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'Riverdance' thunders into Merrill Auditorium

Lifestyle

'Riverdance' thunders into Merrill Auditorium

“Riverdance,” a spectacular terpsichorean celebration of Irish heritage and culture that’s been a sensational hit on world stages for the past 15 years, is this week’s top pick of the tix. The current North American tour stops in Portland’s Merrill Auditorium for three performances this Friday and Saturday.

On Sunday it’s the laundry that dances in Merrill. Right. And that bit of clean terpsichorean fluff is part of the shtick of “Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Musical.” Portland Ovations is hosting a touring production on Sunday. And if dancing laundry strikes you as a bit of juvenility, please note that Ovations is touting this show as “geared for ages 4 and up.”

Other interesting possibilities this weekend includes a pair of very different concerts on Sunday: a “Saxophone Celebration” in Gorham and the Rossini Club’s monthly Portland concert.

‘Riverdance’

The rhythmic thunder of many fast-moving feet simultaneously striking the dance floor is the trademark sound of “Riverdance,” a celebration of Irish heritage and culture that’s been taking the world by storm for more than 15 years. I expect that “Riverdance” will capture Port City audiences this weekend, when NewSpace Entertainment presents three performances by the North American touring company in Merrill Auditorium.

Since this show opened in Dublin in 1995, “Riverdance” has captivated audiences with an artistic style that’s rooted in Irish tradition: breathtakingly fast footwork with the body held stiffly vertical and nearly motionless. The thunderous tapping that is a “Riverdance” trademark is achieved through perfectly synchronized footwork in hard shoes that are fitted with microphones that amplify the sound.

There’s an original score that emphasizes the Celtic flute, written by Bill Whelan. “Riverdance” tells a story that focuses on Irish myths and legends in the first half, while the second delves into themes of departure and renewal. In an historic diaspora, millions of people emigrated from the Emerald Isle during the 19th century -- primarily motivated by a potato famine -- and Irish communities sprang up around the world, especially in North America.

It’s worth noting that “Riverdance” made a well-publicized “farewell tour” in 2010, but the goodbye actually applies only to the biggest version of the show – one that’s intended for very large venues that seat many thousands. Currently the Dublin-based company has four slightly smaller road troupes on tour, each one named for an Irish river. The current North American tour is named “Shannon.”

NewSpace Entertainment presents “Riverdance” at Merrill Auditorium at Portland City Hall for three performances: March 11 at 8 p.m. and March 12 at 2 and 8 p.m. Call PortTix at 842-0800.

‘Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Musical’

The next installment of Portland Ovations’ Family Series for 2010-2011 happens this Sunday. The show is “Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Musical,” which is based on the award-winning picture book by famed children’s author and illustrator Mo Willems. The music was written by Grammy Award-winning composer Michael Silversher.

Recently commissioned by the Kennedy Center, “Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Musical” tells the story of a little girl’s first trip to the local laundromat with her Daddy and her favorite stuffed bunny. Chock full of adventure, song and gigantic dancing laundry, this show is geared for children aged 4 and older.

Portland Ovations presents “Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Musical” at Merrill Auditorium at Portland City Hall at 2 p.m. March 13. Call PortTix at 842-0800.

Saxophone Celebration

The saxophone takes center stage on Sunday afternoon in Gorham, as the University of Southern Maine School of Music presents a celebration of the reed-sounded brass instrument that was invented around 1840 by Adolphe Sax, a Belgian musician.

And in case your budget is reeling from all those snow plowing bills this winter, note that the Saxophone Celebration is free.

The event is being orchestrated by Bill Street, a professor at the school and a longtime jazz musician. Street has played professionally and is known throughout New England for his original compositions as well as the Bill Street Jazz Quartet. He spent a number of years in the Boston area where he recorded commercially with Alan Dawson, Gary Burton, Charlie Mariano, Dick Johnson, Herb Pomeroy and many others.

Sunday’s show will include performances from larger and smaller ensembles. The Saxophone Quartet is preparing a classical composition plus a jazz-influenced piece. The larger ensemble, the Maine Saxophone Project, will include some jazz standards in their own arrangements as well as original works, including Street’s own “Celebration.”

Two USM School of Music graduates will have their original compositions performed: Brian Graham’s music has a gospel flavored tune, while Ben Corriea’s style is very contemporary, what Street describes as “new and refreshing.”

They will also be playing some Super Sax arrangements. Super Sax is an ensemble from California that Street formed in the 1970s to play the music of Charlie Parker.

“It’s almost jaw dropping because the notes go by so fast,” Street comments. Of the concert overall, Street says the evening should be unique. “There are so many different styles of music included in this whole event, it should be an exciting adventure,” he adds.

Catch this intriguing and free concert at 2 p.m. March 13 at Corthell Hall on the USM Gorham campus. Call the music box office at 780-5555.

Portland Rossini Club

The oldest club in Portland is currently in its 140th season, and the public is invited to hear all about it. The Portland Rossini Club is giving its March public concert this Sunday and the featured artist will be the organization’s 2010 scholarship winner.

The Portland Rossini Club is open to all musicians who pass an audition. After admission, members get the chance to play solo and in small ensembles in public concerts. The current membership roster includes professional performers, music teachers and people who classify themselves as strictly amateur.

This Sunday’s performance will be given by six members: pianists Nicole Trifaro, Susan Rudy and Jacqueline Gourdin plus soprano Elizabeth Harmon, cellist Hugh Judge and violist Kallie Ciechomski. The latter is studying for a master’s degree at the Manhattan School of Music, in part supported by the 2010 Rossini Club scholarship.

Composers on the program range from Baroque master Johann Sebastian Bach to modernist Elliot Carter. Others include Isaac Albeniz, Emmanuel Chabrier, Muzio Clementi, Gabriel Faure and Garth Knox.

Catch the Portland Rossini Club at a 3 p.m. concert March 13 at the Cathedral Church of St. Luke, 143 State St. in Portland. Call 797-8318.