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Moving forward, stepping up

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Moving forward, stepping up (edge photo by Kevin Bennett)

Robinson Ballet's past, its future and its 40th season

BANGOR One of Bangor's longest-tenured and beloved artistic institutions is celebrating a big birthday this year. The Robinson Ballet is marking 40 years as part of the cultural and creative firmament in this region.

Four decades of dance. Generations of young people learning to move from talented teachers. Year after year of 'The Nutcracker,' one of our area's most treasured holiday traditions. Gifted performers bringing to life the work of gifted choreographers. Forty years of moving movement.

There have been some pretty big changes at Robinson Ballet recently. Longtime artistic directors Keith and Maureen Robinson have stepped away from some of the day-to-day operations of the company. While they remain involved as the company's new artistic directors emeritus, they have handed the keys to Stevie McGary.

McGary has been involved with Robinson Ballet since childhood. She has danced with the company for years and has been involved company operations for some time as a dancer, choreographer and what have you. And now, she's the one steering the ship.

'It's kind of like organized chaos,' McGary said with a smile as we sat in her office and the sound of dancers echoed through the building. 'There's a lot that goes into running this place.'

Of course, while McGary has assumed that artistic director role, she's definitely not on an island.

'There has always been a strategic plan for the company,' she said. 'When Keith and Maureen started thinking about not necessarily wanting to do this forever, they started looking at a transition plan.'

That transition plan involved McGary who had been with the company since childhood, save for time away for college (she holds a BFA in dance and choreography from Virginia Commonwealth University) assuming more artistic responsibility.

'It's wild,' she said. 'It's the first time that there isn't a Robinson serving as an artistic director.'

However, McGary made it very clear that while Keith and Maureen have stepped down, they haven't stepped completely away.

'They're not retiring,' she said. 'Maureen will still be running the school. Keith will still be dancing he'll be back as Drosselmeyer in 'The Nutcracker.' They're still going to be helping, still going to be involved.

'They've been guiding influences for me for most of my life,' she continued. 'They're always going to be as involved as much as they want to be.'

Still, despite the fact that the Robinsons clearly have the utmost faith in her capabilities, it's only natural that McGary might have occasional concerns about tackling this new gig.

'I try not to think about it too much,' she laughed. 'It's kind of an in-between feeling I'm anxious about getting going, but I'm also aware of how big a responsibility this is. I want to keep doing the things that the company has done, but at the same time, I want to put some of my own stamp on it.

'I've always been connected with the Robinsons,' she continued. 'They've given me a great foundation and helped inspire the confidence I need to do the job. I mean, I still have those 2 a.m. moments, but I'm very excited.'

McGary has no intention of shying away from the pressures that come with the position, but she's definitely aware of them.

'It's a big project,' she said. 'It's like I'm climbing this huge mountain. I know that I can do it, but at the same time, there are all these people watching me while I climb. But [Keith and Maureen] have been mentoring me for years. Ever since I graduated from college and came back home, they've been offering me guidance. They've been preparing me for this for a while.'

Forty years is a long time for any arts organization. And while Stevie McGary might not have the Robinson name, she certainly carries within her the Robinson spirit. Area audiences should look forward to watching the Robinson Ballet continue to thrive under her thoughtful and talented leadership.

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The 2016-2017 season

This season will see a few changes from years past. The company has added a fourth show to their performance season and are offering season tickets for the first time. Interested parties can find out more on the Robinson Ballet website at www.robinsonballet.org.

Here's a look ahead at what 2016-2017 will bring.

Reflections Sept. 16 and 17

'Reflections' set to take place at Husson University's Gracie Theatre - will open the Robinson Ballet season with a celebration of all that has come before. The company's rich history will be put on display in this show, with works choreographed by previous Artistic Directors such as Ralph and Jeanne-Marie Robinson, Kelly Holyoke Fitzpatrick and Keith and Maureen Robinson brought back to the stage.

