Physical burden can't deter Portland ballerina

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FALMOUTH — Caitlin Bernard knew she wouldn’t leave when she first set foot inside Maine State Ballet.

Sixteen years and dozens of performances later, she will take the stage this weekend as the company presents a rare performance of the classic ballet “Swan Lake” at Portland’s Merrill Auditorium. Bernard, a company member, will dance in the first and third acts.

Despite her success on stage, Bernard’s journey has not been without adversity. At age 8 she was diagnosed with Madelung’s deformity in her wrists. Since then, she has had nine surgeries to correct the deformity, which is caused when bones in each wrist stopped growing.

Bernard said she has had two surgeries every two years since she turned 10. She scheduled her most recent surgery in December to take place after “The Nutcracker” and her school final exams, but with enough recovery time to perform in “Swan Lake.”

“Dancing has helped me get through my deformity and all these serious surgeries,” she said, noting wearing casts while dancing gives her extra “whipping power” while spinning.

Maine State Ballet Director Linda MacArthur Miele, who has known Bernard since she began at Maine State Ballet at age 4, said the young ballerina brings “an amazing energy” to the company. 

“She has a love and a passion for dance, and she’d had that since she was a little girl,” she said. “She just has that kind of personality where (these surgeries) won’t get her down. She’s cheerful and grateful.”

Bernard began studying with Maine State Ballet after watching her older sister, Sarah, in dance classes.

“I would sit on the floor in the corner to watch her class and teach myself,” said Bernard, a 20-year-old Portland resident and University of Southern Maine student who is studying to be a kindergarten teacher. “I would not be here if it wasn’t for my sister.”

Bernard’s love of dance grew as she increased the frequency of classes and began performing in ballets like “The Nutcracker.”

“I’ve just loved it ever since I was a kid. I wanted to be here all the time,” she said last week as she waited for a dance class she teaches to begin. “… When I get on stage I get to be a whole (different) person in a whole different world. It’s freeing.”

Miele calls Bernard “a cheerleader for Maine State Ballet,” who consistently demonstrates maturity and confidence on stage. She said Bernard’s  young dance students look up to her and are always eager for class to begin.

“I’d say her optimism is contagious,” Miele said. “She walks into the room and everyone is happy.”

Bernard said it is easy to stay optimistic about her future despite her surgeries because of the support of her “family” at Maine State Ballet and her parents, Barry Bernard and Ann Goodridge.

She also said it is easy to balance her many rehearsals with college courses and studying because she loves the moment she steps on stage to dance.

“It’s an adrenaline rush, but at the same time it feels completely natural to me,” Bernard said. “It’s the place I’m happiest.”

Gillian Graham can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or Follow her on Twitter: @grahamgillian.

Sidebar Elements

Caitlin Bernard, a Portland resident and company member at Maine State Ballet, will dance in “Swan Lake” this weekend at Merrill Auditorium in Portland. Bernard has been dancing singe age 4 despite a series of surgeries to correct bone deformities in her wrists.

‘Swan Lake’ in Portland

Performances of “Swan Lake” are scheduled for 2 p.m. Saturday, March 31, and Sunday, April 1, at Merrill Auditorium in Portland.

This is the first Maine performance of “Swan Lake” in six years, according to Linda MacArthur Miele, director of Maine State Ballet. The Falmouth-based company’s presentation showcases 85 advanced students and professional dancers.