Linda MacArthur Miele grew up in New York City, attended the School of American Ballet and danced for the New York City Ballet Company, where she was the youngest member at 14. After dancing at Lincoln Center and in Broadway shows, she met her husband, Jonathan Miele, who grew up in Maine. Together, they created the Maine State Ballet and the Maine State Ballet School in 1985. The Maine State Ballet is currently staging “Le Corsaire.”

Q: With all of the other options kids have – sports, school activities – is it difficult to keep dancers involved?

A: I think one of the keys is we do these very beautiful performances, so there’s an incentive for dancers to stay and want to be a part of it. With a lot of dance schools, they do a spring recital and that’s it, but we do 40-plus performances a year, so we’re continually putting on these productions and young dancers see that and say. “Oh, if I stay here five years, I could be a part of that.” We have 5 to 10 percent of our older high school students who are staying in Maine for college specifically so they can dance with the Maine State Ballet. We keep these artists in Maine and the productions get better because we get older dancers. They’re really talented. We want this in Maine where the quality of life is wonderful; we want the quality of art to be wonderful as well.

Q: Can they make it a career?

A: The dancers who are doing this professionally, some of them teach or are involved in the production end of it, or they’ll get second jobs. If they’re really going to stay here past college, they need to do something else and that can be teaching in the school.

It’s not something you do for the money. Even at larger companies, you’re employed 40 weeks a year. That’s the top company in the country – most companies will employ 25 weeks a year. So it’s not something you go into thinking, “Oh, I’ll make lots of money.” You do it because it’s your passion and you build your art around being able to make it a life. They love what they do and we need artists. Maine is very accepting of artists. We have a lot of art for a small state. We have a great symphony, a great ballet company and a great museum for a small population.


Q: How packed is your schedule?

A: The school has its recital in May, June is sort of a downtime and then we start our summer intensive classes and then we have a large three-act play at the end of the summer and then we have a fall ballet and then the “Nutcracker.” And we have classes and we’re always working toward something. That’s how you make dancers. If you just practiced football all day and never had a game, you’d lose all your football players.

Q: What do you do if a student comes to you, and he or she just doesn’t really have the talent?

A: I’m very honest with families. I would tell them don’t spend your money. If she loves to dance, let her dance, I will help her, but don’t put money into something that I can tell you is not going to happen. But prior to 14 or 15 years old, you can’t tell, because anything is possible with good training and hard work, but once in a while there are people who can’t structurally do it. That happens on occasion and I try to be honest with the kids. But we try to make it fun for them to dance, to get on stage and make those memories. And for a lot of kids, they spend a lot of time in the ballet studio, so that becomes their team. I call it the varsity team and they want to hang out and spend time with their team.

Q: How much time is required?

A: The kids are in class four days a week and two-and-a-half to three hours a day and then, additionally, there are rehearsals for productions. So there are four or five hours on Saturday and some more time on Thursdays. It’s a big commitment for a lot of kids, but most of them don’t do other things. You have to make a choice, but usually that’s not until high school that you have to make that choice. As you get more involved and move higher up, other choices have to go. There’s a place for kids who just want to be recreational dancers, and the poise and confidence they get, that’s part of the whole experience.


Q: What do you enjoy most about it?

A: One of the things that’s the most fun for me is just watching students’ progress. We’re not just teaching dance, we’re teaching life skills and discipline and health and getting along with people. For some of these kids, this is their lifeline – it’s what gets them though high school. It’s an outlet emotionally and physically. That for me overrides everything on stage. When I have a mom come and say, “Thank you so much, this has been great for her,” that’s what makes it rewarding for me. You come out of this feeling good about yourself and bringing to individuals a sense of their worth.

Q: What are the audiences and dancers like for ballet in Maine?

A: I find there’s a lot of very savvy ballet audience in Maine. Many of them either travel to Boston or New York for shows or sometimes they’re transplants from New York. And there’s a younger audience that’s grown up with Maine State Ballet. They’re dancers and they get drawn into ballet and they love it and it introduces a whole new family audience into the ballet world. We do family-friendly performances so all audiences can enjoy them. Once in a while, we’ll do something cutting edge, but our real mission is to make memories with families. We’re finding it’s a generational thing that’s going on and it’s become traditions with families, in particularly the “Nutcracker.”

Q: What about your current production?

A: This ballet is not as well-known as some others and it’s a pirate ballet. We have a lot of boys, which is unusual. We wanted to do something to create a whole new audience of boy. It’s a three-act ballet, and a simple story of captive maidens and sailors coming to rescue them. There’s some choreography original to the ballet and those parts are very technically difficult. It seemed a good time to produce this and we went whole hog on it with all new scenery, new costumes, some new choreography that I do. As a ballet company, you have to produce new work. There’s only so many times you want to see “Swan Lake” or “Sleeping Beauty,” so you need to produce new works. We have about 30 ballets in our repertoire and we rotate them. It’s always good to do something brand new.


Q: How much does this production cost?

A: It’s about $30,000. The bulk of that is the backdrops, the painted backdrops, which were about $23,000 – but there are 10 of them. They’re large and intricate and heavy. And costuming is about another $5,000 that we do all ourselves. That’s basically the fabric, but they’re stunning and the rest goes to marketing and posters and print ads.

Q: What has the response been?

A: We opened last weekend and people just love it. People are telling me, “Oh, this is my favorite so far.” People are excited about the energy and the quality of the production. I think people are just excited and we have people who come up from Boston who tell us, “I can’t believe you’re here.” We’re like a little jewel in the woods.


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