan Cultural Park, last spoke, it was for Chronogram's May 2020 issue. At that point, the closures to arts venues and businesses brought about by the onset of COVID-19 were a fresh concept, and an uncertain Abrera was, like so many of her counterparts at similar organizations, grappling with her facility's sudden pivot to virtual programming while "trying to prepare the future and not knowing what that means." Thankfully, with the advent of the vaccine and the measured easement of safety restrictions, there is a much clearer path forward now, even if we're not quite out of the woods yet. This month, though, the renowned Kaatsbaan center is taking its programming into the woods—and the fields—literally, with the staging of the inaugural Kaatsbaan Spring Festival, which will take place May 20-23 and May 27-30 outdoors on Kaatsbaan's verdant 153-acre Tivoli grounds.

"It's been a long year for everybody, but for us, in some ways, it actually flew by," says Abrera about the steady flow of web-based programming, combined with the behind-the-scenes festival organizing, that has kept her and her coworkers busy since last spring. "The Kaatsbaan team, led by [executive director] Sonja Kostich and me, really came together to be able to provide opportunities online for artists to continue working during the pandemic, and with helping to plan and put together everything for the spring festival."

Dance has been the central element of Kaatsbaan's operation since its 1990 founding by Gregory Cary, Kevin McKenzie, Bentley Roton, and Martine van Hamelas as the Kaatsbaan International Dance Center, and the spring festival's related offerings do not disappoint when it comes to the medium of movement. Set to perform for the festival on the campus's two recently erected outdoor stages are dancers from the Martha Graham Dance Company, the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater, the Mark Morris Dance Group, the New York City Ballet, Dorrance Dance, and Abrera's former outfit, the American Ballet Theatre.

But, reflective of Kaatsbaan's widening of its programming to include other disciplines, the maiden festival will also feature newly installed works by sculptors Emil Alzamora, Stuart Farmery, Tristan Fitch, Jared Handelsman, Kenichi Hiratsuka, Portia Munson, E. M. Power, Gregory Steel, Kurt Steger, Christina Tenaglia, and Millicent Young. Also on the menu is a culinary component curated by Esquire's food and drinks editor, Jeff Gordiner, who will moderate roundtables of local authors and experts on foraging and the Hudson Valley food scene. "The culinary element was a natural inclusion when we were putting the festival together," says Kostich. "Food is such a big part of life in the region, which is being called 'the new Napa Valley.'"

Music also figures into the festival, which will premiere American Lyric, a new site-specific, commissioned work by musicians Hunter Noack (founder of the acclaimed "In a Landscape" outdoor classical series) and James Edmund Greeley with dancers Garen Scribner, Coral Dolphin, Bobbi Jene Smith, Or Schraiber, ShanDien LaRance, and Taylor Stanley and film by Jeremy Jacob.

But for many the icing on Kaatsbaan's cake for the festival will be the May 22 appearance by Patti Smith with her longtime sideman Tony Shanahan. The evening, which is being curated by another sometime Smith band mate, guitarist Oliver Ray, will combine poetry with music. "We're so very grateful it's happening," says Kostich about the rare, intimate performance by the punk and literary icon. "The show is being planned as a celebration of Bob Dylan's 80th birthday." In addition, acclaimed indie rock band Yo La Tengo will perform on May 29 and folk/psych guitarist Steve Gunn will play on May 30.

Of course, COVID-19 precautions will be part of the landscape for the festival, whose rollout has been informed by Kaatsbaan's success with its 2020 summer festival. Tickets are $22.50 to $150, with a 10-percent discount for students, seniors, veterans, and essential workers. Tickets are limited, as the venue will operate at less than three percent of its regular capacity to promote safety; state event safety guidelines will be followed, all seating is outdoors, and each ticket holder will be assigned a four-foot-by-six-foot seating area. Parking is limited, so carpooling is strongly recommended; preshow emails will include the option to purchase a reserved parking spot. In partnership with Stockade Works, digital tickets for select virtual performances will also be made available on May 1.

An earlier draft of this article incorrectly stated that Kaatsbaan Cultural Park (formerly Kaatsbaan International Dance Center) was founded by Martine van Hammel and Kevin McKenzie. The center was founded by the team of Gregory Cary, Kevin McKenzie, Bentley Roton, and Martine van Hamel. We regret the error and apologize for any confusion it may have caused.

Peter Aaron

Peter Aaron is the arts editor for Chronogram.
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