Portland Ballet’s ‘Gallery’ is showcase of modern dance

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A showcase of modern dance, a master craftsman of song and a masterpiece of classical music snag the top three spots in my picks of the tix for this week.

The showcase is aptly titled “Gallery,” and it’s a chance to experience the creative work of half a dozen choreographers connected to Portland Ballet. A variety of themes, musical selections and costuming will be featured in short works performed by the company’s professional dancers and top students. Six performances are scheduled over two weekends, beginning this Friday.

Richard Shindell is a veteran singer-songwriter whose haunting melodies and thoughtful lyrics have pleased audiences for 25 years. He’ll play Portland’s One Longfellow Square on Saturday.

Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3 is one of the biggest and most popular classical works ever written. Portland Symphony Orchestra, under the baton of maestro Robert Moody, will play with guest soloist Andrew von Oeyen on Sunday.

‘Gallery: The Choreographers’ Work’

When most people think of Portland Ballet, the first things that come to mind are tutus and “Nutcracker.” That’s all there of course, but there’s a lot more to Portland Ballet. Much of what’s very different will be on display March 11-19 when the company offers six performances of “Gallery: The Choreographers’ Work.”

“Gallery” is the company’s annual late winter showcase, and this year’s edition features six choreographers associated with Portland Ballet in some fashion: Andrea Michaud Tracy, Morgan Brown Sanborn, Anne Kloppenberg, Joanna Patterson, Adam Sterr and Joseph Jeffries. Dancers will be drawn from Portland Ballet’s professional troupe plus some top students at the affiliated school.

This edition of “Gallery” will be the first produced under the aegis of Portland Ballet’s new leadership team. Executive director Michael Romy Greer took the helm from Portland Ballet founder Genie O’Brien last fall. Greer boasts a long and impressive resume as a professional dancer, as well as a significant stint in international business. Also last fall, Nell Shipman was named artistic director; she has 10 years of experience with Portland Ballet in various capacities.

Some of the six “Gallery” dances have been newly created for this show, while others are revisions of prior works. Two are set to Baroque music, while the other four use modern.

Some are underpinned by serious philosophical concepts. An example is “Bitter Earth,” by Tracy. The choreographer comments, “For me, this is about the uncontrollable passing of time, and how moments and people come in and out of our lives before we can really get a grasp on them.”

Jeffries’ “All That Is” represents a cathartic release. “I created this piece several years ago as part of a healing process,” Jeffries explains. “I often find that the best therapy is art, and through choreography I am able to say what cannot be put into words.”

Others are more playful. Describing “The Valentine Sisters,” choreographer Patterson writes, “Three dressing rooms. Three girls waiting for a phone call. Can they keep it together? (Not really.) Will their dates ever arrive? (Doubtful.) Should they just grab some ice cream and a spoon? (Probably.)”

Portland Ballet presents “Gallery: The Choreographers’ Work” at its studio theater, 517 Forest Ave., for six performances: March 11 and March 18 at 7 p.m. and March 12 and March 19 at 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. Call 772-9671.

Richard Shindell

Musical tales related from the point of view of the outsider is the stock in trade of Richard Shindell, an American singer-songwriter who will be playing in Portland this Saturday.

After growing up in New York, Shindell first found his calling in the 1990s, and he gained much recognition in 1997 when Joan Baez recorded three of his songs for her “Gone from Danger” album and invited him to accompany her on the promotional tour.

Shindell’s prodigious creative output ranges from lighthearted ballads and adulterous love songs, to dirges and diatribes that skillfully skewer politics, prejudice, war and religion. He has the ability to morph into the soul of the many and varied personalities he casts as narrators.

Boston Globe music critic Scott Alarick wrote: “Shindell is a master builder of songs, yet always leading listeners toward the emotional essence of the moment or character he is evoking. As with all master craftsmen, knowing what to leave out is as important to him as what he puts in. Shindell has an uncanny sense of the theater of a song, building his ballads sparely and subtly, set to sweeping graceful melodies.”

Catch Richard Shindell at 8 p.m. March 12 at One Longfellow Square, corner of State and Congress in Portland. Call 761-1757.

Portland Symphony Orchestra

One of the most popular pieces of classical music ever written will be the featured work when the Portland Symphony Orchestra performs this Sunday. Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3 is a technically demanding showpiece in the Russian Romantic tradition, full of lush themes and dynamic interplay between the soloist and the orchestra.

No. 3 is also especially appropriate for an American orchestra. Rachmaninoff wrote the concerto in the summer of 1909, intending it to be performed by himself as the centerpiece of an upcoming concert tour of the U.S., beginning Nov. 28 in New York. The tour was highly successful and the composer was lionized in the American press. Rachmaninoff was so impressive in Boston that he was offered the position of permanent maestro of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, which he declined.

No. 3 is considered one of the most technically demanding works of the piano repertoire, and several top pianists of the early 20th century refused to perform it. But its lofty place in the classical canon is evidenced by the fact that no fewer than 22 major recordings have been issued by top pianists, orchestras and conductors over the years.

As soloist, Portland Symphony maestro Robert Moody has selected American piano virtuoso Andrew von Oeyen, who has performed with the PSO before. Von Oeyen made his debut at age 16 with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and has since excelled internationally.

The concerto will be the concluding piece on Sunday’s program. The concert will open with another work by a 20th-century Russian composer: Dmitri Shostakovich’s Suite for Variety Orchestra No. 1, which was heavily influenced by American jazz. (It was formerly known as Jazz Suite No. 2.)

The middle piece on the program is a symphonic suite based on Kurt Weill’s “Threepenny Opera.” Six songs were selected; the best known is “Mack the Knife.”

Catch the Portland Symphony Orchestra at Merrill Auditorium at Portland City Hall at 2:30 p.m. March 13. Call PortTix at 842-0800.

Singer-Songwriter Richard Shindell has been pleasing audiences for a quarter-century. He’ll play One Longfellow Square in Portland this Saturday.

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