When We Matter

Two days. This thought is, I suspect, in all of our minds as rehearsal finishes and we begin to collect ourselves for the drive home. Two days. The next time we gather, it will be the morning before our opening performance. It might be surreal, only I am too tired to notice.

It is my second season with Ballet Vermont’s Farm to Ballet Project. I am checking two long-held goals off my bucket list this year: being able to call myself a professional ballet dancer, and performing in (heck, even just wearing!) a platter tutu. I am unsure if it can get much better than this.

The performance season opens this Saturday, with our first show at Shelburne Farms, and our second at my own home, Vermont Grand View Farm. Two more different locations would be hard to find. Shelburne is beautiful–striking, even, with its long, flat lawn that sat over 700 audience members last year, and the gorgeous, breathtaking height of the old breeding barn serving as backdrop to our dancing. My own farm is small, nestled on top of a mountain, piled in between field and forest, with a view I will never tire of looking out upon. I hardly know what to expect from it. Will our sheep-pasture stage be flat enough? Will we have a big audience? Will we carry this off without a hitch? Will all these people see what I see in this land, in the view out over the mountains, in the woolly faces of my sheep, in the quiet of the stream bottom and the scent of the wind from up the valley? Will anyone leave, after the evening ends, and have changed a bit inside just from the magic of it all, the way I change with every drive down these old Vermont roads, with every farmhouse we pull up to with our set and our props and our bags of makeup and bug spray? Will we make a difference?

It’s a rather big job, making a difference.

But we are. We make a difference that I don’t quite understand, in these rural communities we come in to. We bring them something that they have, perhaps, never experienced before. We give them Beauty and Art and Enchantment, and we offer them the chance to see that they did not really need us to have those things. These quiet hollows of Vermont are filled with them already. We offer these little farms the chance to see that they too, are glorious.

We make a difference among ourselves, too. During rehearsal season, it is so easy to feel like I am not doing enough. Not stretching enough, not warming up enough, not taking enough time during the week to work my muscles and build strength. It’s so easy to look at the beautiful, hard-earned talent of the men and women I dance with and compare it to mine, without taking into account the fact that we all have strengths, and we all have weaknesses. It’s so easy to leave class disappointed that my body will never be able to do what I want it to, though I have worked for it since as long ago as I can remember.

But in these last few days before our performances begin, this falls away. We are equals together. We are all so terribly, terribly human. We are all dead tired with rehearsing for hours in the near-100-degree sun. We are all hurting from working in strange spaces without the comfort of a sprung studio floor. We are all giddy at dancing for the first time–oh, how it changes everything!–to live music. We are all a bit frightened and so eager to step out before an audience and feel their energy and expectancy hit us like a wave, and to fling our own energy back at them in a great, glorious rush. We are doing the impossible, and we all have never looked better. This is the difference we make in ourselves.

My favorite moments, in these last few days, come mid-variation, in the middle of a step, when I meet the gaze of another company member while we dance. I can see the way my joy is reflected in their faces, and theirs in mine, even through the weariness. I can feel the way we build on each other, rely on each other. No one is expendable–everyone is imperative. I have always loved the way community is formed in performance, and even the ones who thought themselves outsiders or inferior are drawn into it and are not let go. I suppose this is what has pulled me back to ballet year after year. It has never let me give up on myself, because it has always shown me the ways that I matter, the ways I make a difference, when we come together on the stage or in the field, in the fruit of all our labor.

I wish that every day could be like this.

Goodling-3461

Featured image credit: Brandon Parrish

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