Out & About: ‘Swan Lake’ a ‘major artistic achievement’

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Late March 2012 is proving to be a milestone for southern Maine’s two ballet troupes.

Last weekend, Portland Ballet wrapped up its superb production of “Giselle,” while this weekend belongs to Maine State Ballet’s “Swan Lake.”

Notable upcoming concerts include singer-songwriter Peter Yarrow. He’s best known as one third of the Peter, Paul and Mary folk trio and the co-writer of “Puff the Magic Dragon.” But Yarrow is also popular as a solo act, and he’ll be at One Longfellow Square this Saturday.

“Bombino” is the moniker/calling card of a African guitarist and singer-songwriter who’s currently making a mark within the world music community. Catch Bombino and his band at Hannaford Hall on April 4, part of Portland Ovations’ 2011-1012 season.

‘Swan Lake’

Maine balletomanes are rejoicing this month, with two of the greatest works in the classical repertoire presented by local companies on consecutive weekends.

Last weekend I was enthralled by Portland Ballet’s “Giselle,” and this weekend I hope to catch Maine State Ballet’s “Swan Lake,” which is scheduled for two matinee performances at Merrill Auditorium on March 31 and April 1.

MSB co-founder and artistic director Linda Miele calls “Swan Lake” the “ultimate classical ballet,” which represents her company’s “major artistic achievement.”

The ballet dates from the pinnacle of the Russian Romantic movement in the mid 1890s, and represents a collaboration of two of the country’s preeminent artists: composer Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky and choreographer Marius Petipa. (They’re also the pair responsible for “Sleeping Beauty” and “The Nutcracker.”)

“‘Swan Lake’ is really the pinnacle of what you want to accomplish as a company,” said Miele, who performed the ballet many times as a young dancer with the New York City Ballet. For this weekend’s show in Portland, Miele promises to incorporate much of the traditional Petipa choreography that has been passed down through generations of dancers, plus some of her own original work.

“Everybody who has an interest in ballet should be able to see ‘Swan Lake,’” Miele added. “We’re proud to be able to present this ballet right here in Maine, in the way it was meant to be seen.”

The celebrated ballet recounts an ancient European fable that has a familiar fairy-tale formula: a beautiful princess, a handsome prince and an evil sorcerer. Here’s a quick summary:

The tale starts with Princess Odette (Janet Davis), who is transformed into a swan by a wicked wizard (Nathaniel Dombek). Prince Siegfried (Janet Davis’ real life husband, Glenn Davis) falls in love with Odette in a moment by the lake when she has temporarily regained her human form.

An epic battle follows between the prince and evil magician. While many variations of “Swan Lake” end in tragedy, Miele chooses to model a Russian version of the ballet that has a happily-ever-after finale.

MSB’s production showcases the talents of 85 advanced students and professional dancers. The sets and costumes, including a stunning 40-foot-tall backdrop and 21 white swan tutus, are the work of designer Gail Csoboth. Miele believes that her “Swan Lake” will be the largest production ever staged by a ballet company in Maine. The show is appropriate for all ages and level of interest in dance, she added.

Two performances are slated for Portland’s Merrill Auditorium: March 31 and April 1 at 2 p.m. Call PortTix at 842-0800.

Peter Yarrow

Few musicians have reached so many people of so many ages. That’s a quick summary of the 53-year professional career of singer-songwriter Peter Yarrow, who will be appearing at One Longfellow Square this Saturday.

Yarrow was only 21 when he started performing in New York’s Greenwich Village nightspots. His big break came when a concert promoter brought him together two other like-minded musicians, Mary Travers and Noel Paul Stookey.

The resulting trio was Peter, Paul and Mary. They were icons of the folk music renaissance of the 1960s, and continued performing together occasionally until Travers’ death three years ago.

A few weeks ago I watched a DVD recording of their famous 25th anniversary concert, and marveled at the timelessness of their music.

Among the group’s most famous songs was one that Yarrow co-wrote: “Puff the Magic Dragon,” a musical fable about growing up. Yarrow’s best-known piece as a solo artist is “The Wedding Song (There is Love).” There’s hardly a wedding in this country that doesn’t include this lovely melody and thoughtful lyric.

Other lifetime accomplishments include co-founding the Newport Folk Festival, starting the annual new music competition at Kerrville, Texas – which has evolved into an event of major national significance – and starting Operation Respect, which aims to improve relations among all people, beginning with children in thousands of American classrooms.

The centerpiece is a song titled “Don’t Laugh at Me,” which is used to create a climate of respect. The lyric is central to the theme: “Don’t laugh at me, don’t call me names; don’t get your pleasure from my pain.”

Yarrow believes that when properly positioned in a classroom-based social/emotional learning program, “Don’t Laugh at Me” can serve as an anthem for the growing movement to build safer and more respectful school environments for children.

One Longfellow Square, corner of State and Congress in Portland, presents Peter Yarrow in concert at 8 p.m. March 31. Call 761-1757.


Niger, which includes vast stretches of the Sahara Desert, is one of Africa’s poorest countries. Landlocked and wracked by tribal factional warfare, Niger is also one of the world’s most troubled nations.

Surprisingly, a major world artist has evolved from that mixture of poverty and conflict, a guitarist-singer-songwriter who goes by the moniker Bombino. Hailing from the Taureg tribe, the young musician was forced to flee his homeland as a teenager. Much of his music reflects traditional African themes, intermixed with the ongoing tragedy of present realities.

As part of its world music series, Portland Ovations hosts Bombino and his small band on April 4.

Much of the program will come from Bombino’s breakthrough CD: “Agadez.” Writing in the roots journal No Depression, reviewer Doug Heselgrave comments: “Bright and cutting on the upswing, percussive on the downbeat, snatches of Jimmy Page, Jimmy Hendrix and even Jerry Garcia can be heard in the sound Bombino creates. A mixture of slow burning blues inflected jams and slinky rockers, ‘Agadez’ is a passionate, immediate album.”

Catch Bombino at 7:30 p.m. April 4 at Hannaford Hall, 88 Bedford St. in Portland (on the University of Southern Maine campus). Call PortTix at 842-0800.

Sidebar Elements

“Swan Lake” is one of the most famous ballets from the Russian Romantic period. Maine State Ballet’s landmark production is a must-see for this weekend.