July 4, 2013

Off Beat: Vaudeville lives! And Dark Follies takes it to the streets of Portland

By Ray Routhier rrouthier@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

If you think vaudeville is a dead art, think again.

click image to enlarge

The Dark Follies performances on Friday and Tuesday in Portland will include the troupe’s full range of acts, including something with fire, said founder Joie Grandbois.

Courtesy photos

click image to enlarge


WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday; noon Tuesday

WHERE: Monument Square, Congress and Federal streets, Portland, on Friday; Post Office Park, Exchange and Middle streets, Portland, on Tuesday


INFO: Darkfollies.com; Portlandmaine.com

And if you think vaudeville acts only perform around Portland in theaters and nightclubs, think one more time.

The Dark Follies vaudeville troupe, which has been performing around Portland since 2008, is bringing its show outdoors this week.

"We'll have the full troupe: About 17 people, a band, belly dancers, juggling, hooping -- sometimes with fire -- comedy skits," said troupe founder Joie Grandbois. "And it's always for all ages."

So if you've never seen the modern version of vaudeville, you can check it out simply by strolling through Monument Square in Portland on Friday evening, when the Dark Follies will be performing as part of the city's First Friday Art Walk.

Or take your lunch to Post Office Park at noon Tuesday, when the troupe will be performing as part of the Portland's Downtown District summer performance series.

Traditionally, vaudeville was a term applied broadly to variety shows at theaters, usually featuring a hodgepodge of acts that could include singers, comedians, plate spinners, dancers and more. Such well-known comedians of the last century as Bob Hope and George Burns got their start in vaudeville.

TV pretty much killed the genre as a mainstream form of entertainment. But people like Grandbois, a dancer by training, have revived it in the past decade by infusing it with a modern sense of fun and a carnival-like atmosphere.

"I just knew all these talented people -- jugglers, fire spinners -- and I just thought, 'Why don't we do a show for a First Friday Art Walk?' " said Grandbois, who also performs and teaches belly dancing. "I called it 'Dark Follies,' and people started asking for us to do it again."

People who catch the Dark Follies can expect see a full show. There's a six-piece band to provide music for the juggling, belly dancing and hoop spinning. There might be people dancing with swords or juggling sticks or other interesting props.

There's storytelling and comedy skits too. One skit, acted out by the troupe, is called "The Chivalrous Shark" and focuses on a shark (an actor in costume, of course) who chooses not to eat beautiful women.

So the variety is pretty wide.

"That's what the old, traditional idea of vaudeville was," said Grandbois.

And vaudeville is so old that if you catch a Dark Follies free show this week, it might just seem brand new.

Staff Writer Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at:


Twitter: Ray Routhier


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