BAR HARBOR — At long last the Robinson Ballet is bringing their enchanting annual production of the Christmas classic “The Nutcracker” to the Criterion Theatre Sunday, Dec. 9 at 3 p.m.
Those who have attended one of these charming performances at other venues will understand what a perfect fit this will be. The elegant old art deco theater with its big broad stage, and the innovative, yet classically-based ballet company are a natural combination to start the Christmas season.
“As a long time fan of Robinson Ballet, I am glad to be able to bring them to Mount Desert Island,” says Criterion Executive Director Amy Roeder. “At the Criterion, we love watching indelible memories being made here, and what better performance for making those memories than ‘The Nutcracker’?”
Those who grew up in big cities attending lavish productions of “The Nutcracker” with stunning special effects, lighting and costuming, danced by a corps of rising ballet stars, might mistakenly think that seeing the small Bangor-based company’s version will be a disappointment.
Not to worry, as a five- or six-time veteran audience member of this company’s performances, I can practically guarantee that no adult or child will leave the theater without stars in their eyes and, perhaps, ballet lessons in their future.
For some 40 years now, the Robinson Ballet company’s co-founders Keith Robinson and his wife Maureen Lynch have been training young dancers not only to learn all the proper moves, positions and disciplines of classical ballet, but — as hard work as it can be— to love it. Love it enough to stick with it for years, even decades.
The company’s relatively new Artistic Director, Stevie McGary, is a case in point. She virtually grew up dancing with the Robinson and is now running the show.
“Keith and Maureen are still a very big part of “The Nutcracker,” McGary said. “Maureen is largely responsible for the opening party scene in the first act, and Keith helps with a lot of second act moments, and, of course, will again be dancing as Drosselmeyer.”
But it is McGary who — in addition to raising a toddler and infant— has taken on the lion’s share of directing the ballet’s cast of 45, children, adults, professionals and students in this dance-action-packed ballet. Like her mentors, she is not content to repeat the same choreography year after year but adds something new and unexpected to each production.
This year, she says, among other new elements and characters, there will be reindeer.
“We are going to have a team of reindeer bringing in a sleigh for the second act!” she enthuses, obviously thrilled about how this addition is working out.
She credits former dancer and now costumer Ed Ventura of Trenton for creating the perfect tutus for these debuting dancing reindeer.
“We also have some wonderful new dancers including three sets of twins dancing in this show” she says. “One of them, Samuel Brissette-Hatch, will [be] dancing the Snow Prince with Alicia Berube as his princess.”
As she did, these young adults grew up on the Robinson stage — she actually danced this pas a deux with the handsome young man who eventually became her husband.”
McGary says the Sugar Plum fairy role will be danced by Stephanie Salmi, a professional ballerina from Miami who now lives in Greenville.
“We are thrilled to have her,” said McGary.
Also, in the corps are Southwest Harbor youngsters Cole Lessard and Cate Cope, who are perhaps beginning a long career as dancers.
Both McGary and Maureen Lynch say they are delighted to be bringing the ballet to the Criterion. “It’s always exciting to bring our performance to a new stage,” Lynch said, and one can’t help wishing the accomplished, but retired ballerina would also be dancing on it.
Both women agree the Bar Harbor theater is especially lovely, but it is not without its challenges. While the stage is impressively broad it is also relatively shallow, with limited backstage area, making it difficult to move swarms of dancers — often requiring costume changes — from one side of the stage to the other.
“But I’ve worked it out,” McGary says confidently, “it’s going to be just fine.”
And, one suspects from past history, it will also be loads of fun for both the audiences and the dancers.
Tickets for “The Nutcracker” are available at the Criterion website or by calling the box office at 288-0829. Doors open at 2:00 p.m. and the show starts at 3. Tickets range in price from $21.50-$31.50.