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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: July 10, 2018

Alison Chase is back with a big tent, this time at USM

Written by: Bob Keyes

“Monkey and the White Bone Demon” is based on a 16th-century Chinese folk tale.
Photos by Christopher Duggan

Choreographer Alison Chase is driven by the motto: Reinvent, don’t repeat.

“But that’s not easy to do,” she said. “The body loves habit.”

She will test her ability to reinvent when her troupe, Alison Chase/Performance, offers a series of genre-bending performances in “Under the Tent” next week in Portland and later in July at Fort Knox. She will present her dancers under a big tent, as she did last year when she presented “No Plan B” outdoors and under the tent at Thompson’s Point.

That site wasn’t available this year, so Chase, who lives in the Penobscot Bay community of Brooksville, arranged to pitch her tent at the Quad at the University of Southern Maine in Portland, beginning Wednesday, July 18. The Quad is the open green space between the Luther Bonney and Payson Smith buildings roughly bounded by Brighton Avenue, Bedford and Falmouth streets.

The space was hard to come by, Chase said. “Open space and green space are at a high premium in Portland,” she said. “There is so much construction going on. But we’re excited to be at USM, and they’re excited to have us.”

“Tsu-ku-tsu” is filled with tumbling and leaps and set to a reverberating score by the taiko drummer Leonard Eto.
Photo by Whitney Browne

With six dancers – four men, two women – Alison Chase/Performance will present two programs as part of her “Under the Tent” traveling show, a matinee medley of three older works, “Monkey and the White Bone Demon,” “Femme Noir,” “Tsu-ku-tsu” and a new piece, “The Interview,” and an evening performance of a revamped “No Plan B.”

That’s where the motto comes into play. People who saw “No Plan B” last year might not recognize it this year, other than the tent. “Last year was our first time out doing it. We went back to the drawing board, and doing what we call massaging and scrubbing,” she said. “It starts and ends similar, but we’ve updated all the choreography.”

Evolution is the nature of performance. Even when a piece is set, it can still change, said Chase, who is best known as the founding artistic director of Pilobolus Dance Theater. “I think it will always change. We always find a better way to do something the longer we do a piece, the longer you digest it. After 12 or 15 performances, it gels and starts to set in, but even then it changes,” she said.

That’s the reward of self-producing work, she added. “You don’t have to ask permission to change something. You can just do it.”

“Femme Noir” is a comic drama, the story of a fading beauty who exerts every effort to maintain a facade.

The afternoon performances are family friendly and by suggested donation, to encourage curious families in the neighborhood. Performances begin at 3:30 p.m. “Monkey and the White Bone Demon” is based on a 16th-century Chinese folk tale and tells of a monk who is saved from the White Bone Demon by his companion, a monkey. “Femme Noir” tells the story of a fading beauty who works to maintain her facade. “The Interview” examines the comedy that exists within the stress of an important interview. “Tsu-ku-tsu” is a celebration of physicality, filled with tumbles and leaps and set to an energetic original score by taiko drummer Leonard Eto.

The evening performances, which are ticketed, begin at 8:30 p.m. to take advantage of darkness. “No Plan B” uses light, immersive projections and surround sound with images projected on the tent surface. Darkness is essential to appreciate the full visual effect. It encompasses performance art and installation, film and physical theater and movement, and was a collaboration between Chase and Gene Felice, then director of the CoAction Lab at the University of Maine. Franz Nicolay created the score.

This is the third year Chase has traveled with an outdoor show. In 2016, she went all over the state, including some state parks. Last year, for the sake of logistics and to combat weather interruptions, she put up the tent and focused on building audiences in Portland and Fort Knox.

Alison Chase presents “Under the Tent”

WHERE: The Quad, University of Southern Maine, Portland campus
WHEN: A medley of work, 3:30 p.m. Wednesday, July 18, July 21 and July 22; “No Plan B” at 8:30 p.m. Thursday, July 19 and July 21
HOW MUCH: Suggested donation for matinee; $30 for “No Plan B”
INFO: alisonchase.org/underthetent
PARKING: Park in the USM garage off Bedford Street. The tent will be on the green space between Luther Bonney and Payson Smith buildings.
ALSO: The performances will be staged at Fort Knox, Prospect, at 3:30 p.m. July 25, July 28 and July 29 and at 8:30 p.m. July 26 and July 28

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