Camden Winterfest begins

Fire and ice

By Dagney C. Ernest | Jan 30, 2019
Ice image by Cayla Miller/Christine Dunkle photo illustration The annual ice sculpture exhibition should prove a reflective backdrop for the Dark Follies vaudeville troupe Saturday, Feb. 2, in the Camden Amphitheatre.

Camden — Midwinter is not so bleak in Midcoast Maine, thanks to Camden Winterfest, a weeklong festival that culminates in the annual U.S National Toboggan Championships (and, after hours, the Banff Mountain Film Festival World Tour). The fest opens on the true midwinter point this year — Saturday, Feb. 2 — with a Winterfest Carnival at and around the downtown Camden Public Library.

Camden Amphitheatre, adjacent to the library, will offer both fire and ice, thanks to the annual ice sculpture carving exhibition (themed Fantastic Beasts this year) and Dark Follies, an award-winning Portland-based vaudeville/street theater troupe. Dark Follies first played the amphitheater in the summer of 2017, and the performers are looking forward to returning.

“We had a great time when we performed there that summer! We had a wonderful audience, so the place was filled up. We really enjoyed it,” said Joie GrandBois, Dark Follies' founder and director.

The seeds of Dark Follies were planted by the weekly Plague, a longtime goth/industrial dance night at Portland club Aura (formerly Asylum), and germinated via outdoor performances in the heat of summer. Performing in winter will take some adjustment, and not just for the belly dancers.

“It's mostly the instruments that we choose to use; it actually isn't a whole lot different from other times we perform outside acoustically, where we would be predominantly percussion-based,” GrandBois said.

Dark Follies’ distinctive live music features drumming; at Winterfest Carnival, the drums will be ones that can be played with sticks and other alternatives to bare hands. Band member Barbara Truex’s gourd shakers should be up to the cold weather challenge. And the musicians will be using overtone flutes, something GrandBois said they have been wanting to incorporate anyway.

“They’re flutes that only play a very limited number of sounds and are generally used rhythmically, instead of providing a melody,” GrandBois said. “And because they only play a couple of notes, they don't have holes you have to manipulate with your fingers.”

In 2017, Dark Follies presented a full evening show. At the Winterfest Carnival, the troupe will perform 10-minute or so sets of entertainment “from the Shadows of Vaudeville” every half-hour. Each show will be a little different, mixing Dark Follies standbys such as fire flow, belly dancing, sword dancing and straightjacket escape.

The many short sets approach ensures a variety of entertainment for carnival attendees, GrandBois said, “and it allows us to rotate the performers so that some can always be inside getting warm.” The troupe also is looking at adapting their costumes a bit.

“No bellies will be cold in this performance,” she promised.

Dark Follies marked its 10th year in 2018, “which still kind of blows my mind,” GrandBois said. A regular attendee of Plague, GrandBois, a performance artist, movement teacher and tarot consultant, said she was always struck by the talent exhibited during the dance nights.

“Every time, I had friends that went there, too, and a lot of them were dancers and performers and flow artists and musicians and I kept saying, there's all these wonderfully amazing talented people in this community! You know, someone should give them a place to perform,” GrandBois said.

Her friends agreed and eventually, GrandBois took the idea into her own hands and put together a one-time street show in Monument Square for the September 2008 First Friday Art Walk.

“We had drummers that kind of kept a steady rhythm to the whole show. The performers came out and did their thing and I dressed up as kind of the barker for the event,” said GrandBois. “And it went so well! Everybody was like, you guys should do that again.”

Even though she admits she had “really no idea what I was doing when I started it,” Dark Follies became a part of the summer First Fridays the following year. At the end of that season, the art walk date conflicted with something else and the performers found themselves low on drummers. One of the dancers suggested Stephen Carpenter, a local drummer who played for her dance classes. He agreed to play and brought a few other drummers with him.

“He's the person who sort of helped us develop a musical sound. He brought in other musicians and that's how we ended up doing the shows all to live music,” said GrandBois. “I think when he first met me he thought I was crazy and had no idea what I was doing, which is probably kind of true!”

As Dark Follies continued to evolve, people and organizations began to ask the troupe to take their show off the street and on the road. In 2011, Dark Follies did its first stage show.

“We do these small shows we call Parlor Shows, because we try to limit the seating to 20 or 30 people. It's actually like an immersive experience,” GrandBois said.

During the Parlor Shows, the performers come out and become “living candelabras” around the audience, holding LED lights. Throughout the shows, which run continuously for about an hour, the different performers “come to life,” take the stage and do their acts, then return to a different spot in the perimeter.

“We do a few of those here and there, and we've been hired to do everything from weddings to birthdays, you know, community events,” said GrandBois. “So it's been a very interesting 10 years and it's gone places I never expected it to go!”

And now the troupe, which describes its work as “family friendly while still keeping an edge,” will go to Winterfest Carnival in Camden. To get ready, the Dark Follies Rhythm Orchestra musicians have been working with their instruments “to find ways to play them with gloves and mittens”; and the performers got together earlier in the week to see how their work interacts with snow, ice and cold. But they have no hesitation about playing Camden Amphitheatre in winter.

“We really loved that space and I think we'd be willing to perform there in any season,” GrandBois said.

For more information about the troupe, visit darkfollies.com. For the complete Camden Winterfest schedule, visit its Facebook page.

The Winterfest Carnival will run from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday’s fun begins with a polar plunge, organized by SunDog Outdoor Expeditions, at 11 a.m. (register at sundogoe.com). Dark Follies’ performances will run intermittently in the amphitheater, spelled by music sets by DJ Terry Frank. In addition to eight ice sculpture teams at work along with master carver Tim Pierce (the ice sculptures will be illuminated at night), there will be carnival game booths; and a hot foods lunch booth, hosted by Maine Coast Orthodontics, with proceeds going to the library and events such as Winterfest. Maine Sport will have free demos of fat tire bikes, snowshoes and more.

Inside the library, children’s librarian Miss Amy will have themed crafts and face-painting from noon to 2 p.m. and All That Jazz will perform jazz favorites at 1 p.m. Note that Atlantic Avenue will be closed to traffic during the carnival; those in need of handicapped-accessible parking should call the library at 236-3440.

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