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Children's Aid Society

The Orphan Train Book

Nat'l Orphan Train Complex

Covenant Ballet




Orphan Train Complex

Covenant Ballet

What is Orphan Train?

In 1996, Marla Hirokawa's accountant returned from a trip down south and mentioned a song that she heard plunked on a banjo. The song was about something called the Orphan Trains. Intrigued, Marla’s investigation uncovered a little known, poignant-piece of our NY history. The ballet premiered in 1997.
In the 1850’s, Rev. Charles Loring Brace, founder of the New York Children’s Aid Society established his solution to the scores of impoverished children living on the streets of Manhattan. Considered the first placing out, foster care system in America, from 1854 to 1929 Brace boarded his abandoned and neglected children onto trains bound for the new West in search of a HOME. Over 150,000 children were affected by Brace’s compassion and action.
CBT’s Orphan Train will take you on a journey with Brace as he crafts a future for four young street urchins: little Bessie, Mamie and sisters Susie and Dorothy. This is their story…


Choreographer’s Background


Although Marla Hirokawa was born and raised in Hilo, Hawai’i, she had decided at the age of 6 that hula was not for her and agreed to take ballet lessons instead. She would later realize she couldn’t live without dance and obtained a B.A. degree in dance, Cum Laude from UC Irvine. She moved east and danced for various choreographers and companies in New York. Living in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn Marla responded to the lack of serious ballet schools by opening Covenant Dance Studio in 1987 and in 1989  founded Covenant Dance Theatre, her professional dance company. In 2007, she became a founding incorporator of Covenant Ballet Theatre of Brooklyn, Inc. (CBT) of which she is currently the company’s artistic director and resident choreographer.

For seven years, she loved being a teaching artist for the New York City Ballet Education Department but eventually left in 1997 to create and manage her own Arts Education programs. She is an adjunct ballet and modern dance instructor at Kingsborough Community College and completed the ABT® Teacher Training Intensive in Primary through Level 3 of the ABT® National Training Curriculum in 2010.

Marla is a storyteller. Beyond a number of smaller works, she has conceived 12 original ballets.  Her choreography received recognition at the Ballet Builders Showcase in NYC in 1992, the Choreographer’s on Point choreography workshop in 1995 and the Choreographer’s on Point Previews in 2007. Most recently, Marla’s beloved historic ballet Orphan Train enjoyed the honor of becoming the first ballet to be presented by the NY International Fringe Festival in August 2012.

In 2001, Marla choreographed Nisei, a dance tribute to WWII Nisei Veterans (Nisei is a Japanese word for second generation Japanese American) and soon after founded and organized the Nisei Project 2003 with her sister, Laurie Hamano. The project was a loving tribute in memory of their father and to WWII Japanese American Veterans in Hawai’i. The Company traveled to Marla’s home state and over a period of 3 weeks performedNisei on O’ahu, Kaua’i, Big Island and Maui.

In April 2011, Marla’s storytelling took a technological turn when she premiered “no Light, no Life,” a collaborative work. Using a narrative framework around improvisation, Marla depicted the passion, genius and insanity of Vincent Van Gogh with two dancers, five jazz musicians and visual/multimedia (LIGHTPAINTING) artist Eva Flatscher.   




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