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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: October 8, 2018

It’s a dance party in Portland, with a month of performances

Written by: Bob Keyes

You can dance if you want to, all night long or all month long.

Riley Watts, a Bangor-born dancer with an international career, now living in Portland, has organized Portland Dance Month with 18 dance performances in six venues through mid-November. He’s built a consortium of more than a dozen local performing arts presenters, producers, dance companies and artists for the month-long celebration, which is meant to call attention to the growing dance scene in southern Maine.

“There’s wonderful momentum for the dance community in Portland and across the state, which is thanks to the hard work of our local artists and arts organizations,” Watts wrote in an email from London, where he was performing in “A Quiet Evening of Dance,” a new touring show by choreographer William Forsythe. “I’m building Portland Dance Month to help highlight the collaborations that are happening within our community.”

This isn’t a festival, he said. Maine already has the world-class Bates Dance Festival in the summer. Portland Dance Month is a collection of events by different organizations and presenters already working in Maine and is designed to bring attention to the variety of dance options available to audiences. The idea, he said, is to cross-pollinate, so everybody knows what everybody else is doing, among audiences and presenters. If Portland audiences become more aware of what’s happening in Lewiston, they’ll be more likely to attend and vice-versa, he said.

He compared Portland Dance Month to a well-tended crop or field. “Complexity in nature is more robust than homogeneity. A plot of land will be healthier overall and more likely to thrive if the organisms growing there are of several species,” he wrote. “I see Maine’s arts ecology as being built of each artist and arts organization that, simply by doing their work, is playing their part in how well we all do. If you go to one show and enjoy it, you’re more likely to see another show in the future, maybe from a different artist in a different venue. In this way, art making is always social, as it creates an opportunity for people to engage with each other and themselves in a way that only art can do. Everybody benefits in one way or another but it needs cultivation.”

Planning happened quickly. Watts contacted all the key players, shared his idea of creating a calendar of events that would help promote everyone’s event and approached Creative Portland about becoming the event’s fiscal sponsor. Bates Dance, Portland Ovations and Space Gallery got on board quickly, as did the Living Room, Portland Youth Dance, Portland Ballet and Bates, Bowdoin and Colby colleges.

Among the highlights, which demonstrate the range and variety of the some of the dance events:

– Space Gallery hosts a performance of “Equators” by the dance company Tnmot Aztro at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 3 and 7:30 p.m. Sunday. “Equators” is a solo dance piece developed and performed by Connecticut choreographer Arien Wilkerson that explores environmental justice as a form of racial injustice.

– At 8 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 18-20, Space presents “Mira” by Bare Portland, directed by Tara Bouchard and choreographed by Liz Pettingill. Inspired by Tennessee Williams, this piece combines movement with individual audio experiences, and people who attend are encouraged to bring a smartphone with headphones.

– On Oct. 19 and 20, Portland Ballet presents an expanded version of “Jack the Ripper” with choreography by Nell Shipman at the Westbrook Performing Arts Center. Portland Ballet produced the ballet in 2013 and 2014, and Shipman has revised it with 30 minutes of new choreography, turning it into a full-length piece.

– “Places, Please!” by Larry Keigwin and presented by Portland Ovations at One Longfellow Square on Oct. 25 and 26 involves four local artists – Gretchen Berg, Gwyneth Jones, Sara Juli and Kerry Constantino – and a cabaret of physical comedy, satire and moments of pathos.

– For the First Friday Art Walk on Nov. 2, Laura K. Nicoll will perform “Promenade,” a moveable dance that will start near the Casco Bay Lines ferry terminal at 3 p.m. and end at Creative Portland on Free Street at 5. Along the way, Nicoll will perform for and with members of her incidental audience.

– On Nov. 3, Portland Youth Dance, Bates Dance and Juli work together for “Maine Moves II,” featuring Rachel Boggia and Iddi Saaka, Katherine Ferrier, Alexandra James and René Goddess Johnson, Annie Kloppenberg, Karen Montanaro and Portland Youth Dance student choreographer Libby Danielson. They’ll present a series of performances at the Portland Ballet Studio Theater at 8 p.m. Nov. 3.

Those are a few examples of the performances that will happen across the month, Watts said.

“It’s about the artists who will be performing for the people of Maine. It’s about audiences showing up to spend an hour in the same room as dance as a living art and being proud of the art scene we have in Portland,” Watts said. “It’s about showing that we are all playing a part in the big picture of Maine’s cultural ecology and to see possibilities in partnership rather than competition.”

Portland Dance Month

WHERE: Various venues
WHEN: Through Nov. 11

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