Out & About: Dance, drama and Gordon Lightfoot

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Southern Maine’s two major ballet companies will be stepping out in force this first weekend of spring.

Portland Ballet is presenting a retrospective of its work over the past 30 years on Friday and Saturday.

Maine State Ballet, headquartered in Falmouth, presents “Sleeping Beauty,” a favorite old European fairy tale about a wicked witch’s curse, a fetching princess and a handsome prince.

On Saturday, Portland Ovations will be hosting a visit by Russian-born classical piano virtuoso Nikolai Lugansky.

Another major touring act comes through Portland on March 29: Gordon Lightfoot, Canada’s longtime singer/songwriter/troubadour.

In Lewiston, The Public Theatre runs “Humble Boy,” an award-winning contemporary British drama by Charlotte Jones, through this Sunday.

‘By Request’

Portland Ballet Company has been a stalwart fixture of southern Maine’s artistic and cultural fabric for 30 years, and the troupe has performed many very memorable works. This weekend PBC will present two performances of a retrospective program comprising excerpts from three decades of audience favorites.

The selection of a mix of contemporary and classic pieces is intended to represent the broad repertoire of the company and showcase the dancers’ athletic and artistic abilities.

In the modern dance category, PBC professionals will perform selections from “Bolero,” “Pas de Quartet,” “Not as Planned,” “Trieste,” “Dancing’ Dan,” “Push Me Pull You” and “Do Not Go Gentle.” On the classical ballet side of the show, expect variations from “Giselle,” “Raymond,” “Sleeping Beauty” and “Don Quixote.”

PBC founder and artistic director Eugenia O’Brien explains the motivation for presenting “By Request” as the company’s annual spring offering: “We hope this performance serves as both a thank you to all of the people who have supported us throughout the years and as a welcome to those who are interested in the beauty and art of ballet.”

Catch “By Request” at the John Ford Theater at Portland High School, 284 Cumberland Ave., on March 25 and 26 at 7:30 p.m. Call 772-9671.

‘Sleeping Beauty’

Princess Aurora was exceedingly lovely, but doomed to an unusual fate. As a child she’d been enchanted by an evil witch. The curse: on her 16th birthday, Princess Aurora would accidentally prick her finger with a sewing needle and fall into a death-like slumber for 100 years.

Like many of these fairy-tale curses from Europe’s Middle Ages, there was an out: true love’s kiss could reawaken the sleeping princess. The happily ever after etcetera would follow.

That’s the quick summary of one of history’s most beloved fairly tales. “Sleeping Beauty” will be presented in its classical ballet form for the next three weekends by Maine State Ballet in Falmouth.

Set to a score by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky, “Sleeping Beauty” has been a mainstay of classical ballet for over a hundred years. The ballet is full of beautiful fairies, lovely ladies, evil characters, handsome princes and lovable personae from other fairy tales.

Maine State Ballet’s production boasts a cast of 60, with some dancers performing multiple roles. A quartet of young men pull triple duty as cavaliers, hunters and characters in the wedding finale.

Maine State Ballet Theater, 348 Route 1 in Falmouth, presents “Sleeping Beauty” for the next three weekends: March 25 at 7 p.m., March 26 at 2 and 7 p.m., March 27 at 2p.m., April 1 at 7 p.m., April 2 at 2 and 7 p.m., April 3 at 2 p.m., April 8 at 7 p.m., April 9 at 2 and 7 p.m. and April 10 at 2 p.m. Call 781-3587.

Nikolai Lugansky

Portland Ovations plans its first classical music offering of 2011 this Saturday: Nikolai Lugansky, a piano virtuoso with a string of recording credits that includes labels in his native Russia, Germany, Britain and The Netherlands.

Honors include first-prize winner at the Tchaikovsky International Competition, International Bach Competition, and All-Union Rachmaninoff Competition. With a glittering career that spans the globe, Lugansky has performed with orchestras in Tokyo, London, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Saturday’s program is entirely devoted to two composers. Before the intermission, Lugansky will play six pieces by Frederic Chopin, while the second half will feature one work: Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Sonata No. 1 in D Minor.

Catch Nikolai Lugansky at 3 p.m. March 26 at Merrill Auditorium at Portland City Hall. Call PortTix at 842-0800.

Gordon Lightfoot

His career as a singer/songwriter is now in its sixth decade and he’s widely recognized as one of the defining artists of the folk-pop movement of the 1960s and 1970s: Canada’s Gordon Lightfoot has penned hit songs for others and he’s enjoyed dozens of hits with his own baritone voice, 12-string guitar and backup band.

At the beginning of his long career, in the mid-1960s, one of Lightfoot’s best-known songs was “Early Morning Rain,” which was recorded by Ian and Sylvia, Judy Collins, the Kingston Trio and Peter, Paul and Mary. Marty Robbins’ recording of “Ribbon of Darkness” was another boost to his standing as a songwriter.

Lightfoot’s own recordings include “If You Could Read My Mind,” “Sundown,” “Rainy Day People” and “That’s What You Get For Loving Me.” The song I remember best was the tragic tale of the sinking of a ship carrying iron ore across the Great Lakes during a fierce November storm: “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” scored No. 2 on the U.S. pop charts, despite its very non-standard subject matter.

Lifetime honors include an amazing total of 16 Juno Awards (the Canadian equivalent of the Grammy) as both vocalist and writer. He has been named a Companion of the Order of Canada, the country’s highest civilian honor.

Catch Gordon Lightfoot March 29 at 8 p.m. at Merrill Auditorium at Portland City Hall. Call PortTix at 842-0800.

‘Humble Boy’

The Public Theatre of Lewiston-Auburn, considered by me and many others to be Maine’s best professional fall-winter-spring company, runs an award-winning British drama by Charlotte Jones through Sunday.

“Humble Boy” is centered on an academic physicist who can fathom esoteric theories concerning the interactions of sub-atomic particles, but is clueless when it comes to interpersonal interactions.

Jones has an interesting exposition of her basic thesis, but I found the situation a bit far-fetched – even beyond the normally elastic boundaries of artistic license.

Chris Schario, the company’s longtime artistic director, ably helms a cast of six professionals (Actors Equity contract) in this cast.

The Public Theatre of Lewiston-Auburn, corner of Lisbon and Maple in Lewiston, presents “Humble Boy” through March 27 with performances at 7:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday. Call 782-3200.

Sidebar Elements

Excerpts from “Bolero,” one of Portland Ballet Company’s favorite works over the past 30 years, will be presented this weekend.