Last fall I visited one of my best friends, Celia, at her home in Maine. Her backyard was covered in orange, brown, red, and gold leaves. As the sun set, her three-year-old daughter Patricia and I ran around in the fading light in skirts and chunky boots, throwing leaves into the air and pretending to be fairies.
“Autumn fairies!” and “I love fairies!” we shouted, as we scampered and cavorted with wild glee around our massive pile of leaves. I looked over to where the grown-ups were standing. My husband and Celia watched, smiling, as the fairies ran around and around the yard for an hour as it grew dark.
And then it hit me: is it possible that I have shaped my entire life and career around the fact that I never got over wanting to run around like a three-year-old, pretending I’m a fairy?
My friend Carmen and I regularly turn to each other during company class and say, “Let’s do this combination like we’re Spanish,” or “Let’s do this combination like we’re fairies.”
“Let’s do this combination like we’re gypsies,” she’ll whisper as the music starts.
“Let’s do this combination like we’re badasses,” I’ll say the next day.
image | Wendy Maness
It makes us dance much better. The thing about make-believe is that it actually works. And lest you think that if you didn’t become a dancer or an actor, you’re shut out of this world of make-believe, let me tell you that anyone can do this. Try it today. Head into the office and conduct your meeting as if you are a pirate. Serve the customers at your restaurant as if you are a dragon. Teach your history class as if you are a Russian empress. You’ll like it.
So given my propensity for pretending, imagine my excitement when we began preparing for this weekend’s show back in December, and I discovered that we were doing the ballet Paquita, and I got to be a Spanish gypsy princess. It was everything Carmen and I had been preparing for.
image | Ryan Livingston
The other side of the make-believe of dance is the opposite of putting on a role. Last week as I watched my friends rehearse Joni Petre-Scholz’s piece Sehnsucht, which will premiere at the show this weekend, I thought about how sometimes—rather than putting on a role—dancers expose their inner selves. The shedding of our outward skin to bare what is underneath. The name of Joni’s piece is a German word for a yearning beyond words. In their movement, my fellow dancers seemed to be baring their inner longings and fears, just as Joni had turned her own thoughts into physical form as she choreographed the piece.
And so, this weekend, we’ll emerge from the shadowy backstage, with its rows of ascending ropes and heavy curtains. We’ll take the stage and become gypsies and Spanish princesses, masked fairies in the twilight, lovers and wanderers. We’ll also become ourselves.
Come see us dance! Virginia Ballet Theatre will present its third annual Sweetheart Concert Series on February 13th and 14th at 7:30 p.m. at the Roper Performing Arts Center. For tickets and information, visit TRDance.org.
more from this series: