Out & About: Modern dance company prances into Portland

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Portland Ovations continues its string of topnotch offerings with two intriguing programs within the week: a contemporary dance troupe and a showcase for tomorrow’s top classical musicians.

Dayton Contemporary Dance Company is an African-American group that’s been performing around the world for two decades. They’ll be prancing about Merrill Auditorium this Saturday, March 20.

“From the Top” is a broadcast production of National Public Radio that features the best of today’s teenage and pre-teen classical musicians. The radio network will be recording a program for future broadcast on March 24 at Merrill Auditorium in Portland.

Midcoast Symphony Orchestra performs twice this weekend in Lewiston and Topsham.

“Barefoot in the Park” is a vintage Neil Simon comedy. Under the skilled direction of Michael Rafkin, Portland Players has mounted a splendid production in South Portland.

Dayton Contemporary Dance Company

Dayton Contemporary Dance Company is a premier terpsichorean touring troupe that originated in 1968 as the vision of one woman, Jeraldyne Blunden, who was concerned that African-American women artists were being marginalized and ignored.

Her efforts were wildly successful. Today DCDC tours the world with a vast body of powerful and imaginative work, much of it created specifically for her company. Although the founder died in 1999, her vision is continued by her daughter, Debbie Blunden-Diggs, who is the current artistic director. Portland Ovations is hosting one stop on its current tour, at Merrill Auditorium on March 20.

Writing on behalf of the Ford Foundation, a sponsor, Christine Vincent comments: “The Dayton Contemporary Dance Company maintains a body of vital works that represent many of the twentieth century’s greatest names in dance. Together these works tell a story about the profound influence of the African-American contribution to contemporary dance in the United States. The repertory of the Dayton Contemporary Dance Company is a national resource. It should be seen by audiences throughout the world.”

Portland Ovations presents Dayton Contemporary Dance Company at 8 p.m. March 20 at Merrill Auditorium. Call PortTix at 842-0800.

From the Top

A few of Maine’s most exceptionally talented young classical musicians will be performing on National Public Radio later this year, and the recording will be made during a live public performance in Portland on March 24.

From the Top,” the popular radio program hosted by concert pianist Christopher O’Riley, visits Merrill Auditorium under the aegis of Portland Ovations.

Now in its 10th season, “From the Top” has spotlighted hundreds of young musicians, many of whom have gone on to professional careers. The show features young soloists, small ensembles and composers. Eligibility is limited to U.S. residents or non-residents with a significant U.S. training connections. Ages range from eight to 18 and performers must not yet be enrolled in conservatory programs.

In addition to the performances, the format includes informal interviews conducted by O’Riley. Performers for the March 24 public recording session were selected by audition last fall. Three Mainers have already been announced: Wilson Bristol, a 17-year-old pianist from Freeport, plus Sophie and Josie Davis, two sisters from Waldoboro who play violin. Others from outside the state will also perform.

The program will be aired on nearly 250 stations nationwide, reaching an audience of about 700,000 listeners. The broadcast date for the Portland recording has not been announced.

Portland Ovations presents NPR’s “From the Top” at 7 p.m. March 24 at Merrill Auditorium at Portland City Hall. Call PortTix at 842-0800.

Midcoast Symphony Orchestra

The Midcoast Symphony Orchestra will play twice this weekend under the baton of guest conductor Yoichi Ugadawa in a very interesting program that includes a Norwegian piano concerto, a modern Russian symphony and a contemporary piece titled “An American Hymn.”

Ugadawa teaches conducting at the Boston Conservatory, plus he’s music director and conductor of symphony orchestras in three Massachusetts towns: Cape Ann, Melrose and Quincy. He’s also an occasional conductor at the Boston Pops Orchestra.

His performances are powerful and emotionally evocative, and his relaxed manner and ability to speak from the podium have helped new audiences gain a greater appreciation for symphonic music.

The concert starts with an exemplar of 19th-century Romanticism. Edvard Grieg was the most popular Norwegian composer of the late 19th century. His ability to incorporate folk music idioms into classical formats gained him notoriety as an advocate of Norwegian independence. His Piano Concerto is considered to be one of his masterpieces. Guest pianist will be Charles Floyd.

Vasily Kalinikov was a Russian composer who is much better known in his home country than in the West. His First Symphony is a very appealing work that features an orchestral “wall of sound” in the brass section.

“An American Hymn” was commissioned by Ugadawa and premiered in 2001. It was composed by Tom Vignieri, who is incidentally a producer with “From the Top.” The work was inspired by Aaron Copland and recalls some of that composer’s musical idioms.

Catch the Midcoast Symphony Orchestra twice this weekend: March 20 at 7:30 p.m. at the Franco American Heritage Center at St. Mary’s Church (corner of Cedar and Oxford) in Lewiston and March 21 at 2:30 p.m. at the Orion Performing Arts Center at Mt. Ararat Middle School in Topsham. Call 846-5378.

‘Barefoot in the Park’

In 1966, American playwright Neil Simon was at the height of his powers and glory, with a slew of awards in his pocket and four of his plays running simultaneously on Broadway. One of those was “Barefoot in the Park.” Nearly five decades later, “Barefoot” is revered as vintage Neil Simon and frequently staged by professional and amateur companies.

Last weekend Portland Players opened a fine community production that runs through March 28. Michael Rafkin, perhaps Maine’s best all-around theatrical director, shows his mastery of dramatic comedic art with a fine cast and excellent production values. I’ve always admired Rafkin’s work, and the current “Barefoot” is one of the reasons why.

“Barefoot” tells the story of two newlyweds and the first crisis of their marriage. Corie Bratter is a free-spirited, spontaneous soul, while husband Paul is a lawyer with a stuffed shirt and a button-down mind. Corie’s mom, Ethel, is a perfect reflection of Paul, while Victor, an impecunious neighbor with a mysterious foreign accent and various vague but intriguing artistic connections, mirrors Corie’s impromptu spirit. When Corie and Paul invite Ethel and Victor to dinner, comic and romantic sparks fly between both couples in utterly delightful and unpredictable ways.

Portland Players, 176 Cottage Road in South Portland, presents “Barefoot in the Park” through March 28 with 8 p.m. performances Friday and Saturday plus 2:30 p.m. on Sunday. Call 799-7337.

Sidebar Elements

Dayton Contemporary Dance Company, which boasts a vast repertoire of choreography, will perform at Merrill Auditorium in Portland on March 20.