Out & About: Acrobats and Irish groups provide eclectic options

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Chinese acrobats, Irish music and more

Eclecticism of entertainment choices is the key concept governing this week’s top picks in the performing arts.

In terms of vibrant energy and athleticism, nothing will beat the Golden Dragon Acrobats this Friday. The troupe, invited by Portland Ovations, is recognized as the best of several Chinese touring ensembles.

Irish music can be enjoyed on two upcoming evenings. On Saturday, March 10, Martin Hayes and Dennis Cahill pop into One Longfellow Square, where they are regulars, especially around St. Patrick’s Day. Then on Thursday, March 15, Portland Ovations hosts Danu, a traditional Irish sextet that hails from historic County Waterford.

Classical fans have two choices as well. This weekend’s pair of concerts by the Midcoast Symphony Orchestra will feature guest conductor Karla Kelley and visiting cello virtuoso Allison Eldredge. On March 13 the Portland Symphony Orchestra, under the baton of maestro Robert Moody, will illustrate three different ways in which music can tell a story.

Golden Dragon Acrobats

Up, down, and a dozen ways sideways: That’s what is in store for the audience at Merrill Auditorium this Friday, when Portland Ovations hosts a topnotch touring troupe of Chinese acrobats. Although rooted and recruited in China, the Golden Dragon Acrobats company has become a fixture on the U.S. entertainment scene, with a permanent office in Texas and more or less continual tours that date back to the 1980s.

The Golden Dragon reputation is solidly rooted in a commitment to the highest of production values and an attention to artistic details that is unparalleled in this ancient Chinese art form, which traces its roots back 2,500 years. Impresario Danny Chang and choreographer Angela Chang combine award-winning acrobatics, traditional dance, spectacular costumes, ancient and contemporary music and theatrical techniques to present a show of breathtaking skill and spellbinding beauty.

Among the recognitions garnered by the Changs are a pair of Drama Desk nominations from the New York theater critics for the company’s six-week Broadway run in 2005. Danny Chang picked up a nomination for “Unique Theatrical Experience,” while Angela Chang scored hers for “Best Choreography.”

Portland Ovations presents the Golden Dragon Acrobats at 7 p.m. Friday, March 9, at Merrill Auditorium at Portland City Hall. Call PortTix at 842-0800.

Martin Hayes and Dennis Cahill

Irish music that deftly fuses traditional forms with contemporary influences is the quick summary of an interesting fiddle-guitar duo that’s coming to One Longfellow Square in Portland this Saturday. First billing goes to County Clare native Martin Hayes, a six-time winner of the All-Ireland fiddling championship who was named by the Irish Sunday Tribune as one of the country’s most influential artists.

For nearly three decades he’s paired up with Dennis Cahill, an American-born guitarist of Irish parentage, in a duo that’s garnered international renown for taking traditional music to the very edge of the genre.

Seemingly effortlessly, Hayes and Cahill fit several disparate musical styles, including classical and jazz, into their act.

“In Irish music today there is much debate and division on the issues of continuity versus change and tradition versus innovation,” explains Hayes. “I think it is a mistake to divide these issues as the music is capable of containing all of these parts at once.”

Catch Martin Hayes and Dennis Cahill at 8 p.m. Saturday, March 10, at One Longfellow Square (corner of Congress and State) in Portland. Call 761-1757.


Want more Irish music? Then check out Danu, a traditional Irish sextet from the Emerald Isle that’s visiting Merrill Auditorium on Thursday, March 15, under the auspices of Portland Ovations. Hailing from historic County Waterford, Danu is one of the leading traditional Irish ensembles of today.

Danu members have been performing together since 1994 and formally established their ensemble in 2005. Members’ pedigrees include the Clancy Brothers, Men at Work and Stockton’s Wing.

Performing high-energy concerts comprising a blend of ancient Celtic music and new repertoire, Danu brings audiences on a memorable musical journey. For more than a decade, these six musicians, playing flute, tin whistle, fiddle, button accordion, bouzouki and vocals, have traveled the globe playing thousands of stages, garnering praise, receiving awards and recording nine CDs.

Portland Ovations presents Danu at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, March 15, at Merrill Auditorium at Portland City Hall. Call PortTix at 842-0800.

Portland Symphony Orchestra

Portland Symphony Orchestra maestro Robert Moody likes to plan his programs around a suite of shared elements, playing a number of pieces by different composers where all his selections relate to a common theme or story line.

The story line itself is the common theme this Tuesday, when the PSO will perform a trio of pieces by Johannes Brahms, Francois Poulenc and Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov. In each case, the music tells a story, and Moody’s central idea is to compare and contrast the difference musical methods employed by the composers.

The program opens with Brahms’ “Schicksalied” (“Song of Destiny”), a work based on a poem chronicling the suffering of mortality juxtaposed with the pleasures of godliness. Poulenc’s “Gloria” explores the rhythmic movement of both joyful and somber melodies, and Rimsky-Korsakov’s colorful “Scheherazade” is an imaginative orchestral tale of mythical fantasies.

There’s even a story-within-a-story to “Scheherazade.” The celebrated piece is a musical version of the famous “1001 Arabian Nights” storybook, which is itself based on a legendary teller of tales – Scheherazade herself – entertaining and diverting her princely master with a different narrative every night.

The PSO will be joined by guest artist soprano Jessica Cates. The Masterworks Chorus of the Choral Art Society will provide additional vocal power.

Catch the Portland Symphony Orchestra at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 13, at Merrill Auditorium at Portland City Hall. Call PortTix at 842-0800.

Midcoast Symphony Orchestra

For its mid-March concerts, the Midcoast Symphony Orchestra will host two guest artists. First is conductor Karla Kelley, who will be substituting for music director Rohan Smith, who’s tending to musical business in his native Australia. Second is Boston-based cell virtuoso Allison Eldredge, who teaches at the New England Conservatory.

The featured work will be Victor Herbert’s Cello Concerto No. 2. Herbert was an Irish-born composer who was trained in Germany and became a superstar on the New York music scene in the early 1900s. He’s best-known for “Babes in Toyland,” but his second cello concerto has also enjoyed enduring success.

The Midcoast Symphony plans two performances: Saturday, March 10, at 7:30 p.m. at the Franco-American Heritage Center at St. Mary’s Church (corner of Cedar and Oxford) in Lewiston and Sunday, March 11, at 2:30 p.m. at the Orion Performing Arts Center at Mount Ararat Middle School in Topsham. Call 846-5378.

Sidebar Elements

Danu, an Irish music ensemble, plays Merrill Auditorium on Thursday, March 15, as part of Portland Ovations’ 2011-2012 subscription program.