In an effort to restart a creative life after years of caregiving, I splurged on season tickets for the Grand Rapids Ballet. Once a month or so, I get dressed up, find a friend who’s interested in going, and have a night out that includes visual and musical delights.
The most recent performance was called MOVEMEDIA, which is a group of contemporary works commissioned specifically for Grand Rapids’ company. Patricia Barker, the director of GR Ballet, gave a brief talk before the performances and explained the process of commissioning the pieces and how the different choreographers worked.
Rather than commissioning based on reputation or resume, the dances were chosen based on ideas, giving the work an innovative look at dance. The call for work was answered from artists worldwide. It promised to be an interesting night.
My friend and I took our seats and the first dance was introduced. This was a piece from a Spanish choreographer named Pedro Lozano Gomez. While working with the dancers he did not reveal to them what was going on in his life. He (and they) worked on the expressiveness of the dance. He wanted them to focus on their expression, and did not want their sympathy. Initially, he chose a title that expressed what life feels like with something vital missing. I believe it was “Missing a Limb.” However, Ms. Barker prevailed on him to name it “Juana” after his mother. The main character in the dance is “Mother” and the dance is about slowly losing her to Alzheimer’s.
This fact was revealed right before the curtain was raised and it sucked the air out of my lungs. Since, by current statistics, one in six seniors are dying with some sort of dementia, I feel rather confident that I wasn’t the only one. Still, there’s little comfort in that.
Thank God for kind and sensitive friends. Cindy leaned over and whispered, “Are you ready for this?” “No,” I replied. But just the act of asking me made it bearable. The performance was heartbreaking to me. As “Mother” was slipping away, I saw the others as her children and memories trying to bring her back to them. She drifts farther and farther away. I was quietly crying throughout the piece.
I pray that someday the art I create will have that much power.
Donna Kemper put aside her art career to care for a mother she hadn't seen in over a decade. For seven years she followed her mother's journey into dementia, caring for her and putting forgiveness into action.