Put on your dancing shoes and get ready for this season of the UMass Fine Arts Center Series. Circus acts in factories, classical/jazz fusion groups like Imani Winds, and documentaries on Robert Kennedy punctuate this season’s program, but dance performances, ranging from Mexican Ballet to interpretations of Shakespeare, seem to dominate the program. Why? Given the Pioneer Valley’s dance history, the popularity of the Five-College Dance Program, and the widespread phenomenon that is reality dance TV, it’s really no surprise.
The UMass Fine Arts Center Series, established 34 years ago, puts on a collection of performances and exhibitions each year ranging from jazz quartets to circus acts. Center Series Director Kathryn Maguet says she tries to reflect of the desires of several groups of people. She says she has a responsibility to present programs that are relevant to UMass students, on-campus departments, and the people of the Pioneer Valley. Most shows are put on in the Fine Arts Concert Hall, which seats 1900. It was only sold out 5 or 6 times last season, but generally, the series did well enough to end up with a couple thousand dollars in the black.
Financial issues over the past few years like the diminishing allocation from the university and this year’s 25% budget cut, and too many empty seats in the audience (85% of the Center Series revenue comes from ticket sales) have led to some changes this season. This year the series features fewer shows, but includes several acts that are expected to draw crowds, such as the Dan Zanes and Friends Family Dance Party. Specifically, one can expect shows with sweeping genres, large casts, and accessible themes.
“[The Center Series] can cover costs and make a little on dance,” says Maguet. The Center Series usually breaks even and the big audiences that dance shows generate a surplus. This is especially true this season because, according to Maguet, there isn’t another major dance production by an established group going on in a 60-mile radius.
Some potential dance hits are Cirque Mechanics In a Birdhouse Factory (a circus act comprised of world-renowned performers), Ballet Folklorico de Mexico, and the all-male Black Grace Dance Company.
In particular, Maguet is looking forward to the dance performance by Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company, titled “Serenade/The Proposition.” The performance explores the legacy of Abraham Lincoln through the Civil War up to his assassination using original choreography and music, narration, and videography. It also works to discover what life would be like had Lincoln lived. Maguet calls it “profound and poetic…an outstanding piece,” and says Jones is “at the top of his game.”
The Center Series provides the Pioneer Valley with acts they would not see anywhere, and with dance taking over the program, there may be some concerns about a lack of certain performances, like jazz or classical music. The program does include distinguished acts like the Orquestra de Sao Paulo with Dame Evelyn Glennie (a famous Brazilian classic ensemble and percussionist), Irish musicians Paddy Moloney with the Chieftains, and the Dafnis Prieto Sextet.
Maguet said she prides herself on the fact that there’s not a lot of “cheese” in the program, and despite bumps in the road, the promising acts this season includes shows that the Fine Arts Center Series will at least stay the same in terms of quality.