6. PVDFest draws tens of thousands of spectators into downtown Providence for live music, dance parties, performances, street art, food, vendors, and outdoor bars (photo credit Scott Latham) For the past two years in June, PVDFest has brought the world to Providence, with the City’s creative partner FirstWorks bringing performers from cities across the globe and the U.S. to the outdoor stages of the Creative Capital’s biggest celebration of art, music, food and creative expression. Better yet, this eagerly anticipated festival also showcases Providence to the world.
Whether it was using the iconic Superman Building as a stage for the world’s largest musical instrument, the Earth Harp; bringing Providence-based master drummer Sidy Maiga together with his countrywoman, Mali’s great diva Oumou Sangaré for a late-night world music dance party; or shining the same spotlight on local icons like Chachi Carvalho and Arc Iris as on international stars like Angelique Kidjo, PVDFest has fostered connections between the Creative Capital and creative communities around the globe.
This year’s festival, taking place June 1-4 will take those connections to a higher level, literally and figuratively. When hundreds of artists, performers and revelers converge in the heart of the city for PVDFest, the voice of the community will ring out from high above the crowd. A centerpiece of this year’s festival will be #PVDPublicCanvas, a unique collaboration between FirstWorks, Oakland-based pioneers of vertical dance BANDALOOP, and Providence poet Christopher Johnson.
#PVDPublicCanvas will turn the side of a downtown high-rise into a dance floor, with the lithe bodies of BANDALOOP dancers flipping, twirling, and flying around Johnson as he strides down the 10-story drop, reciting a community-sourced poem inspired by Providence’s neighborhoods.
#PVDPublicCanvas is an entirely new work commissioned for this year’s festival, but it builds upon previous efforts of all parties involved. BANDALOOP took to the skies above FirstWorks Festival on Kennedy Plaza in 2012, and Johnson is no stranger to mixing poetry and dance, having worked with Providence’s Everett dance company on The Freedom Project, which they performed at last year’s PVDFest. Last year, BANDALOOP debuted #SFPublicCanvas back in their Bay Area home. The multimedia vertical dance performance incorporated public discourse about the changing face of San Francisco’s neighborhoods.
The conversations that led to #PVDPublicCanvas began two years ago. “The inspiration to create a Providence-specific work began when FirstWorks and BANDALOOP came together in Miami as fellow DanceUSA grant awardees,” explains FirstWorks Executive Artistic Director Kathleen Pletcher. “FirstWorks is committed to forging deep relationships with artists who come to know our City and want to incubate new work here.”
Pairing the group with Johnson was a natural choice, as the project needed an artist collaborator to represent and mobilize the community. “The week leading up to PVDFest will be filled with creative combustion as Christopher and collaborators fuse poetry with the awe-inspiring movement of BANDALOOP. It makes for an ideal PVDFest centerpiece,” Pletcher says.
To get acquainted with the rigors of aerial performance, Johnson traveled to Oakland for practice sessions with BANDALOOP and artistic director Amelia Rudolph. He was thrilled to discover the vibrant creative energy pulsing through the Bay Area – something that reminded him of home. “Providence and Oakland have a relationship as far as the arts are concerned,” he says. “We’re sister cities in a way. I couldn’t turn a corner out there without meeting someone with something creative going on.”
Next, it was Rudolph’s turn to connect with the Creative Capital. She came to Providence in May for a RIBS Community Flavors Dinner and Town Hall at the Southside Cultural Center. The brainstorming session was part a series of public events for The Cranston Street Armory Animated by Art, a joint initiative of FirstWorks and the City of Providence Department of Art, Culture + Tourism made possible with a National Endowment for the Arts Our Town grant award.
At the dinner, Christopher Johnson and co-hosts Valerie Tutson and Rudy Cabrera of Rhode Island Black Storytellers gathered artists, performers, and community activists from neighborhoods surrounding the historic Cranston Street Armory to discuss the past, present, and future of the Armory District. The input from that evening became the building blocks for the three-minute spoken word poem Johnson will recite at #PVDPublicCanvas performances on June 2 and 3.
Community voices are integral to the concept of #PVDPublicCanvas, as well as the mission of PVDFest. “We have celebrated the city of Providence on a macro level,” Johnson says of previous festivals. “This year, on a micro level, we are celebrating the communities of Providence. We’re putting our people, our stories on the world stage – and we’re letting people know just how big we are as a city.”
“Gazing up to music, stunning dance, and now poetry will be an amazing experience for festival-goers,” adds Pletcher. “For years people have asked when we are bringing BANDALOOP back and now, with #PVDPublicCanvas, we are able to couple their inspired aerial dance artistry with this moment in time for Providence.”
#PVDPublicCanvas will be performed at 8 PM on Friday, June 2, and at 8 and 10 PM on Saturday, June 3 at 10 Dorrance Street, Downtown Providence. Cranston Street Armory Animated by Art public events include the PVDFest finale party Sunday, June 4, 1-8 PM.
For more info on these and other PVDFest events June 1-4 visit pvdfest.com.