Authored by Suzanne Lemmon
The Orphan Train Ballet premiered in 1997, and has since been a part of Covenant Ballet Theaters repertory of story ballets performed for K-12 students of the NYC area. This non- profit arts in education dance company not only entertains and educates, but keeps history alive for thousands of children through the art of ballet (Covenant Ballet Theater 2020).
Artistic Director and founder Ms. Marla Hirokawa, came to NY in the early 80’s from Hawaii to study ballet. In 1987 established her dance school in Brooklyn, NY, where she felt, lacked artistic cultural diversity. Her mission to serve youth led her to create original ballets based on history, literature and the NY Department of Education standards. Her company and students from her school, perform and provide dance workshops for the surrounding NYC public schools (Marla Hirokawa, pers. comm.).
Ms. Hirokawa was moved by photos, books and stories of children in the mid 1800’s that were homeless and living on the streets of NYC. She was even more inspired by Charles Loring Brace and his mission to find homes for all of these children. Between 1853 and the mid 1900’s, Charles Loring Brace started the very first foster care system (Children’s Aid Society, n.d.). He moved over 250,000 orphaned children from NYC to the Midwest by train to find permanent homes (O’Connor 2004, xvi). Ads were even posted in many towns asking families to take in and care for some of these children (O’Connor 2004, xiv). This came to be known as the Orphan Train Movement and was the beginning of the organization we know today as The Children’s Aid Society. This early initiative helped create many new child welfare reforms and labor laws (Children’s Aid Society 2020). Ms. Hirokawa’s ballet of the Orphan Train has been very well received. Her company was invited to perform at the NYC International Fringe Festival and was asked to perform for the Children’s Aid Society in NYC.
Ms. Hirokawa’s love of God and children are her foundations for providing such high quality performances with the utmost integrity that can somehow captivate even the youngest audience member. She truly has an incredible gift to speak to the human spirit in all of us through movement. I have personally witnessed the beauty of her storytelling at her most recent performance of The Secret Garden this past month. This was a beautiful experience that brought me to tears and filled my heart with hope.
The orphan Train story is a wonderful piece of history that lives on through the beautiful art of ballet and Covenant Ballet Theater. It is a piece of history that speaks to the value of being selfless and dedicating one’s life as Charles Loring Brace did and as Ms. Hirokawa does to serve others and improve the lives of the less fortunate.
Click on the link below to view a short clip of The Orphan Train ballet.
Children’s Aid Society. 2020. “A History of Innovation.” Accessed March 15, 2020. https://www.childrensaidnyc.org/about/history-innovation.
Children’s Aid Society. 2020. “The Orphan Train Movement.” Accessed March 15, 2020. https://www.childrensaidnyc.org/about/history-innovation.
Covenant Ballet Theater. 2020. “Past Productions.” Accessed March 20, 2020. https://www.covenantballet.org/past-productions.
Hirokawa, Marla (Artistic Director of CBT), in discussion with the author, March 2020.
O’Connor, Stephen. 2004. Orphan Trains: The Story of Charles Loring Brace and the Children He Saved and Failed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Covenant Ballet Theater. “Orphan Train Pickpocket Gang.” You Tube video, 2:22. Posted by “CovenantBalletTheater,” June 9, 2009. https://youtu.be/dNE_UkiGNPg