January 22, 2013

Dance education in Maine grows by leaps and bounds

By Bob Keyes bkeyes@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

Joseph Morrissey grew up with every opportunity to pursue his passion for dance. As a teenager, he enrolled at an elite private conservatory that trains the best young dancers in the country. He studied classical ballet at Indiana University and earned a master's degree in arts administration from New York University.

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Emily Avery, 17, stretches during a break in dance practice at Portland Ballet. Avery commutes to the class from Stratham, N.H., for the “really excellent training.”

Gregory Rec / Staff Photographer

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From left, Emily Avery, a senior at Exeter (N.H.) High School; Jacqueline Bolduc, a junior at Falmouth High School; and Quincy Dean, a senior at McAuley High School, practice part of a dance at Portland Ballet during training provided under the CORPS program.

Gregory Rec / Staff Photographer

Additional Photos Below

Now, at age 30, he finds himself in Portland, immersed in a thriving community of young dancers, choreographers, teachers and students and, increasingly, a sophisticated and discerning audience that expects and demands more from the dance companies that perform here.

Together, they are redefining dance education and professional opportunities in Maine, and giving aspiring dance students incentive to stay here instead of taking their talents out of state.

Morrissey arrived in Portland in the fall to direct Portland Ballet's CORPS program, which trains high school-age dancers who hope to pursue dance in college or at the conservatory level.

"I'm helping them to go from a student to a dancer and finally to an artist," he said.

There's a lot happening in dance in Maine.

Bates College in Lewiston recently added a dance major. Southern Maine Community College in South Portland began offering a modern dance class in the fall, filling all 15 slots. This semester, all 15 slots are taken again.

Colby and Bowdoin colleges have bolstered their dance programs to meet demand. At the same time, presenting-arts organizations such as Portland Ovations are bringing in renowned dance companies such as the Joffrey Ballet, which will perform at Portland's Merrill Auditorium in March.

While in town, dancers from Joffrey will conduct master classes for local students.

"It's an exciting time to be here," said Carol Dilley, director of the dance program at Bates. "Our community of dancers is growing and is beginning to thrive."

Laure Faure, longtime director of the Bates Dance Festival in Lewiston, suspects the interest in dance stems from the popularity of dance shows on TV. Programs such as "Dancing with the Stars" and "So You Think You Can Dance" have been on TV for several years, and made it socially acceptable for men and women of all ages to think about dancing, Faure said.

With more interest come better and more diverse educational opportunities, she said.

Southern Maine had long provided solid educational and training opportunities to aspiring dancers. What's different now is the depth of offerings at all levels.

"Portland now has enough population density that students have the opportunity to study a range of styles," Faure said. "It's not just ballet, tap and lyrical. And the quality of training, in Portland particularly, is quite good. Students are getting good training and are encouraged to go on to Boston or New York for further studies if they choose."

Or they can stay in Maine.

The college dance programs in Maine have never been better, infused with full-time tenure track professors who have raised standards and expectations. Bates and Colby offer dance majors, and Bowdoin is considering a departmental major.

The Bates Dance Festival, held every summer for the past three decades, is widely considered one of the country's best landing spots for serious dancers. Indeed, many of the teachers in Maine colleges came to the state for the first time because of the Bates festival.

The training also is excellent for younger students.

Portland Ballet began its CORPS program in 1994, and the Maine State Ballet, under the direction of New York City Ballet and George Balanchine protege Linda MacArthur Miele, has provided classical training since 1986.

Morrissey, director of the CORPS program, grew up on Boston's South Shore, and knew from a young age that he wanted to make his life in dance. He excelled locally, and enrolled at Harid Conservatory in Florida, one of the top training programs in the country.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

click image to enlarge

Instructor Joseph Morrissey watches a dancer work through a routine during dance practice at Portland Ballet. Morrissey began dancing with the Boston Ballet at age 18 and has worked with dance companies across the U.S. and overseas.

Gregory Rec / Staff Photographer

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Instructor Joseph Morrissey works with Vanessa Van Deusen, a junior at Waynflete, during a CORPS practice at Portland Ballet.

Gregory Rec / Staff Photographer

 


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