With many changes at hand a new time, a new season and a new hand at the artistic helm 'Reflections' is an opportunity to look back, to reflect if you will, on the company's beginnings and its growth and evolution into the artistic institution that it has become over the past four decades. In addition to revisiting past choreography, this show will also feature dancers from every part of Robinson Ballet history.

'We've got pieces from all the past artistic directors,' said McGary. 'All sorts of alumni are taking part; dancers from the 1980s, the 1990s all the way up to the present. It's something like 20 or 25 dancers, with people coming from all over to participate. It has been so much fun; there has been a lot of Remember when?' It's a celebration, a way to thank Keith and Maureen for all of their hard work.'

The Nutcracker Nov. 19 Dec. 18

Robinson Ballet will once again undertake this holiday classic, a work that has become one of central and northern Maine's most eagerly anticipated seasonal traditions. This tale of Christmas dreams come to life has been a company staple for years now, bringing classic characters such as the Snow Queen, the Rat King, Drosselmeyer and of course the titular Nutcracker to the stage.

As per usual, Robinson Ballet will be performing 'The Nutcracker' all over the state this holiday season. They will do two shows on Nov. 19 at UMaine Machias and one on Nov. 26 at the Caribou Performing Arts Center. There will be three shows in two days at the Grand in Ellsworth Dec. 10 and 11. And finally, on Dec. 17 and 18, the company will perform three shows at the Collins Center for the Arts; for the CCA shows, they'll be joined by the Bangor Symphony Orchestra and the Bangor Area Children's Choir.

'It's a long season with lots of performances,' McGary said. 'We're doing Machias, Caribou, Ellsworth and Orono. For some of these places, it's their best chance to see [a show like this] in person.'

Extensions April 1 and 2

'Extensions' will be the company's spring show. This year, rather than a collection of works from different choreographers, this slot on the calendar will be given over solely to works created by McGary. It's an effort to give audiences an idea of the direction that the new artistic director hopes to take Robinson Ballet.

These works are intended to illustrate McGary's vision for the company and will feature works that primarily fall into the realms of modern dance, ballet and contemporary dance. These two performances will take place at the Brewer Performing Arts Center.

'This will be the spring show,' said McGary. 'It's all about extending from our foundation. It's going to be all original work of mine. It's a big undertaking, but it's a good way to help show the public that this is the artistic vision going forward. I'm going out on a limb a little, but I think the juxtaposition [of the new pieces with the past work of 'Reflections'] is really going to work.

Where the Wild Things Are May 6, 7 and 12

Robinson Ballet's children's shows have become a mainstay in recent years. Their latest a dance adaptation of Maurice Sendak's classic children's book 'Where the Wild Things Are' promises to be a lot of fun and offer something for audiences of all ages.

It's a chance to see some of the company's school's younger dancers in action, bringing the story of Max and the mysterious Wild Things to life. Performances will take place at two different venues, with the May 6 and 7 shows at the Brewer Performing Arts Center and the May 12 show in Ellsworth at the Grand Auditorium.

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Some notes on Robinson Ballet

Robinson Ballet was founded in 1977 by Ralph Robinson. He stepped down in 1986 and handed the reins to his nephew Keith Robinson, who served as co-artistic director alongside his aunt Jeanne-Marie until 1990. That year, Keith's wife (and longtime company member) Maureen took over Jeanne-Marie's position.

The two proceeded to hold those positions for the next 26 years.

Over the company's 40-year history, they have offered school performances, lectures, demonstrations and master classes all in the name of raising dance awareness. Robinson Ballet's educational programs have reached thousands of children since their inception. Dancers and teachers have traveled all over the state, visiting schools and instructing students in dance fundamentals and techniques while also performing short pieces intended to highlight various styles and forms of dance. This presence allows for children who might not otherwise have the opportunity to be exposed to dance, building future audiences and an appreciation of the art of dance.

In addition, the School of Robinson Ballet was created, giving hundreds of students of all ages the chance to take classes in a variety of dance forms ranging from ballet and jazz to modern and beyond.

(For more information about Robinson Ballet and its programs, you can visit their website at www.robinsonballet.org.)

Last modified on Wednesday, 14 September 2016 10:52

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