January 22, 2013

Dance education in Maine grows by leaps and bounds

By Bob Keyes bkeyes@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

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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

His career as a dancer and choreographer has taken him around the globe. He began dancing with the Boston Ballet at 18, and over the next decade worked with dance companies across the United States and overseas.

Before coming to Portland, he received his degree in performing arts administration from New York University. He chose Portland because he wanted the challenge of working with high school students who have professional aspirations.

Students arrive at 1:30 each weekday afternoon and work with Morrissey for three hours. They receive academic credit in health, physical education and the arts.

After going through the CORPS program, dancers are better prepared to study at the college or conservatory level, said Portland Ballet's founder and artistic director, Eugenia O'Brien.

This winter, four ballet companies and conservatories scheduled auditions at Portland Ballet, including the Cincinnati Ballet. In February, the Jose Mateo Ballet Theatre of Cambridge, Mass., and the Joffrey Ballet will hold auditions.

"I know what these kids are going through," said Morrissey, who left home when he was 14 to study in Florida. "I know what it's like to leave school and explain that I'm going to dance for the next three hours. This is an opportunity for me to take what I've learned and bring it to the table to help these kids realize that big things are possible."

Among them is 17-year-old Emily Avery of Stratham, N.H. She commutes almost 2½ hours daily -- round trip -- to train at Portland Ballet. A high school senior, she is one of 11 students in the program this year from Portland and surrounding communities.

By far, she travels the farthest. She leaves her high school at noon, drives an hour and 10 minutes to Portland, trains for three hours and then drives back.

"It's really excellent training that I am getting here," she said. "It's a very small class and I have a really great teacher."

Avery considered traveling to Boston or enrolling in a private school that specializes in dance. She chose Portland Ballet because she believed she could get the instruction she wanted without the expense or inconvenience of relocating.

The students who dance in the CORPS program get the level of training that an athlete in a high school program receives. The daily routine is vigorous and demanding, and Morrissey operates with results in mind. He does not compromise his standards because he is working in a smaller city.

"I'm running this program as if we are in New York," he said.

He works on technique, stamina and poise, and teaches his students a variety of repertory while serving as an example of someone who has danced professionally.

"He tells us about his experience and what we might expect when we graduate high school," said Avery, who intends to study dance in college and is weighing her scholarship opportunities. "He's had great experiences and his classes are fun. It's very intense for all of the students, but we all get a lot out of it."

Delaney McDonough, a senior dance major at Colby, enrolled at the liberal arts college in Waterville planning to study history or anthropology.

She danced as a hobby when she was growing up in New Jersey, but gave it up when she arrived at college. That changed in her sophomore year, when Colby hired Annie Kloppenberg as an assistant professor of dance.

"I just took one class with her and was immediately sucked into the whole world," McDonough said. "Annie completely revolutionized the program and restarted the whole thing. I have dropped everything else and am only a dance major now."

When she graduates, McDonough hopes to teach and work as a choreographer. She has spent one summer at the Bates Dance Festival, and intends to enroll again this summer.

Colby has eight declared dance majors this year. Bates has a dozen.

"We have this amazing, supportive environment in Maine right now," said Madeline Kurtz, a junior dance major at Colby who comes from Connecticut. "There is so much going on in Maine right now, it's really pretty amazing. Just considering Colby, Bates and Bowdoin, we are three tiny schools that happen to have these really strong departments that most people on our campuses don't even know about."

Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or at:

bkeyes@pressherald.com

Twitter: pphbkeyes

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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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