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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: December 3, 2014

Collaborating across mediums: ‘Dance USM!’ merges visual & performing arts in a series of campus events

Written by: Bob Keyes
Performers rehearse a number for “Dance USM!” Courtesy photo

Performers rehearse a number for “Dance USM!” Courtesy photo

The latest dance program at the University of Southern Maine takes the school’s interdisciplinary goals to art.

“Dance USM!” will merge the visual and performing arts in a series of campus events that are open to the public. The events begin Thursday and continue through the weekend.

More than 25 students are involved, representing theater, music, art, business, health and science, communications, social work and other areas of study. The production at Russell Hall will highlight student accomplishments in dance and movement, as well as vocal performance, paintings and theater disciplines like lighting and costume design, director Maria Tzianabos said.

“For us, this is an opportunity to show the public what kind of university we are becoming right now, and it’s a chance to show students that art is something that can be a part of their liberal arts education and part of their life no matter what they choose to study or do as a career,” she said.

She called the program “a wonderful collaboration between the theater, music and art programs at USM.”

A part-time lecturer in dance, Tzianabos also is artistic director of Terpiscore Dance.

USM does not have a formal dance program. Tzianabos teaches a course that include theory and beginning dance.

“USM Dance!” is the result of collaboration among faculty and students who volunteer their time.

“I tell them, ‘Come and dance with us. Rehearse with us. Learn how to dance. Learn how to craft a dance.’ But it’s all done outside of the classroom setting. The difficult part of this concert is to gather the students who have extra time, not only from theater but across the university in all majors.”

Manuel Avalos, dean of the USM College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, said “Dance USM!” offers a platform for the university to demonstrate its goal of becoming what administrators have touted as a metropolitan university, which includes the sharing of ideas across areas of study to form interdisciplinary connections that reach beyond classrooms, studios and stages.

The program will include hip-hop, jazz, contemporary dance and musical theater, as well as an aerial dance piece and something that Tzianabos called a dance-performance hybrid. It also will feature an original composition and a vocal performance by USM School of Music students and art work by a visual arts student.

It involves collaborations with several faculty and adjunct choreographers, including Vanessa Beyland of Portland Ballet, Janette Hough-Fertig and Shannan Zura.

Music composition major Jimmy Dority wrote a piece for the piano. Rhiannon Vonder Haar, a vocal performance student, will sing and dance, and Bobbie Pirruccello, an art history major, created paintings that will be projected large-scale behind the dancers.

Dority wrote his piece, “Elegy for Piano,” to accompany a solo dance performance by Margaret Brownlee, which Tzianabos choreographed. The work explores loss, remorse and grief, Dority said.

“Collaborating across mediums in this way challenges artists to clearly communicate their vision and to understand each other’s ideas,” he said in a prepared statement. “That is a vitally important part of any creative process.”

Pirruccello made paintings to complement a dance choreographed by Zura. With her paintings, Pirruccello attempts to capture the dance’s theme of uncertainty over life and death.

The program also advances a theme of female empowerment.

The hybrid-dance piece explores issues about the expectations of gender over time. Vonder Harr sings “Keep Young and Beautiful,” and it features many cast members from the USM theater production of the Holocaust operetta “In the Underworld.”

Tzianabos choreographed that piece with assistant theater professor Meghan Brodie.

Brodie described the piece as “alternately playful and dark.”

It is a tongue-in-cheek account of advice given to women to make them successful girlfriends and wives. The dance piece explores that history, while suggesting that women can shed those expectations and create their own futures, Brodie said.


WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday and 5 p.m. Sunday
WHERE: Russell Hall, USM, 37 College Ave., Gorham
HOW MUCH:$15, $11 seniors, USM employees and alumni and $8 students
INFO: 207-780-5151 or

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