Out & About: Jones-Zane dance company top ticket

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Portland Ovations has a longstanding commitment to hosting top-quality contemporary dance performances, and booking the Bill T. Jones-Arnie Zane Dance Company for a Feb. 24 visit exemplifies that promise. This particular program also employs some interesting local twists: Eight Maine professional musicians will play, while 12 Maine dancers will also get time on the stage.

The Maine Charitable Mechanic Association is about to become a significant new performing arts venue on Portland’s Congress Street Arts District. This Friday the Soggy Po’ Boys, a New Orleans-style jazz band, will be featured in an event that marks this milestone.

Elliott Schwartz, longtime Bowdoin College music professor and the dean of Maine’s composers, officially celebrates his 80th birthday on Friday with performances of his piano works plus a live on-stage interview.

‘Play and Play’

Exploring and presenting the breadth and depth of modern dance is one of the core missions of Portland Ovations. In its 2015-2016 season, no performance better exemplifies that commitment than the Bill T. Jones-Arnie Zane Dance Company, which is slated to appear Feb. 24 at Merrill Auditorium.

Bill T. Jones-Arnie Zane Dance Company is based in New York, where it produces its own season at Manhattan’s Joyce Theater. The troupe is currently on tour with a program that debuted at the Joyce two years ago. Titled “Play and Play,” it incorporates new works set to well-known pieces of classical music performed live – a rarity in modern dance.

The company was founded 33 years ago by the eponymous choreographers. Zane died in 1988, but Jones remains active. In its one-third century of existence, the company has performed in 200 cities in 30 countries.

Aimee Petrin, executive director of Portland Ovations, likes the way “Play and Play” fits into her organization’s mission.

“Bill T. Jones is one of the most exciting choreographers working today,” Petrin said. “That fits perfectly into our ongoing commitment to presenting the highest quality contemporary dance.

“This particular program offers two really unique opportunities,” she added. “First, the music is performed live, which is something audiences rarely get to experience. Second, and perhaps most importantly, this program incorporates eight professional musicians from our own community as well as an ensemble of 12 Maine dancers.”

One of the Jones-Zane company’s signature works, scheduled for the Portland performance, is “Spent Days Out Yonder.” Writing for the New Yorker, dance critic Andrew Boynton described this work in glowing terms:

“The music seemed to move in supple waves through the dancers’ bodies, and the effect was something like a pastoral landscape. The dancers inhabiting it were not so much people as representations of the rhythms of nature; when they touched one another, they did so with an absorbed, distracted air that took their interactions out of the literal, and there was a groundedness, even in the lighter phrases, that rooted the dance.”

The score for “Spent Days Out Yonder” is the second (slow) movement from Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s String Quartet No. 23. Other composers represented include Ludwig van Beethoven, Felix Mendelssohn, Maurice Ravel and Franz Schubert.

This program requires live professional musicians, who are hired by the presenter in each city tthat Jones-Zane visits. Petrin has booked an all-star ensemble of eight local men and women, including members of the Portland String Quartet, the DaPonte String Quartet plus professors at the University of Southern Maine School of Music. A company of 12 Maine dancers will also enjoy some quality time on the stage with the New York professionals.

Portland Ovations presents “Play and Play” at Merrill Auditorium at Portland City Hall at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 24. Call PortTix at 842-0800.

Maine Charitable Mechanic Association

One of Maine’s oldest institutions is about to become the newest performance venue along Portland’s Congress Street Arts District.

The Maine Charitable Mechanic Association, founded in 1815, will celebrate the ongoing restoration of its third-floor ballroom this Friday in partnership with Acorn Productions, the theatrical company that is spearheading the project.

Mechanics’ Hall, a four-story building at 519 Congress St., is a Portland landmark that dates from 1859. Its large ballroom was last used for public gatherings and musical performances during World War II.

Acorn Productions is led by Mike Levine, a theatrical activist whose achievements have been chronicled on these pages since the early 1990s. Levine envisions Mechanics’ Hall as Acorn’s future home and performance venue.

Levine has a solid track record with efforts of this sort. He created the Oak Street Theatre, which flourished in the 1990s. He constructed the current theater space in the St. Lawrence Arts Center when that project was in its infancy. Most recently Levine created studio and performing space for his company and school in the Dana Warp Mill in Westbrook.

So far, $30,000 has been raised, enough to bring the ballroom up to current building code standards. This Friday Acorn and MCMA will celebrate that milestone with a Mid-Winter Celebration and Dance. The Soggy Po’ Boys, a New Orleans-style jazz octet from Dover, N.H., will play dance music.

The public is invited to the celebration and the performance. Doors open at 6 p.m. for refreshments and recognition of key players in the project. The Soggy Po’ Boys take the stage at 8 p.m. Call 773-8396.

Elliott Schwartz

Last month Maine composer Elliott Schwartz celebrated his 80th birthday, but the official public celebration happens this Friday at Bowdoin College in Brunswick.

Schwartz began teaching music at Bowdoin in the fall term of 1964, and he chaired the music department for many years. He is best known as a composer and champion of contemporary art music. His catalogue lists dozens of works in all genres (except opera), which have been played by symphony orchestras and other ensembles around the globe. He is often referred to as “the dean of Maine composers,” and many of his works were commissioned by the Portland Symphony Orchestra, Portland String Quartet or other Maine artists.

As part of Bowdoin’s ongoing program of Friday evening piano recitals, Feb. 19 will be devoted to performances of Schwartz’s piano music. Piano is his primary instrument – Schwartz once seriously considered a career as a concert pianist – so his output in that branch of composition is particularly rich. In addition to performances of his music, Schwartz will also be interviewed on stage.

Hear the piano music of Elliott Schwartz at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 19 at Studzinski Recital Hall on the Bowdoin College campus in Brunswick. Call Delmar Small at 725-3000.

New York’s Jones-Zane Dance Company will visit Portland on Feb. 24 in a program that combines live music and an ensemble of Maine dancers.

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