For his new work, “Akrasia,” to be premiered at Robinson Ballet’s spring performances this weekend and next, Keith Robinson set out to make a sculpture of sorts out of human bodies. There’s a lot of heavy lifting; dancers held aloft on backs, shoulders and forearms; tumbling, climbing and leaping, as female sirens lure male warriors to their doom in the vortex. The score features startling, discordant music, and the flowing, pastel costumes of the women are a graceful contrast to the men’s costumes — little more than nude-colored bottoms and muscle.
“‘Akrasia’ means ‘weakness of will’ in Greek,” said Robinson, who, with his wife, Maureen Lynch, is co-artistic director of the company. “It’s based on the myth of the sirens and the sailors, but it’s mainly a big collage. I’m making pretty pictures, centered around a theme. It’s a collage of movement.”
However you view it, it’s big, exhilarating stuff, and by the end the dancers are wiping sweat from their brows. There’s only a brief intermission, though, before they jump back into the next piece, a dramatic dance by longtime Robinson Ballet choreographer Terry Lacy titled “The Family Couch.” For the 40 dancers who make up the company, these two weekends of shows are a real workout.
Robinson Ballet’s annual spring performances, scheduled for 7 p.m. April 2, and 3 and 7 p.m. April 3 at the Bangor Opera House, and 7 p.m. April 9, and 3 and 7 p.m. April 10 at The Grand in Ellsworth, are one of the rare chances eastern Maine audiences get to see high-quality dance.
What’s more, it’s high-quality dance choreographed and performed almost entirely by local dancers — the exception being Michelle Mola and Zack Winkour, the New York-based guest choreographer and dancer who will perform two pieces. Mola and Winkour worked with Robinson and Lynch’s son, Ian, himself an internationally acclaimed dancer. Mola will lead two master classes on Monday, April 5, and Wednesday, April 7, at the Robinson Ballet studios on Main Street in Bangor.
“It’s so important for our dancers to get a chance to interact with these professional dancers from away,” said Lynch, who choreographed a children’s ballet, “La Boutique Fantastique,” to be performed at the two matinee shows. “It’s also really important for our audience and the community. Penobscot Theatre brings in professionals, and so do we. We want people to see these kinds of dancers. We very rarely get it up here.”
Robinson Ballet dancers, get to experience a full array of styles with each spring performance. Stevie Dunham’s piece “El Arco” combines Latin dance with a loose story about a couple on their honeymoon, spotlighting the talents of Rachel Caron, a junior at Brewer High School. In “Spirit,” choreographed by Shana Bloomstein of the Belfast Dance Studio, dancers perform an African-influenced piece, singing along to live percussion, before forming a semicircle and letting each dancer strut their stuff, gyrating and shimmying to a wildly infectious beat.
Nearly all of the dancers have been with the company for several years — some beginning as early as elementary school, others joining in middle school and early high school. The younger dancers will be showcased at both matinee performances, featuring Dunham’s high-energy big band romp “Swing,” and “Prom Night,” a pas de deux between two awkward teenagers on their big date. Lynch’s “La Boutique Fantastique” brings together 30 dancers and tells the story of a rich family shopping for dolls in a store in the south of France. Each kind of doll does a different dance, ending with the pair of cancan dolls, performed by Amanda Fahey and Matt Sevey.
“I tell the younger dancers in class, ‘You know that you’re our future, don’t you?’” Robinson said. “Our students in middle school are the ones that will be leading us into the next 10 years of performing. They’re hungry to perform, which is why we do a matinee. It gives them a chance to perform outside of ‘The Nutcracker.’”
A number of the older dancers are students at UMaine, many of them majoring in theater. Both Lynch and Robinson worry that if the proposed cut of the theater major and in performing arts in general at UM goes through, they’ll lose the small but devoted handful of strong, mature dancers that form the backbone of the company.
“I worry that some students currently in high school will be less likely to want to stay in the area, if they can’t study something that affords them the ability to perform,” said Lynch. “Being in the performing arts has provided them a way to stay here and do their thing. If that’s gone, they’ll go elsewhere. We really like having them around, and having that maturity here. Those older, more mature dancers are so important to us. You can do things with them that you can’t with younger dancers.”
Be that as it may, the performances this weekend and next showcase both the strength and talent of more seasoned performers, and the young, up-and-coming dancers who soon will be seen as Clara, perhaps, in “The Nutcracker,” or performing their own solos in spring shows to come.
“All our dancers have a strong ballet background, so they have that strength and technique. But we’re not a rigorous Russian style ballet,” said Lynch. “We encourage everyone to develop their own personal style. That’s the way [Keith and I] were brought up. Good, solid technique, but also the freedom to have personality and style.”
Robinson Ballet Live will perform at 7 p.m. April 2, and 3 and 7 p.m. April 3 at the Bangor Opera House, and 7 p.m. April 9, and 3 and 7 p.m. April 10 at The Grand in Ellsworth. Tickets for the evening shows are $14 for adults, $10 for seniors and $8 for students. Matinee shows are $5. For information on next week’s master classes with Michelle Mola, call 989-7226; the cost is $10. For more information, visit www.robinsonballet.org.