Every Sunday for the past four months, the Bangor Ballet has turned their fourth-floor studios overlooking downtown State Street into a whimsical, lyrical, slightly melancholy version of 1920s New York City. The rake, the ingenue, the lovable drunk, the birthday girl and many more characters inhabit George Gershwin’s Concerto in F, in a new ballet choreographed by Ivy Forrest, titled “New York Concerto,” which the dancers have been rehearsing since September.
“New York Concerto” will have its premiere this Saturday at the University of Maine at Machias, with subsequent performances on Jan. 15 at Husson University in Bangor and Jan. 16 at Ellsworth High School. More than 20 dancers will perform in the piece, hailing from communities throughout Greater Bangor — all of whom have worked under the tutelage of Forrest, some for as long as eight years.
“Some of these dancers are just so busy, we had to make sure there was one day a week they could come rehearse,” said Forrest, who co-founded Bangor Ballet, originally known as Bangor Youth Ballet, in 1994 with Thomas School of Dance founder Jane Bragg. “Between school, music, work in some cases, other extracurriculars, they’re all doing a million things at once. But you wouldn’t know it, when you see them dance.”
There are seven principal characters in “New York Concerto.” Sir Tipsy, played by Bangor Ballet dancer August Eaton, a sophomore at Hermon High School, returns to a tavern to find his hat. There, he meets Broken Blossom, a single mother played by Orono High School senior Sarah Bishop; the Birthday Girl, played by John Bapst senior Alex Michaud; a violinist, played by Brewer High School senior Rachel Caron; and petty criminals the Pickpocket and the Moll, played by Bangor High School junior Tommy McCarthy and Old Town High School junior Elizabeth Dvorak.
Act 2 brings one more main character, Miss Lonely Heart, played by Bangor High School sophomore Erin Norris. Fifteen other dancers round out the cast, and the action plays out as a series of vignettes occurring over the course of one night.
“The idea is that the audience has this secret view into the lives of these characters. It’s like they’re watching across the street, with binoculars,” said Forrest, who began her career dancing for George Balanchine while still a teenager, later moving to the Joffrey Ballet in Chicago. “You don’t always know all their motivations, but you can figure out your own theory on the real story.”
Five of the principal dancers in the program have been accepted into a number of prestigious ballet programs nationwide. Eaton and McCarthy both attended the Joffrey School last summer in New York, and Eaton attended the School of American Ballet on a partial scholarship. Eaton also is in the process of auditioning for The Juilliard School in New York City.
Norris attended a summer program with acclaimed dancer Suzanne Farrell at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., and hopes to attend again this summer. Rachel Caron attended The Rockettes summer program last year in New York, and will return again this year as an assistant; Sarah Bishop will find out soon whether she will be attending that program this year as well.
The life of a young ballet dancer is a hectic one — especially considering that all the high school-age dancers are involved in much more than just ballet. McCarthy is working toward becoming an Eagle Scout. Dvorak has traveled on humanitarian trips to Uganda and Honduras. Bishop is a straight-A student. Michaud is involved in four student groups at John Bapst, and also works at Coffee Express. They all credit ballet as a positive force in their lives.
“The discipline of ballet has really taught me how to manage my time, and how to stay focused,” said Michaud. “I really look forward to ballet, actually, because if I’m stressed-out at all I can just dance it out. It’s the best therapy I can think of.”
“New York Concerto” will be performed as a benefit for Bangor Ballet at Husson University’s Gracie Theatre in Bangor on Saturday, Jan. 15. A reception with cash bar begins in the lobby at 5 p.m. with the performance to begin at approximately 6:15 p.m. Admission to the reception and performance is $35. To reserve seats for the benefit, call 945-3457 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Additional performances of “New York Concerto” will be held at the Performing Arts Center at the University of Maine at Machias at 7 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 8, and at 3 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 16, at Ellsworth High School. Tickets are available at the door or by contacting Bangor Ballet. Ticket prices are $12 for adults and $5 for children, students, and in Machias for UMM faculty and staff.