2015-07-03 / Community

Dance Company features new faces

By Molly Lovell-Keely Managing Editor


Jackson Howard, 7, will dance in “The Best of Broadway,” at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, July 7 at The Temple in Ocean Park. His mother, Jessica Howard, is a pastoral candidate at Church on the Cape in Cape Porpoise. The only performing Jackson has done is for skits at Vacation Bible School. (Molly Lovell-Keely photo) Jackson Howard, 7, will dance in “The Best of Broadway,” at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, July 7 at The Temple in Ocean Park. His mother, Jessica Howard, is a pastoral candidate at Church on the Cape in Cape Porpoise. The only performing Jackson has done is for skits at Vacation Bible School. (Molly Lovell-Keely photo) OCEAN PARK – Finding male performers would be easier if more youth were exposed to the theater and dance, one area dance instructor says.

But that may be changing, according to Deb Lombard, of Saco, the director and choreographer of The Dance Company’s 23rd annual “Best of Broadway” show, to be held 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, July 7 at The Temple in Ocean Park. The group will perform a second show Tuesday, Aug. 4 at the same time and place.

This year is different, however, because the show will feature two new additions to the company: 7-year-old Jackson Howard of Biddeford and 17-year-old David Moses of Saco.

Jackson, who will be a second-grader at Biddeford Primary School, participated in a theater dance camp program that Lombard holds the week of shows. But prior to that he had never performed on stage, except in skits at Vacation Bible School. His mother is a pastoral candidate at Church on the Cape in Cape Porpoise.

But Jackson certainly doesn’t mind being the only boy in the children’s group.

“When we left the first day, he said, ‘Mom, I’m the only boy ... I like my odds,” said his mother, Jessica Howard.

Howard was familiar with The Dance Company because a cousin used to perform with the group; her family also has ties to Ocean Park that go back decades.

“We had signed Jack up for hip hop and it was fun, but he’s so much more animated. He just seemed like he would be better at the Broadway part,” she said.

Howard also had ulterior motives for signing up her son for dance.

“I wanted him to be a better dancer than my husband,” she said. “I wanted him to establish a sense of rhythm. Everybody knows that guy on the dance floor.”

Howard said a schoolmate said something snarky to her son about dancing, but Jackson held his own.

“He said, ‘Hey, I get to spend every Wednesday night with (14) girls my age,’” Howard said.

Howard said her youngest son, Maxim, 5, will most likely join The Dance Company when he’s old enough.

“Maxim wants to do everything his brother does,” Howard said, adding that her sons participate in baseball, surfing, soccer, snowboarding, lacrosse, flag football, archery, kayaking, paddle boarding, camping, canoeing and more.

Jackson said he doesn’t talk much during weekly rehearsal, which is held at Second Congregational Church in Saco.

“I’m the only boy, so there’s nothing to talk about. I mostly like to talk about monster trucks and explosions,” Jackson said.

What does he think his first show will be like?

“Fun, awesome, cool,” he said.

Moses, who will be a high school senior this fall, was homeschooled until he began taking some courses at Thornton Academy as a freshman.

“This year I got involved in the theater program and that’s turned out to be what I want to do in life,” Moses said.

Moses played Bert in Thornton’s production of “Mary Poppins,” his first musical.

“I had only started singing a month or two before that – it turns out I love that as well,” he said.

Moses’ mother hired Lombard to privately coach her son for the role of Bert after coming across Lombard’s website. She didn’t know about Lombard’s ties to The Dance Company or the southern Maine community.

“It was like a crash course of 35 years’ experience put into a few hours,” Lombard said. “I just taught him how to have stage presence and how to hold himself; character stuff, being comfortable on stage alone because it was his first experience in a musical – there was so much to teach him, from how to use his core to pointing his toes.”

Lombard said Moses has used every pointer she’s given him.

“I think he took it really seriously and wanted to be the best he could be,” Lombard said, adding that she asked Moses to perform with the company when she heard he wanted to pursue a career in the arts.

“He graduates next year. Between talking to him and his mom, we wanted to get him as much experience as possible,” Lombard said.

Moses said Tisch School of the Arts in New York City is his dream school, but said acceptance into the renowned school a “huge stretch.”

“Over April vacation, my mom and I took a trip to New York City and I realized that I really, really want to go to school there – any drama college in New York City,” Moses said.

Tisch may not be as impossible as Moses thinks.

Thornton alum Camden Loeser, who graduated last year, didn’t start dancing until his junior years and is now studying dance at the school, part of New York University.

Moses said a career on Broadway would be “pretty nice,” but a recent trip to London with Thornton’s theater group piqued his interest in a different kind of performance.

“I’m really in love with Shakespeare right now,” Moses said. “There, it’s more of a concrete career.”

