Arts and Entertainment

'Song & Dance' on San Juan: Jenny Knapp returns to the island for winter performing arts festival

Julie Hagn will perform in the Winter Song & Dance festival. She is a dance     student of Linda Downes’ - Jane K. Fox
Julie Hagn will perform in the Winter Song & Dance festival. She is a dance student of Linda Downes’
— image credit: Jane K. Fox

A San Juan Island winter is not cold in the area of culture. Between Christmas festivals and theater productions, the public is not deprived of variation.

Local choreographer Linda Downs is convinced the best is yet to come.

Indeed, the line-up that Downs, director of Dance Workshop II, has produced for this year’s Winter Song and Dance Festival (Jan. 23, 7:30 p.m.; Jan. 24, 2 p.m.) offers exceptionally high standards of performing art.

“This will be the fourth year I will have produced the festival ... and I am trying to create a professional show,” Downs says.

She has done it.

Professional companies Opera Pacifica and Dance Gallery of Bellingham will be contributing performances by high quality artists.

Opera Pacifica is frequently the professional home of mezzo-soprano Jenny Knapp, who shone in last year’s “Carmen,” also produced by Downs. Knapp’s husband, Erich Parce, will perform with her. Parce is a well-known staging director who sang baritone at the New York Metropolitan Opera for 18 years. Downs says the opportunity to see these two is a “rare thing,” made all the more special by the fact that their performance is exclusive to the evening of Jan. 23.

Singer Robert Coral, co-founder of Opera Pacifica who starred as Don Jose in “Carmen,” will sing exclusively in the Jan. 24 matinee.

Dance Gallery of Bellingham is a dance collective known for attracting renowned choreographers like Bill Evans and Wade Madsen.

Downs says she is aware of how the island can become culturally isolated, and enjoys providing a window to the outside world of dance and performing arts.

“I like to stress modern dance, especially since people here don’t get to see a lot of it.”

Downs has designed this year’s festival to be affordable and inclusive. Adult tickets are $19, student tickets are $10, and student RUSH tickets $5. Downs says this is less than taking your kids to a movie.

“You could not do this is Seattle,” she says. “I really want to encourage parents to bring their children. The performers welcome it.”

The professional work, moreover, will be supplemented by performances from local multi-generational artists. Downs is excited to present, among other highlights, island favorites like local soprano Roberta Leed and singer Devorah, as well as rising stars like high schooler Rhianna Franklin.

“I can’t wait to present her to the public,” Downs says of the young singer-songwriter.

There is also a varied program of local musicians and dancers. Pianist Stella Joh will perform Chopin and teen-ager Robin Lohrey will perform on the violin.

The show itself will be opened by the popular Opa!, who Downs heard busking in the summer and decided they were “so fun” they had to open for the show. Tango will be presented by local professional dancers Montero and Ciely Te Gray.

Dancer Julie Hagn will perform a solo en point. Downs is particularly excited for 16-year-old Hagn’s piece. The high schooler has been dancing en point for less than a year and has already performed at the advanced level for the Northwest Ballet’s “Nutcracker.” Her piece is choreographed by Downs who, offering her final thoughts on the show, says simply, “It really is the highlight of the winter entertainment.”

— Winter Song & Dance Festival: San Juan Community Theatre, Jan. 23 at 7:30 p.m., Jan. 24 at 2 p.m. Tickets: Adults $19, students $10, RUSH $5. Call 378-3210 or visit

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