Saturday, December 28, 2013

Dancing Sugarplums...

Merry belated Christmas, if you celebrate. And if you don't there are many other things to celebrate.

The Nutcracker.

At this time of year, I smile and remember my own, many Nutcrackers and enjoy reading the stories, blogs, and articles about other dancers' experiences.

Joffrey dancers reflect on Nutcracker
Philly dancer, Jennifer Yackel, reflects on Nutcracker

My own thoughts turn to December 1996, when I danced the role of Clara. The performance was particularly special, not only because I, like many girls, dreamed of dancing the role, but because I dedicated my performance to a dear friend who had passed away during our elementary school years. I remember reviewing songs we learned in chorus together on the bus. She was a gifted piano player and could relate to my love of dance.

In 1996, several weeks before the performance, Joseph N. Farrell wrote the following article for the Reading Eagle. (That was before the Internet was in every corner of the world and I've been unable to find a link to the original article to post.)

"Ballerina, 14, will be dedicating her role to 'angel'

Angel of God
His child, my friend,
To heaven above, 
My performance I send...

Jessica Warchal, 14, has studied ballet for 11 years. Next weekend in the Rajah Theatre, her hard work gets its reward.

She is one of two members of the Berks Ballet Theatre corps to be showcased in the lead role of Clara in 'The Nutcracker.' Rebecca Stamm will open the run as Clara on Friday night at 7:30. Jessica will take the lead twice Saturday, at 2 and 7:30 pm.

It is, Jessica says, a dream fulfilled. It also will be, she says, bittersweet. She is dedicating her performance to Angela Tamayo, friend and confidant, who died of leukemia March 14, 1995 at the age of 11.

Enjoy, my friend,
As you watch me tonight;
Smile down upon me
With your childlike delight...

Jessica and Angela grew up in the same neighborhood... (removal my own) and went to the same school... (removal my own), since kindergarten. They were members of the first class of female altar servers at the church and sang together in the school's Siena Choir. Angela, Jessica says, was the only one who understood her dedication to dance.

'We understood the beauty of the arts and she was such a talented musician,' Jessica says.
Angela did not make fun of her dream to dance one day as Clara, but encouraged her, Jessica says.
Angela got sick in fourth grade and missed most of the school year, was in remission and in school for fifth grade, got worse in sixth.
The last Jessica saw her was at the start of that sixth grade Christmas vacation, three months before Angela died.

'She didn't want her friends to see her so sick,' Jessica says. 'She wanted us to remember her the way she was.'
So Jessica wrote her goodbyes to Angela, telling her she'd never forget her, and meaning it, and making her a promise, and meaning to keep it.
If she ever got the role of Clara, she vowed, she would dedicate her performance to Angela.
Then she served on the altar at Angela's funeral Mass.

'I understand,' Jessica says, 'that she died of a terrible disease.
'But a lot of people can overcome it, and I don't understand why she couldn't be one of those people.
'I still talk to her a lot,' Jessica says, 'and I really do believe she helped me get this part. She was always there for me.'
Jessica's is not the only heavy burden laid upon this year's 'Nutcracker.'

Two weeks ago, director Carol Ennis lost her son James, 34, in a tragic automobile accident.
The kids in the corps are helping Carl get by, she says.
For Angela's parents, Ronito and Yonie Tamayo, the birth of Myra three weeks after Angela's death has helped them get by.
For Jessica, knowing that Yonie, along with Angela's brother, Steve, 7, will be there for her when she makes her debut at Saturday's matinee is really helping her.

And Angela?
'I know,' Jessica says, smiling through her tears, 'that she'll be there.'
In the program there's Jessica's dedication poem, three stanzas, which ends thus:

As I give you my gift,
As I dance you my part,
My promise fulfilled,
May joy fill your heart!

Merry Christmas, Angela!"

This is a scanned version of the printed article. 

The timing to share this story feels poignant for two reasons.

Joseph Farrell, the author of this and many other articles, recently passed away. Joe, thanks for your work as a journalist and for diving into stories that embraced our vulnerability as humans and for sharing our struggles and successes.

Over the weekend, Berks Ballet Theatre, again, as they have for many, many years, presented The Nutcracker. This year, another little girl fought for her life. BBT dedicated their performances to Laney Brown. Read the story here: BBT dedicates Nutcracker to Laney

And, if by chance, you haven't heard of Laney's story, here's the story from Philadelphia's ABC 6.  (The video from their website wouldn't embed).

Laney lost her battle on Christmas Day. Thoughts, light, and dancing Sugar Plums go out to Angela, Carol's son, Laney, and the many more friends and family we remember and miss during this time of coming together, happiness, and cheer. We celebrate your lives through our dancing!

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