Lombard has taught dance in schools for many years, including at Saco Middle School, St. James School and Notre Dame when it was still open.

“It was part of their gym classes. I was able to teach them all the numbers we do in our show, but I was also able to teach them partner dancing,” Lombard said. “They would love it.”

Students, including many of the boys, often ended up participating in Lombard’s professional shows.

“It’s just a matter of reaching them somehow. Typically it’s always the girl that goes off to dance school and the boys that go off to play football. If you can get to them early, though, they really enjoy it,” Lombard said. “My main reason for starting The Dance Company in ‘92 was to get the community educated in musical theater and dance.”

Lombard works with high school students in Gorham on an annual musical, and said sometimes when a certain type of student joins, it encourages others.

“When you get 16 guys to do the show and they’re the football players, the rugby players, the baseball players, that’s what it takes. Others will follow them in,” she said.

Lombard said she still remembers her first time on stage.

“I was 5 years old and the music teacher in the school selected me out of other kids in my grade to sing, along with one kid from the other grades, to sing a song together in this show,” Lombard said. “My mom and dad took me to Boston to Macy’s to get a really cute dress – that I still have – little patent leather shoes and little white anklet socks. I came out on stage and slipped and fell right on my bottom. I got right back up and the music started. There was my lesson learned about how to get up and keep going.”

Lombard also recalls performing with The Saco Jets with Linda Ladakakos.

“Even to this day, Linda will say, ‘Oh Debbie, you were so afraid, I didn’t think you were going to make it,’” Lombard said. “I was just a very, very shy kid. Honestly, I still am now, it’s just that my business doesn’t allow me to be that way.”

Lombard said she thinks there are more introverts than extroverts in the entertainment business. She described Moses as an introvert.

“He’s kind of shy, but he just comes alive,” she said of his performances, adding that Moses will perform in the company’s Bollywood number and its take on a “Lord of the Dance”-type number. He’ll also take on the roles of Harvey Johnson and Joseph.

“I tell kids who want to make it in this business that they have to stay true to themselves and that they have to have very broad shoulders to carry all of the rejection,” Lombard said. “There is so much rejection in the show business arena and you just have to keep persevering and keep going and going and going.”

Lombard always tells a story about her best friend, Carl Schmehl, who saw 4,000 people in one weekend audition for eight parts.

Lombard said Schmehl was an important figure in starting The Dance Company.

“He’d come up and we’d work on numbers that he firsthand worked on Broadway with,” Lombard said. “He would tell stories of working with Cy Coleman when he was writing “Big Spender,” then going to dinner and Bob Fosse was his birthday surprise at dinner.”

Schmehl is currently executive artistic director for an event company in New York City that produces what Lombard calls “all the mega shows.”

Lombard’s resume includes performing in New York with headliners like Ray Chew, current music director for “Dancing with the Stars.” She also performed in “Jersey Boys” with Diana Ross.

Lombard includes her four daughters in The Dance Company, in addition to her fiancé, Dennis Boilard and grandson, Eli Arsenault.

Arsenault, 14, will be a freshman at Thornton Academy next year, and is part of the show’s crew. This year he’ll perform in “Tommy.” He first performed in the annual show at 5 years old in “Lion King,” which he vaguely remembers.

His duties as a crew member often include setting up props, opening and closing the curtain and doing lights. Last year, Arsenault said, he nearly made an error with the lights during the opening number.

“It’s nerve wracking for the 10 seconds that it lasts – it’s a very long 10 seconds,” Arsenault said.

Boilard, who has been with Lombard since 2009, also is an important member of the crew.

“Every year, it’s like, wow, are we going to have enough time to do all of this? But we always get it done,” Boilard said.

Boilard was in a number for the first time last year.

“She pretty much told me I was going to be in it,” he said. “I had never done anything like that in front of an audience before – she showed me how to shuffle a little bit.”

Boilard said Lombard puts a lot of time, effort and money into The Dance Company.

“She’ll be doing it until the day she dies,” he said.

Arsenault said friends think it’s neat to see him perform in a show.

“It’s a lot of fun – a lot of preparation,” he said, “but it all pays off in the end.”

Fundraiser

The Dance Company will hold a fundraiser at its July and August shows for Saco girl Hayley Desjardins, 13, who has a rare blood disease and has spent the year at Boston Children’s Hospital. Desjardins is also a member of the company, along with her sister, Maddie Desjardins.

Hayley needed a bone marrow transplant, which prompted a number of drives to find a match. A complete match hasn’t been found, but she had chemotherapy and radiation to prepare her body to be infused with umbilical cord blood. Since then, the family has transitioned out the hospital and into a Ronald McDonald House in Boston. The Dance Company will sell T-shirts to benefit Hayley’s family and all cupcake sales will also be donated to the family.

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