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Bob Keyes

Bob Keyes has written about the arts in Maine since 2002. He’s never been much an artist himself, other than singing in junior high school chorus and acting in a few musicals. But he’s attended museums, theaters, clubs and concert halls all his life, and cites Bob Dylan as most influential artist of any kind since Picasso. He lives in Berwick.

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Posted: February 17, 2016

More than a just a dance performance with Bill T. Jones, Arnie Zane Company

Written by: Bob Keyes
Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company

Dance Line Photo by Paul B. Goode

Portland Ovations got a two-fer when it booked Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company for Wednesday night at Merrill Auditorium.

In addition to the New York dance troupe’s public performance at Merrill, members of the company will spend most of next week in Portland working with dancers who live here and talking about the technical aspects of their art form, as well as larger questions about their lifestyles and careers. They’ll arrive Sunday and stay in Portland through Feb. 25.

“When you enter a community, you want to do more than enter the stage door, go on stage and exit the stage door,” said Janet Wong, the company’s associate artistic director. “You want to touch the community with more than just the performance itself. It’s about entering the community in a meaningful way.”

Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company

“Body” Photo by Paul B. Goode

Wong will conduct a master class at Portland Ballet on Tuesday morning. At 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Colby College assistant professor of dance Annie Kloppenburg will lead a pre-performance discussion to help the audience prepare for what it will see, and on Feb. 25, the morning after they perform at Merrill, the dancers will lead a movement workshop for the LGBTQ community.

A lot of other activity will occur behind the scenes, away from public view. The New York dancers will work with up to two dozen dancers and musicians from Maine, who will join the company on stage for the performance on Wednesday night. They’ll rehearse all week at Portland Ballet, enabling students and members of Portland Ballet performance company to interact with, ask questions of and observe the New York dancers from the perspective of a peer, said Aimee Petrin, executive director of Portland Ovations. The experience of working together for several days is invaluable for a developing artist, she said.

Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company

“Lean Back” Photo by Paul B. Goode

“The opportunity to showcase the artists we have here and provide them access to internationally touring artists through collaboration are very important to how we work and how we view our responsibilities as performing arts presenters in our community,” Petrin said.

The program, titled “Play and Play,” is set to music by Mendelssohn, Mozart and Beethoven, which will be performed by eight Portland-area musicians led by Robert Lehmann, who directs the strings program at the University of Southern Maine. A dozen dancers from Portland Ballet and Colby, Bates and Bowdoin will perform on stage with the Jones/Zane company.

Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company

“Circle” Photo by Paul B. Goode

Petrin likes to hire performers who interact with the community. Those off-stage connections are important to Portland Ovations’ mission to create diverse educational experiences, she said. This project, which she called Portland Ovations’ most ambitious undertaking of its season because of the artist-in-residence aspects, brings together aspiring and professional artists from the community, pairs them with professionals to create a program that celebrates the joy of movement while paying homage to the LGBTQ community and the history of AIDS. “Not only do we have one of the most important and influential and remarkable dance makers of international reputation, but they are working deeply in our community, and local artists are joining them on stage,” Petrin said.

Wednesday’s public performance includes three separate pieces, “Spent Days Out Yonder,” “Continuous Play” and “D-Man in the Waters.” The latter was choreographed as a tribute to company member Demian Acquavella, who died of AIDS in 1990. But this isn’t a down piece. “Instead, it’s a celebration of life and the resiliency of the human spirit that guides audience through loss, hope and triump,” Petrin said. It it set to Mendelssohn’s “Octet for Strings.”

“Spent Days Out Yonder” is set to the second movement of Mozart’s “String Quartet No. 23,” and “Continuous Play” borrows musical themes from two Beethoven string quartets. Arnie Zane, who ded of AIDS-related complications in 1988, choreographed the piece in 1977 as a solo. Jones reworked it in 1991 for a group.

Petrin described the Jones/Zane dance company as “innovative and powerful forces” in the world of dance. It has been around for 33 years and grew out of an 11-year collaboration between the two men. They were partners on stage and in life, and their work “redefined the duet form and foreshadowed issues of identity, form and social commentary that would change the face of American dance,” she said.

Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 24
WHERE: Merrill Auditorium, 20 Myrtle St., Portland
HOW MUCH: $32, $38 or $44
TICKETS: 842-0800 or

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