Stevie Dunham McGary still has vivid memories of being a little girl at her very first dance recital with the Thomas School of Dance in Bangor. She remembers not being entirely happy with the performance.
“We did this Elvis piece, and we all wore poodle skirts. I was the shortest one, and the short ones had to wear yellow. I hated yellow,” McGary, now 32, recalled. “I was so mad. I remember saying I was going to quit dance. I was being silly. I was a total diva about it.”
McGary did not quit — and she said she’s pretty far from anything like a diva these days. Her youthful passion for dance has stayed with her, from those early years in Bangor with Thomas School of Dance and Robinson Ballet, to studying dance at Virginia Commonwealth University, to a decade spent choreographing for Robinson Ballet, to this year, taking up the helm of artistic director for Robinson.
It’s a role that in some ways she was destined to take on, after spending most of her dance career under the tutelage of and then working with Keith and Maureen Robinson, the longtime co-artistic directors of the company who stepped down in the spring. McGary was born to dance.
“We have home videos of me at age 4, dancing around, jumping in front of the camera,” McGary said. “I was always into the arts. … Dance was all around me. I have these early memories of going to classes with my friend — all my best friends did dance — and then going to Epi’s Pizza for lunch. And then doing it all over again the next weekend. That’s why I stuck with dance — having all those friends in it with me. That and I just love it.”
Still, even after more than two decades working with the company, McGary got a few butterflies during auditions earlier this month for the December production of “The Nutcracker.”
“I had a moment where I said to myself, ‘I can’t believe this is happening,’ because I remember being so nervous to go to those same auditions back then. And now I’m running them. I’m giving the steps and casting it,” she said. “It was a little surreal. It was always what I thought I’d end up doing, but here it is, really happening.”
Maureen Robinson has known McGary for more than 20 years. It became clear in the past few years that McGary would eventually be the clear successor to Robinson and her husband, Keith, when they were ready to step down as co-artistic directors of the company.
“She always stayed with us, even when she went away to college,” Robinson said. “She was always connected with us. And we knew, after a while, that we had someone of her caliber that we could count on, and that could take this on when we were ready to be done … Almost all the dancers here know her. She’s got tons of energy. She’s good with social media. We’re in really good hands.”
As artistic director, McGary plans to keep many of the things Robinson is known for: the wildly popular “Nutcracker” performances, the commitment to education, the spring showcases and children’s ballets. But she also plans to add a few new initiatives and programming opportunities for the venerable company.
“You don’t remain successful for 40 years for nothing. We’d never stop doing the things we’re known for and we’re really good at,” McGary said. “But I think we can do some behind the scenes changes that the audience might not see … and I think we can expand our programming.”
One of the first programing expansions McGary has enacted is a trial run of a fourth show in the Robinson Ballet season, in addition to “The Nutcracker,” the spring showcase and the children’s ballet. Robinson’s first fall show, “Reflections,” was performed last weekend at the Gracie Theatre at Husson University, featuring several different pieces choreographed by Robinson’s past artistic directors, including Ralph and Jeanne-Marie Robinson, Kelly Holyoke Fitzpatrick and Keith and Maureen Robinson.
McGary hopes that, going forward, she and her company also will have the opportunity to educate the public further on dance in its many forms.
“I want to get the community interested in dance. I think people see things like more modern dance pieces and don’t know what to think. I want to make sure that we can help them understand what they’re seeing,” she said. “Smaller shows in smaller venues. More intimate things. We want to educate as well as entertain.”
In addition to McGary’s new role, Robinson Ballet’s board of directors also named a new managing director for the company this year. Longtime Bangor area arts supporter Karen Hartnagle took that position this summer.
And Robinson Ballet isn’t the only Bangor area arts organization that has undergone changes. Bangor Ballet’s artistic director and executive directors, Ivy Clear-Forrest and Jane Bragg, respectively, both stepped down earlier in the summer. Andrea Stark has stepped in as interim executive director. A new artistic director for Bangor Ballet has yet to be named.
Robinson Ballet’s next performances will be “The Nutcracker,” Nov. 19 in Machias, Nov. 26 in Caribou, Dec. 10-11 in Ellsworth, and Dec. 17-18 with the Bangor Symphony Orchestra in Orono. Bangor Ballet will perform its abridged version of Tchaikovsky’s classic, “Nutcracker in a Nutshell,” in December in Bucksport, Dover-Foxcroft and Bangor. For more information, visit robinsonballet.org, or bangorballet.org.