Motion State Dance Festival comes to WaterFire Arts Center

Three-day event features live performances and films from acclaimed local, national, and international modern dancers

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“Providence could be a major dance hub,” says Ali Kenner Brodsky, a local modern dancer and one of four founders of Motion State Arts. The nonprofit is dedicated to presenting dance films and live dance performances throughout the year, as well as their linchpin Motion State Arts Dance Festival, happening this month at WaterFire Arts Center. “There’s a great music, theater, and art scene,” she continues. “People are coming [to Providence] for those things. Modern dance is trickier.”

Brodsky grew up in Cranston and moved to New York City in 1998 after graduating from Skidmore College as a dance major. After 11 years in the city, she and her husband returned to Rhode Island to be closer to family. The former artist-in-residence at NYC’s modern dance mecca, the Joyce SoHo, resigned herself to a possible career pivot in returning to the Ocean State. “I thought, oh well, my dance career is over,” she says.

Instead, it flourished.

Brodsky  picked up an adjunct professor job in the dance department at Salve Regina (she’s now an adjunct faculty member at Roger Williams) and connected with Jamie Jewett, founder of the former Providence-based multimedia dance company Lostwax, and danced with him for a few years. Forming her own company, ali kenner brodsky & co, really “got the ball rolling,” and she began to see the possibilities of a rich dance community in Providence. “The city has done a great job retaining the visual artists and the theater artists, but dance artists get wiggly,” she says. “We don’t have a home.”

Motion State Arts, which she co-founded with David Henry, Lila Hurwitz, and Andy Russ, is the first step towards building that home. The company presents year-round, most notably their Motion State Dance Film Series (formerly Kicking & Screening) and they have partnerships in place with venues like the Jamestown Arts Center and the Columbus Theatre. But the company’s anchor event is the festival, which launched in 2020, just days before the pandemic shut everything down. The three-day fest sold out, which reinforced her hypothesis that Providence is hungry for dance.

This year, the festival’s three-day event features headliner and Brown University grad Edisa Weeks with a work-in-progress performance of her solo show 3RITES: Liberty. A mix of local, national, and international dancers are part of Small Moves, Big Pictures, which features live dance performances on a four-by-four-foot stage, juxtaposed with dance films shown on a big screen. “There’s a wonderful interplay between the live dancers and the really cinematic films,” she says. Kicking off the fest on opening day is an epic, one-time-only large-scale improvisational dance performance that spans WaterFire’s 35,000-square-foot Main Hall.

“There are people in Providence who want more dance,” Brodsky says. “We’re trying to provide that.” 

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