Dancers rehearse for an upcoming performance of “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Vivid Motion. Photo by Rowan Siddon, courtesy of Vivid Motion

A few years ago, Jessica Means was on stage during a performance by nonprofit dance company Vivid Motion. The piece had three roles that symbolize the stages of a woman’s life – maiden, mother and crone. Means was dancing the part of the crone, and a realization hit her like a spotlight.

The dancer in the part of the maiden was younger than she had been at her first Vivid Motion show nearly two decades prior.

“I realized I had grown up in my adult years doing this amazing thing, and I could only hope that they would be able to have that amazing experience for as many years as I have had,” said Means. “It was this multigenerational moment where I saw the impact of those 20 years.”

Vivid Motion will celebrate its 20th anniversary this year. The organization started with a holiday-themed burlesque show organized by friends. They had danced all their lives and were looking for opportunities to continue performing.

“For adults, there are very few opportunities to engage with dance,” said Means. “You want to play pickleball? Pick up a paddle and go down to the park. You want to strum an acoustic guitar, a Dave Matthews song? Right on. But if you’re an average adult, where do you dance?”

Today, the group produces three main stage shows each year. This weekend will be the first of the season – “The Yellow Wallpaper” and “Tales from the End of the World,” a double feature at St. Lawrence Arts in Portland. In August, the company will perform “Vivid Motion’s Greatest Hits,” a compilation of favorites from the company’s history. And in December, it will host its traditional holiday burlesque show, an adults-only event.


The work for each show starts nine months before opening night. (“I like to let directors know that doing a main stage show is like carrying a baby to term,” said Means.) Every year, Vivid Motion puts out a call for proposals, and anyone can respond with a general idea for a show. Those chosen are developed further, and then the nonprofit puts out another call for choreographers to create the dances for the stories. Auditions happen two to three months before opening night (May 20 for this summer’s show), and the dancers rehearse about 10 hours a week. Most shows involve a cast of 25 to 30 dancers, plus a handful of choreographers and production crew.

Important to Vivid Motion is that these positions are open and accessible to all. Most productions are open to dancers ages 7 and up (and some performers are in their 70s), and they want everyone to feel welcome regardless of body type, age, ability or experience. Vivid Motion also offers dance classes and tickets to dress rehearsals on a pay-what-you-can basis.

“You can have 40 years of dance experience or four years of dance experience or four months, and you can submit a choreography proposal,” said Means.

The proposals for the spring show came from two people with longtime connections to Vivid Motion. “The Yellow Wallpaper” is based on a 19th-century short story by Charlotte Perkins Gilman that explores attitudes about women’s mental health and agency in society. Jenn Maher, executive director of Vivid Motion, was captivated by the story when they read it in high school and remembered it again a few years ago. Maher said the performance is “dance therapy.”

“We’re working out some of our big feelings about things that are happening in the world and showing that story, hopefully with an impact to our audience,” Maher said.

The second piece is partly a reprisal from 2016, when Trevor Bean-Thurlow first envisioned “Tales from the End of the World.” The stories in that performance – the threat of fascism, the spread of a virus – now feel even more real to Bean-Thurlow, so he is bringing them back to the stage.


“We’ve lived through some of these things,” he said.

Dancers rehearse a piece called “Tales from the End of the World” that will be performed at Vivid Motion this weekend. Photo by Stephanie Lalonde, courtesy of Vivid Motion

Both directors have found community at Vivid Motion. Maher has studied dance, music and theater for more than 40 years. At Vivid Motion, they have choreographed shows that featured their own kids or danced with them on stage, including a scene from a classic tale that had children costumed as animals.

“As a ‘dance mom’ at a studio, you don’t really get that opportunity,” Maher said. “You’re like, yeah, I used to do that back in the day. But the opportunity for you to be a dance peer with them on stage – my favorite, favorite piece was when we did ‘Secret Garden.'”

Bean-Thurlow was in the first holiday burlesque show and has been involved on and off stage ever since. One of his favorite memories with Vivid Motion didn’t involve dancing. He had just left a relationship and found the support he needed while sorting costumes with friends from the dance company.

“The very next day, I ran to Vivid Motion,” he said.

They all have day jobs: Means as a high school special education teacher, Maher as a software engineer, and Bean-Thurlow as a fourth-grade teacher. They said people often think about dance as being only for professionals like Misty Copeland and George Balanchine.

“‘I can’t be a dancer.’ I think we really show people, yes, you can be,” said Means.

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