Out & About: Longfellow Chorus and 'Rite of Spring'
Southern Maine’s arts and entertainment machinery is certainly in high gear this week, with many great events competing for time and attention.
Most significant is this weekend’s three-day Longfellow Chorus Festival, which includes a performance of the rarely heard “Hiawatha” series, based on an American epic poem with music composed by Samuel Coleridge-Taylor.
Good Theater is offering another in its ongoing series of Maine premieres: Amy Herzog’s poignant drama, “4000 Miles.”
This weekend the DaPonte String Quartet is performing a series of concerts based on the theme of “colors.”
Portland Ovations reaches the culmination of its series of performances built around the centennial of Igor Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring.” The Joffrey Ballet will present the entire work on March 21, the day after the vernal equinox.
Longfellow Chorus Festival
Of all Portland’s sons, none is honored more than poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, born in the city and educated at Bowdoin College. Longfellow’s books of verses helped define the American national character in the 19th century.
Among his most popular books was “Hiawatha,” an epic poem very loosely based on the legend of the leader of a confederation of native American tribes and his tragic romance.
At the turn of the 20th century, extensive excerpts from “Hiawatha” were set to music by Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, an African-English composer. The result was a series of works for chorus and orchestra that were once very popular but have since been mostly forgotten.
Hoping to revive the musical epic and other works by Coleridge-Taylor, Maine musician Charles Kaufmann has organized the Longfellow Chorus and a three-day festival in honor of the composer. Featured performers include dancers, a full symphony orchestra, a violin virtuoso and three vocal soloists.
Events start with a screening of a movie about Coleridge-Taylor on Friday afternoon. Friday evening through Sunday evening the scene shifts to Merrill Auditorium where the chorus, dancers and orchestra will perform. Friday’s performance is Coleridge-Taylor’s violin concerto, while the “Hiawatha” series is slated for Saturday and Sunday.
In its 11 seasons, Portland’s Good Theater has firmly established a record of producing Maine and regional premieres of exciting new plays. This month the company extends that proud record with the first New England production of Amy Herzog’s “4000 Miles.”
Herzog four-character drama won the 2012 Obie (Off-Broadway equivalent of the Tony) for Best New American Play, and copped similar honors from the New York Times and Time Magazine.
The central character is a young man, played by Erik Moody, who has just finished a cross-country bicycle trip from Seattle to New York via Kansas. After arriving in New York in the middle of the night, he spends a few weeks in a series of tense encounters with the other three characters: his feisty old grandmother, a former romantic flame and a prospective new girlfriend.
There is little action and only the barest resolution. Dealing with disappointment and disillusion is the common theme that unites all four characters. The writing is powerful and the characters are interesting and well drawn. Plus there are numerous others, mostly dead, who are introduced through the recollections of the on-stage actors.
Tops among the cast is Alma Cuervo, a New York actress who convincingly portrays an aging woman with fading memories of her past and few future prospects. I also liked Ruiqi Tang, who provides sorely needed comic relief as the young man’s prospective romantic relationship. Casey Turner, as the estranged girlfriend, was less satisfying. Steve Underwood, a Good Theater co-founder, ably directs.
Good Theater presents “4000 Miles” at the St. Lawrence Arts Center, 76 Congress St. (top of Munjoy Hill) through March 30. Performance times are 7 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday and 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Matinees are slated for Saturdays at 3 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. Call Good Theater at 885-5883.
DaPonte String Quartet
The vernal equinox may still be a few days distant, and spring’s explosion of floral colors may be weeks away, but the DaPonte String Quartet won’t wait. The foursome’s March concert, titled “Colourists,” anticipates a brilliant spring, and performances are slated for this weekend in Damariscotta, Portland and Topsham.
Three selections are on the program. The opening is Franz Joseph Haydn’s Op. 76, No. 4, an 18th-century landmark work from the inventor of the string quartet genre. It’s nicknamed “Sunrise,” because the opening moments are said to evoke a dazzling dawn. Claude Debussy’s one-and-only string quartet is sensual and impressionistic. Igor Stravinsky’s “Three Pieces” explode with the colors of the composer’s native Russia.
Catch the DaPonte String Quartet at 7: 30 p.m. March 15 at the Lincoln Theater in Damariscotta, March 16 at the Portland Public Library or 3 p.m. March 17 at the Mid-Coast Presbyterian Church in Topsham. Call 529-4555.
‘Rite of Spring’
Portland Ovations brings one of the most revered arts organizations in the U.S. and one of the world’s top dance companies for the culmination of its season-long celebration of the centennial of one of the greatest works of the 20th century: Igor Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring.”
The Chicago-based Joffrey Ballet is world-renowned for its interpretations of classical works as well as pioneering modern dance pieces. “Rite of Spring” is one of the company’s signature efforts, based on the original choreography of Vaslav Nijinksy, which was long thought to be lost. The troupe reconstructed “Rite of Spring” in 1987 based on meticulous research of the original costumes, design and choreography. The production has since received raves for authenticity.
Controversy surrounded the first production. The audience hissed and the critics savaged Stravinsky’s music and scorned the ballet. But history now sees “Rite of Spring” as a work that changed classical dance and music forms, as well as changing the paradigm of how audiences hear and see.
Portland Ovations Executive Director Aimee M. Petrin scheduled the Joffrey’s performance on the first full day of spring, 2013, and close to the 100th anniversary of the ballet’s original ground-breaking debut. Needless to say, Petrin is pleased and proud.
“Hosting a company of this stature, with as many as 46 dancers, performing a work of this magnitude will be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for our community,” she said.