If there’s one thing that’s predictable about each season at the Collins Center for the Arts in Orono, it’s that there’s at least one surprise each year.
Case in point: the fact that executive director Danny Williams and associate director Karen Cole managed to snag internationally acclaimed modern dance troupe Pilobolus for the season opener Sept. 16 but weren’t able to confirm it until just this week — a few days after the Collins Center quietly rolled out its 31st season announcement.
“We were thrilled we could get them, because that’s a big get for us,” Williams said. “We’ve always tried to feature dance as part of our season, and this is really such compelling and forward-thinking dance. It’s accessible, too. It tells a story.”
Pilobolus, founded in 1971 by seven dancers and choreographers including longtime Maine resident Alison Chase, now leader of her own company, is renowned for the physicality of its choreography. “Shadowland,” the performance the group has been touring since 2012, puts the incredibly flexible dancers in front of moving screens to create shapes and characters out of their shadows. The group has performed on the Academy Awards, the MTV Video Music Awards, at the Olympics and most recently on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.
Pilobolus is not the only unique group set to perform on the Collins Center stage this upcoming season. The Collins Center has a mix of performances planned for 2017 and 2018.
From Broadway to Orono
Four Broadway touring musicals will take the stage at the Collins Center this coming season. “Million Dollar Quartet” arrives on Sept. 26, a jukebox musical that imagines what music would have been played on the one night that Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins were all in the same room together.
After that, the CCA will present the first Maine performance of the Broadway tour of “Kinky Boots,” the 2013 Tony Award-winning musical, on Dec. 7. In 2018, the Broadway tour of another Tony Award-winning musical, “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder,” will make a CCA stop on April 4, and on May 15 the season will close out with the Broadway tour of the long-running revival of “Cabaret.”
“It’s a really great balance, because we have two very current shows: ‘Kinky Boots’ and ‘Gentleman’s Guide.’ And then we have two shows that are either classics or present classic music,” Williams said. “We think there’s something that will appeal to everyone.”
The Collins Center will have five performances of chamber and classical music this season throughout the year, though one will takes the music off campus to a Bangor location. Dutch vocal ensemble Capella Pretensis will perform a program of 15th and 16th century music at St. John’s Catholic Church in Bangor on Friday, Oct. 13.
“We presented at St. John’s a decade ago, and it was with the Vienna Boys Choir, so it’s wonderful to return there,” Williams said. “It’s an ecumenical performance, and there’s really no better place for a group like that than St. John’s, which is as close to a cathedral as we have. The acoustics are spectacular.”
Other chamber performances are set for Minsky Recital Hall on the UMaine campus and include the Escher String Quartet on Sept. 24, pianist Dan Tepfer on Dec. 10, the Vienna Piano Trio on Feb. 18 and the Boston-based Palaver Strings, co-founded by Midcoast Maine natives Maya French, Elizabeth Moore and Nikolai Renedo, on April 22. All chamber music performance are free for students K-12 with at least one paying adult.
A step outside the ordinary
Some of the more unusual performances slated for the upcoming season include two puppet-centric shows that are fun for the whole family. Cashore Marionettes, a performance Joseph Cashore and his otherworldly marionettes, will take the stage Oct. 15 in an intimate show at Minsky Recital Hall. There’s also Erth’s “Dinosaur Zoo Live!” an educational performance featuring enormous, life-like dinosaur puppets, scheduled for March 4, 2018, at the Collins Center.
“We brought the marionettes once before, and this year we’ll be able to bring them into the community, since they will do a second show at the Brewer Community School that week,” Williams said. “The attention to detail is amazing, and having them in a smaller venue will really add to the experience.”
Circus arts, also a perennial favorite, return to the Collins Center this year with “Cirque Eloize,” a Quebec-based troupe presenting a Wild West-themed show, set for March 11.
“What’s unique about this group is that not only are they actors and gymnasts, but they also play instruments and sing,” Williams said. “The live music element of this show makes it very different from other cirque-style performances.”
Perhaps most unusual is a Jan. 25, 2018, performance from 14-year-old jazz piano prodigy Joey Alexander. Alexander, originally from Bali, Indonesia, taught himself to play jazz at age 6. By age 11 he had released an album, “My Favorite Things.” Wynton Marsalis has called Alexander his “hero” and said of him, “There has never been anyone that you can think of who could play like that at his age.”
“All I can say is, Google him. It’s pretty incredible,” Williams said. “I went to see him two years ago, and I could not believe what I was hearing on stage. This kid is a monster. Of all the things we’re bringing this year, this is one of the ones I’m most excited about.”
A full list of all the many performances slated for the 2017-2018 Collins Center for the Arts season can be found online at collinscenterforthearts.com, as well as a listing of all the high definition broadcasts of the Metropolitan Opera and NT Live (Royal National Theatre in London).