Alison Chase has had plenty of experience bringing her modern dance troupe, Alison Chase/Performance, into unorthodox venues, from art museums to granite quarries. So it’s entirely in keeping with her approach to dance that her latest work, “Dancing With Steel,” will be performed in seven outdoor locations from Winter Harbor to Portland, July 25 through Aug. 4.
The Brooksville-based Chase, who rose to prominence in the 1970s as a co-founder of the legendary Pilobolus Dance Theater, has created a dynamic, charming, family-friendly program around several of her newer dance pieces, paired with music from her nephew, Nigel Chase, and his steel drum group, the Blue Hill-based Atlantic Clarion Steel Band. This weekend, July 29-31, “Dancing With Steel” will be performed at 5 p.m. at Fort Knox State Park in Prospect.
Chase, a busy choreographer who regularly shuttles between New York and Maine, originally got the idea for “Dancing With Steel” from a dance piece she saw last year that utilized a portable stage.
“I saw that, and I said ‘Ooh! I could make use of that!’” said Chase. “We perform in Maine every summer, and I always think, ‘We have all this physical prowess that we need to get out there more, that we need to bring to more people.’ This seemed to be a way to do that.”
A grant from the Maine Community Foundation allowed Chase to rent a portable stage. Though she originally intended for only three performances in Prospect, Brooksville and Belfast, stage rental agreements required her to rent the stage for a longer time, resulting in Chase and company quickly finding places and days for six more performances.
“It all came together this past April,” said Chase. “We’ve been very lucky to be able to work with communities like Bucksport and people like Leon [Seymour] at Friends of Fort Knox… Leon has been so generous and so open to this sort of programming. He’s really embraced it.”
“Dancing With Steel” is a highly accessible dance program, running just over an hour, featuring athletic, world-class dancers, visual illusions, and a humorous storyline that attendees of all ages can follow, including an opening performance piece based on a Chinese folktale, “Monkey and the White Bone Demon.” The music from Atlantic Clarion Steel Band is performed not just on steel drums, but also on PVC pipe drums, adding to the polyrhythmic flavor of the performance.
“It’s all about the rhythm. It’s an entirely rhythm-based performance,” said Chase. “We expect there to be some impromptu dance parties after it’s over.”
The program contains some elements of the massive dance and puppetry installations Chase produced with Opera House Arts in Stonington in 2007 and 2010: “Quarryography” and its sequel, “Q2: Habitat,” performed outside at Settlement Quarry in Stonington.
“People come to Maine in the summer for the glory of the outdoors, so having our live art installations outdoors just adds to the overall experience,” said Chase. “There’s of course no guarantee how it’ll all work out. Things like this are risky business. But I think people are really interested in different experiences, and that sort of pop-up, one of a kind experience.”
“Dancing With Steel” will be performed at 5 p.m. Wednesday, July 27 at Steamboat Landing Park in Belfast, at 7 p.m. Thursday, July 28 at Rockefeller Hall at the Schoodic Institute in Winter Harbor, at 5 p.m. July 29-31 at Fort Knox State Park in Prospect, at 5 p.m. Aug. 2 at Bridge End Park in Deer Isle, at 6 p.m. Aug. 3 at Congress Square Park in Portland, and at 5 p.m. Aug. 4 at Wolfe’s Neck Woods State Park in Freeport. All performances are free though donations will be accepted at the gates, except at Fort Knox, where park admission fees will apply ($3 for ages 12 and over, $1 for ages 5 to 11, and free for 4 and under and 65 and above; non-residents of Maine are $4.50). There will also be free open rehearsals from 3 to 5 p.m. on July 25 and 26 at Tapley Field in Brooksville. For more information, visit alisonchase.org.