Saratoga Springs

Festival of Young Artists returns to SPAC

A photo from a past Festival of Young Artists at SPAC. (Dave Clark Imaging)

A photo from a past Festival of Young Artists at SPAC. (Dave Clark Imaging)

The performers won’t be the only ones choreographed at Saratoga Performing Art Center’s the Festival of Young Artists on Saturday.

The audience will be as well.

“Everybody sort of has to move at the same time, even though they’re in different groups and watching different things,” said Renée Jaworski, the co-artistic director of Pilobolus.

The renowned dance company will be directing this year’s festival and instead of the traditional concert setting, 200 local musicians, dancers and others will be set up at six different stages throughout SPAC’s campus and audience members will journey to each on a mile-long tour.

“We have to choreograph the audience, which is fun . . . There will be this signal for every group to move on to the next station. It ensures that things are happening in a timely fashion and that you’re not going to bump into another group,” Jaworski said.

Pilobolus used the “roving art safari” format for another festival it was involved in toward the start of the pandemic.

“We created this experience last year [and] it sold out. We had a waiting list for people who wanted to get involved and experience it . . . We realized how hungry people were for live experiences,” Jaworski said.

That hunger only seems to have grown in the year since. Saturday will mark the first live, in-person performances for many students involved. It will also be the first for SPAC.

“The Adirondack Trust Company Festival of Young Artists is always one of our most joyous events of the year,” said Elizabeth Sobol, president and CEO of SPAC. “The fact that this year it marks SPAC’s true return to live performance after a year of darkened stages just lends that much more poignancy and import to the moment.”

Many groups involved

Several different performing arts companies are involved in the festival this year, including the Empire State Youth Orchestra, Capital District Youth Chorale, Schenectady High School Dance Connection, Capital District Youth Pipe Band and Northeast Ballet Company.

For 14 young dancers in the Northeast Ballet Company, the festival will be a test of stamina. They’ll perform two pieces, “Adiemus” and “Hibernation, Light, Exhale,” nine times throughout the event.

For much of last year, they were only allowed to hold classes virtually and just started getting back into the studio several months ago. To go from, as company founder Darlene Myers puts it, 0 to 2,000 has been challenging. Yet, it’s also had a positive impact on the mental health of the dancers.

“Right now, they’re so much happier and luckier than a lot of children their age, that they have this. They tell me that they’re very grateful for this and I do believe them because I can see it in them. I can see the joy that they have found again but they did not have that when they first came back,” Myers said.

The company’s two pieces aren’t traditional ballet but modern dance and they’ll perform outside of the Hall of Springs in collaboration with the Capital District Youth Chorale.

Not too far away, Pilobolus will perform with the students from the Schenectady High School Dance Connection. Dancers from Pilobolus worked with the students virtually to create a piece that reflects on the theme of the festival “metamorphosis.”

“All of the material came from the students. I would say that when we teach, we act as facilitators to help the group that we’re teaching draw material out and then help put it together,” Jaworski said.

For Schenectady High School sophomore Isabella Grevely, collaborating and creating a dance with Pilobolus has stretched creative muscles.

“We’re taking normal, day-to-day things and creating abstract dance, something that you wouldn’t normally see. So it’s really interesting for all of us to step out of our comfort zone and try something new because we’re all used to [being given] choreography,” Grevely said.

Leah Rajwant, a junior at Schenectady High School, said that working with the company has broadened her view of dance and performing at the Festival of Young Artists will be the perfect way to wrap things up.

“I think that this is a great way to end the school year, especially for our dance students who’re participating in this project because of this whole online situation, being in-person I think that [will] be an amazing way to end the school year,” Rajwant said.

“It’s kind of the beginning to an ending, with COVID and us going through all that we went through and now we’re able to do performances like this again. It’s super awesome,” Grevely said.

A dress rehearsal scheduled for Friday marks the first time they’ll have been able to meet in person. While there have been plenty of technical challenges along the way, Sheila Los, a dance teacher at Schenectady High School said that the collaboration has kept students engaged.

“[Pilobolus] found the best way to get our students to test the limits but also engage them in the creative process when they were asking students to translate ideas into movement and make it authentic to their lives and their preferences. . . I’m so excited to be able to put this all together on Friday,” Los said.

From Jaworski’s view, events like the Festival of Young Artists are particularly important at this time.

“You’ve got these young students and artists who I’m really concerned about their mental health. They’re isolated at a time where you already feel isolated so now, especially with social media and everything that these kids have to navigate, … So for the Festival of Young Artists [gives] them a platform to create and express whatever is going on in their heads and get it outside of them and process it because … if anything helps you process a trauma it’s the arts,” Jaworski said.

The festival also provides a chance for artists to collaborate in new ways and to showcase their talents on a larger stage than they may be used to.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity for them. It always has been. This festival [is] one of the best things that I think has come along in a long time for young artists in our area,” Myers said.

The festival runs from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, with a Sunday rain date. Attendees can select the arrival time and will be placed into groups limited to 75 people. Social distancing and masks are required regardless of vaccinator or test status. For more information visit

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