Monday morning, on my way to work, the little maples lining the road in Thetford Center were turning to flame. This may be one of the first times in my life I have looked on the slow coming of Autumn with such reluctance. I’m not ready for summer to be over! There has been so little of it, and what we have had has been so utterly good. I don’t want it to stop. Continuing on, just like this, for another three months would be just fine with me.
I’ve been busy this summer – doing much in little time, and loving it all. The most important thing I’ve been doing a lot of this summer is dancing. I’m a member of an amateur ballet company, and we’ve been touring the state, and it’s so many dreams come true at once. The company, Farm to Ballet, is pretty much exactly what it sounds like. We perform a family-oriented story-ballet that narrates life on a farm through the four seasons. And we perform it outdoors, on the grass, at different farms all up and down the state. With a live Vivaldi sextet playing for most of the choreography.
Basically it’s kind of the greatest thing, ever.
What Farm to Ballet is doing is, I think, so, so important. We travel around the state to different farms, different communities, and set up shop in a couple hours. We’ve been to big tourist-attraction farms, like Shelburne and Billings, but we’ve also given most of our performances at smaller family farms, tucked into the middle of nowhere, surrounded by miles of dirt roads and cow fields and the ever-present mountains over all. These are my favorite places to dance. I will never forget pulling up to a tiny hillside farm in South Albany, our second performance, and walking up to the farmhouse, dance bags over my shoulder and arms full of water bottles and props. We stepped into the house, the whole of which had been given over to the dancers for our green room, and the woman who owned the farm was standing in the kitchen on the phone. I caught a bit of her animated conversation as I walked by – “Joe, you’ve got to get down here. The dancers are coming! Hurry! Bring the kids! Oh, I’ll call up Lisa and Ben, and tell them to bring their nephew! The dancers are coming! You can’t miss this!”
How beautiful. We roll up to a farm, and in the space of two hours, we have transformed the back yard, the old paddock, the bottom pasture, into a stage. We’ve put up our set and organized props and costumes and run through spacing. And then we disappear into the green room, local businesses come to cater, the audience arrives, there are picnics on the grass, and we catch glimpses of towheaded children romping together on the performance space. It’s a crowd of neighbors – the whole community turns out and comes together, and everywhere are smiles and food and good conversation, and it is a wonder to behold. And then we dance, and no one is told not to take photographs, and the kids in the front row stand up and twirl, and there is more laughter and clapping and afterwards everyone floods onto the stage to talk and swap stories. And then the audience trickles away, slow and a bit reluctant, and we take down our set and clean up our props and pick up our bags and load up our trucks, and five hours after we arrived we are gone, and we leave no tangible trace but memories and photographs. The fair rolls in to town for a magical weekend, and then it disappears, and all that’s left behind are footprints in the grass and a few fluttering scraps of posters.
I didn’t expect this part of Farm to Ballet. I didn’t expect to be at the center of a community like this. After that second show, I heard the farmers talking to our artistic director, thanking him for bringing us to their farm, for the gift we gave them. “Our community needed this. You’ve brought us together in such a beautiful way with your art. Thank you.” I have spent so much of my life in a dance studio and on a stage, but I have never experienced performance like this before. I am so greatly blessed to be a part of this – to be a part of bringing art to my state, of binding these communities together in shared experience, of dancing in these mountains that are home, of offering ballet to an audience that may never get to experience it otherwise. And I am certainly blessed to be a part of the community our company has become among itself. I am dancing with a group of wonderful people, several of whom are dancers I have looked up to and admired for many, many years. I met a few of these women when I was twelve years old and took classes with them, under them. It is the fulfillment of a long- and dearly-held wish to get to call them friends and peers now, and to dance alongside these people who have been such an inspiration to me for so long. I marvel at the way I have changed from student to equal, here in this dance community I have found. I am so very happy doing this.
Farm to Ballet has one weekend left – two more shows. The last round. Tomorrow, and tomorrow. And then we celebrate a season well done, and move on to the next thing. I’m not at all ready for it to end yet. I am clinging to these last days of the glorious madness of performance for all I am worth, and will cling to the memories and the ways I have grown in perspective and in my art this summer for as long as ever I can. At the beginning of this year, I wasn’t sure I’d ever dance again. Now, thanks first to the woman who saw us all Rhinemaidens, and second to the Farm to Ballet company, I am searching eagerly for ways to find more. It’s been a good run. One of the best. And perhaps the most magical blessing of all? Not a single show has been rained out. Here’s hoping the sky holds, for these last two.