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Dance Takes the Fine Arts Center by Storm

The art of dance thrives in this season’s Fine Arts Center Series lineup. Seven of this season’s 16-show schedule will be made up of dance productions covering a variety of themes. Dance parties, sword fights and Abraham Lincoln are among the many subjects that will be gracing the Fine Arts Center stage. The series begins on Oct. 18 in the Fine Arts Center Concert Hall with Orquestra de Sã Paulo and ends April 30, 2010 with the Aspen Santa Fe Ballet.

This year’s dance crews include such acts as Dan Zane and Friends, a family friendly concert and dance party with the Grammy Award winner and sing-along songs in both English and Spanish; Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company, a historical telling through dance that questions life without Abraham Lincoln; and Ballet Folklórico de México, a production with traditional Mexican music, dance and ornate costumes.

There is a lot more to this season’s lineup, including the American Shakespeare Center’s “Romeo and Juliet” on Nov. 3. This show has sonnets, dancing and sword fighting, giving the audience a view into the culture of Elizabethan playgoers. Other acts in the series include Imani Winds with Stefon Harris, a genre-blurring show of classical music and jazz; Paddy Moloney with the Chieftains, a traditional Irish music group; and Zakir Hussain, an internationally renowned percussionist.

“I’m proud to say there’s not a lot of cheese in there,” said Kathryn Maguet, the Fine Arts Center Series director.

Because of the University of Massachusetts’ desirable facilities for large dance productions and the high sales figures dance productions accrue, Maguet is picking more sizeable dance companies to perform. Another reason for these choices is an attempt to “ride the wave of what’s happening.” Maguet is banking on the fact that dance is an art that is not being tapped into within the Pioneer Valley. She hopes to pique the interest of the hundreds of people who attend the famous Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival every summer in Becket, Mass.

The Center Series began in 1975 with the completion of the Fine Arts Center. This venue has been visited by acts such as the National Philharmonic of Russia, the Toumani Diabaté Symmetric Orchestra, the National Acrobats of China and others of both jazz and classical music. In past series performances, the amount of dance productions was as low as two or three per season.

This year, Maguet has had to face a 25 percent decrease in the Fine Arts Center Series’ budget, and now more than ever must book shows that are not only relevant to the Five Colleges area, but also self-sustainable. Maguet says that significant shows like Cirque du Soleil have been key in keeping the series’ sales figures high.

In a ticket-sale driven atmosphere, one-person shows are not the answer to filling the Fine Arts Center’s 1,900 seats. Last year, the series made 85 percent revenue from ticket sales and must sell more than 800 seats per show in order to break even, Maguet said.

 Large shows, particularly dance productions, with sweeping genres and large talented casts are easier to market than solo shows, and bring in more box office revenue. Orchestras do not fall under this category, as they cost a lot of money to bring to the series and do not draw in many people.

“The bigger the show, the less the risk,” said Maguet. “We don’t want to sacrifice quality, but shows with 12 people [in the audience] can’t be done.”

Along with the dance companies, Cirque Mechanics will be coming to the Fine Arts Center on Nov. 10. This circus show is made up of a troupe of former Cirque de Soleil performers, Pickle Family Circus and Moscow Circus. Clowns, acrobats, contortionists and dancers are featured in Cirque Mechanics, which is scheduled to appear at UMass only two months after Cirque du Soleil’s “Alegria” was welcomed to the Mullins Center.

Maguet is especially excited about one upcoming dance company. Her recommendation for this season is the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company’s show, “Another Evening/Serenade: The Proposition,” described by the Fine Arts Center’s website as “a lively rumination on the nature of history.” Maguet said the piece is “beautiful, moving and profound.”

This historical dance piece debuted at the 2008 American Dance Festival and is currently on tour. The show has ornate sets with video projection and movable scenery that portray iconic historical architecture. The projected scenes take the audience on a tour through the country, showing many of the stops that President Lincoln visited as he campaigned throughout the nation. With original scores drawn from Mozart’s “Requiem,” “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” and “Dixie,” and original choreography, the company looks into the past and questions what life for an American would be like without Abraham Lincoln or the Reconstruction era. The company will come to UMass on Thursday, Nov. 5, in the Fine Arts Center Concert Hall.

For more information on the upcoming dance companies and the full Fine Arts Center Series calendar, visit their website at http://www.umass.edu/fac/centerseries/index.html

Anshalee Guarnieri can be reached at aguarnie@student.umass.edu.

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