Monday, October 12, 2009
It's Deli Day at Temple Israel. In the community hall the stage is piled thick and close with white paper bags, each bag containing a wrapped corned-beef sandwich, a container of slaw, a pickle, and some mustard. The corned beef has been flown in from New York City. The bags emerge from offstage--the Temple's kitchen--and are deposited in white clusters like folded swans along the proscenium's edge. Then they make their way down through the plastic-gloved hands of volunteers to waiting customers, like me.
Stage right, iced-tea cups are being noisily filled.
One of the volunteers, Jerry, hobbles toward me, smiling. His service at the Temple is only one of his many responsibilities as a retiree in this small town; he also helps to bring ballet to Columbus, known more for its army base than for Giselle.
Jerry loves everything about the dance, he confides in me, knowing my background--even if he isn't moving so well himself right now. He points at his knees.
"I'm so sorry. What happened?"
"I just had knee surgery."
"Oh no. Too many waltzes?"
"Just an old army injury. Nothing romantic."
He holds himself very still while we talk, balancing. He tells me how, as a young man in Connecticut, he had first seen the great, ground-breaking modern dancers--Límon, Cunningham, Graham--and that he still tends to prefer modern dance to classical.
"Why is that, do you think?" I take a glass of iced tea.
"Because it's so open and free and improvisational. It's just fantastic. But then again . . ."
"You know . . . I could tell you the most beautiful thing I ever saw in my life . . ."
I clutch my bag of corned-beef to my chest, nodding.
"It was a classical ballerina. Makarova. She was . . . extraordinary. She was so ethereal. Mesmerizing." He's squinting up into the the blazing light of the Temple's hall. "I sat there watching her . . . and it was as if I could feel myself rising out of my seat along with her. Floating. I've never experienced anything like that in my life, before or since. That feeling of lightness. Of being lifted. I guess that's one of the things we hope art will do for us."
"So, since you were a dancer once, I hope you can recommend a ballet company we could bring to our town?" he asks, guiding me toward the dessert table, filled with dozens of beautifully skirted cakes and pies, being served, in generous slices, to the gleaming, uniformed men of Fort Benning.
Photo credit: Bruce Barone