Beauty, joy, despair: That’s ballet, for ya!

This afternoon Esteban, my friends Jim and John and I attended the final performance of Tributes by the James Sewell Ballet.

I didn’t know anything about the program, beyond a blurb and this intriguing photo on a direct-mail flyer. I just had to see how the dancers did this risky and difficult lift. So I bought four tickets.

The tribute to Chopin’s 200th birthday was lovely. It was an absolute delight to hear Tadeusz Majewski play live as the dancers performed their modern interpretations of the music.

But the piece I loved most was Good Mourning — especially the last segment, which Sewell titled Suspended Breath. I think it’s the single most beautiful, most heartbreaking performance I’ve ever seen on a stage.

I was drawn in by the loving gestures of a woman tending to her comatose husband. As she fluffed his pillow and stretched and massaged his legs, a younger version of the couple appeared in the background. Their dance was full of life, their expansive arm movements repeatedly ending in an embrace.

The older incarnation of the couple was echoing the dance but only the woman was moving. She mimicked the movements of her younger self, but without the same joy. She was still moved by love but her partner no longer returned her embrace.

Esteban and I wept at the sharp contrast between the young couple and what their lives had become. But neither of us was prepared for the end: The older woman lifted the pillow from under her partner’s limp head and pressed it tightly to his face. She screamed in agony as she suffocated the man she loved.

Esteban and I were profoundly shaken. Thank God we had dinner plans with Jim and John and our mutual friends Chris and Silke. We drank champagne and ate smoked pheasant and roast chicken as we talked about Paris and food and work and philosophy and photography and yoga and Tiger Woods. I was in heaven.

Still, it’s the middle of the night and I can’t stop thinking about that ballet. It’s been a long time since anything touched me so deeply and on so many levels.

What an extraordinary example of the power of art. Hats off to James Sewell and his gifted company of dancers.

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