New Paltz has always been the artistic epicenter of the Hudson Valley, attracting and hosting a wide variety of performing artists with an even wider range of talents. Not only does this include theatre artists and musicians, but contortionists and “bubble magic” performers as well. In partnership with SUNY New Paltz, the Unison Arts Center of Ulster County hosted their first ever Ridgefest over the weekend. Ridgefest kicked off on Sept. 6 at the College Terrace with a party, and continued for the next two days across the campus’ many theaters.
The Unison Art Center, as stated on their website, is a non-profit organization “dedicated to enriching cultural life and community in New York’s Mid-Hudson Valley by making high quality arts, performances and educational experiences accessible to all” and has collaborated with SUNY New Paltz before in the construction of Unison’s own Sculpture Garden.
The idea for Ridgefest came from talks with Dean of Fine and Performing Arts, Jeni Mokren. Not long after, the event was organized. Unison has hosted smaller performances at New Paltz before, but according to Executive Director Alexandra Baer, none have been on the same scale as Ridgefest.
“It’s the first time Unison has really been able to bring that many different artists together [and] give them all an opportunity to perform on one weekend,” Baer said. “It’s also the first time we’ve been able to offer that level and that quantity of performances to both families, students and [Unison] members. We were able to go across the board and offer it to so many different levels of people in the New Paltz Area.”
Over half a dozen performances were hosted over the weekend at New Paltz. Saturday’s setlist featured the puppet show “Firebird” by The Puppet People Troupe, contortionist Jonathan Burns, folk duo The Nields, indie rock band Bonsai Trees, and Rania Sokolov-Gonzalez and David Gonzalez with Ev Mann and Kitt Potter, performing spoken word and R&B.
Sunday’s setlist featured the bubble magic show “Bubble Trouble” by Jeff Boyer, the Okra Dance Company, a dance troupe exploring the history of American dance through the lens of its European influences and African roots.
“Firebird” and “Bubble Trouble” were children’s events, and are part of some of the new talent that Unison plans to bring into their repertoire. The final performance for Ridgefest was by the Flamenco Trio at McKenna Theatre. They are a family unit of flamenco artists featuring Mario, Niko and Reynaldo Rincon. Mario was especially glad to have the opportunity to perform at New Paltz and get people interested in his family’s art.
“I hope people just start to ask questions,” Mario said. “[Or] start to just Google the history of Flamenco, who are some of the great cantores, maybe watch some videos of Spanish dance, maybe go to Spain, and by Spain I don’t mean [just] Barcelona.”
Their performance was incredibly vigorous, featuring highly technical guitar playing from Reynaldo and intense Flamenco dancing and percussive cajón work from Niko. Mario provided passionate and lively vocals. Many of the songs that they performed, according to Mario, were traditional Flamenco pieces, and “more technical” and “involved” compared to other pieces.
Moving forward, Baer plans on expanding Ridgefest’s roster to include an even wider variety of performers as well as visual artists. Baer also plans on having artists from SUNY New Paltz get involved and include food at the event. Ultimately, Baer wants Ridgefest to grow into a place where the community can watch great local talent.
“Nonprofits and universities are kind of in the same place in a way because we’re all struggling with the arts in today’s social [and] political atmosphere to get people to realize that arts is really what keeps everybody happy and everybody together and going,” Baer said. “We’re hoping that Ridgefest will allow that. It will bring people together and allow them to see music, dance and theatre that they normally don’t see.”