Michelle Bernier is dancing in the solar garden.
Through Jack’s Solar Garden, Bernier has been making dance films and leading youth workshops in the shaded grass below rows of solar panels.
“This project has a finger in a lot of things, which is usually where I’m most interested in my art,” Bernier said. “And that’s what makes this residency interesting, the intersection of sustainability, education, agriculture and movement. And I get to learn at the same time.”
Bernier is a professional dancer, educator, a creator, maker and administrator. Her biggest project of late has been the Sans Souci Festival of Dance Cinema, but she’s made time for an artist residency at Jack’s Solar Garden in Longmont.
Bernier has held two workshops so far this summer, and has enjoyed the variety of dancers. From aspiring young dancers to locals that had zero dancing experience but wanted to learn from the experience, Bernier has welcomed them all.
Bernier has been collaborating with Andy Bingle from the Colorado Agrivoltaic Learning Center for the workshops, combining all elements of education from movement to science. Bingle teaches the kids how plants grow and how the solar panels work, and then Bernier uses those concepts to inspire the dance choreography.
“Andy is teaching me all about solar energy, while we’re preparing the workshop. And he’s learning all about how to embody movement, how to structure choreography for young children,” Bernier said. “There’s a lot of nuance to it and that’s where I find it really fun. The kids have fun too, because they get to see these principles in action and get to contribute to it as well.”
Bernier moved to Colorado a decade ago. After graduating from the Masters program at University of Colorado Boulder in 2016, Bernier was looking for a way to combine her desire to teach, perform and explore while still keeping the variety in her personal and professional life.
“I went to a screening of the San Souci Festival of Dance Cinema,” Bernier said. “I wanted to be a part of it.”
Bernier fell in love with dance film and filmmaking in general while working with San Souci. First she started as a volunteer, finding more ways to get involved and help out with the film festival. Learning more about the artists, dancers and process of filmmaking inspired her, and eventually Bernier was offered the Executive Director position.
“We’ve been growing it ever since,” Bernier said. “We have a mission to make it bigger and better, to really flesh out what it could be. I have a passion for this, and I feel like I’ve finally found a way to fuse all the parts of myself together.”
Making dance films led Bernier to a posting about the artist residency at Jack’s Solar Garden.
“I’d always wanted to try an artist residency, but I hadn’t had the opportunity. As a dance filmmaker I want to go to a place that I’m attracted to shooting a film,” Bernier said. “I took a tour around the farm with the owner and it was incredibly photogenic in so many different ways.”
Though not a focus of her career, Bernier said that renewable energy is a concept she’s believed in strongly. Bernier’s husband works for a solar energy company, helping people get what they need to live off grid. At home they have solar power and grow produce at home.
“We’re very into this lifestyle in the first place. I thought this would be a really cool place to make work, because the inspiration is the place you are,” Bernier said.
Site-specific art, where art is created in a place not just of or about the place, scratches an itch for Bernier. Jack’s Solar Garden opens up a whole world of intersection where Bernier can connect art, dance, community and new forms of energy and agriculture.
“They really wanted the residency to be hand in hand with the goals of the farm,” Bernier said. “And I’ve been a dance teacher on the Front Range for ten years, including at Airborne Dance Academy in Longmont. So I’ve invited all these dancers I know from the area to come participate in the workshops.”
Art became fundamental for Jack’s Solar Garden from the start, according to owner Byron Kominek.
“In the beginning I was noticing that it was hard for people to visualize what we were interested in,” Kominek said. “We could talk about creating solar gardens or agrivoltaics, we could talk about things growing together, but people couldn’t see it.”
Kominek had the idea to reach out to local artists to make watercolor paintings that would convey the vision of Jack’s Solar Garden. An artist from Greeley helped Kominek create paintings that truly illustrated the goals of renewable energy and agriculture. From there Kominek started the residency program, now in its third year.
“It made sense for me to keep working with artists over time, to show my appreciation,” Kominek said. “Showing my appreciation to the artists, they get to use the land and showcase what we’re doing in. It brings more people out to the land and gets people more engaged.”
This year’s batch of candidates was impacted by the pandemic, according to Kominek. The idea of dancers having space in an outdoor venue, and Bernier’s experience with San Souci Festival of Dance Cinema put her at the top of the list. Kominek has kept a hands off approach to the workshops, leaving it to Bernier and Bingle.
“All I do is mow the grass, and then Michelle brings the kids out here,” Kominek said. “Andy has been helping out with the sessions, teaching the kids a little bit about agrivoltaics and then they get their dance on.”
Bernier is filming the workshops as part of the residency collaboration between Sans Souci and Jack’s Solar Garden. Along with another film that was made with professional dancers, Bernier will premiere the film at a dinner event on October 15 to close out the residency. Along with Bernier’s residency project, San Souci Festival of Dance Cinema will screen films from six other artists that evening.
“I’ve been most excited for how many people I can bring to the farm, and to tell people that this place exists,” Bernier said. “It’s inspiring for artists, both expansive and inviting. And to be in the early life-cycle of the garden feels really cool. I can’t wait to see what Jack’s Solar Garden becomes. The value of this artist residency is going to become evident as time goes on.”
Kominek plans on putting out a call for next summer’s residency in January or February of 2022, with selection by April 2022.
The final youth dance workshop will be held August 11 at 8 a.m. at Jack’s Solar Garden. Attendance is free, but registration and a waiver is required. Jack's Solar Garden is located at 8103 N 95th Street in Longmont.