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Last Dance

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But the Baltimore Ballet folded after two years, and in 1985, Gail Passey moved to Arizona to dance with Ballet Arizona West. A year after that, Ballet Arizona West fused with two other local ballet companies and became Ballet Arizona.

Passey met her future husband Michael Reed in the company. He had danced for the Boston Ballet, for Les Grands Ballets Canadiens in Montreal and for the Ballet de Monte Carlo in Monaco (where ballet dancers are well taken care of and where male dancers are not assumed to be gay. Gail enjoys recalling a school question-and-answer session when Michael Reed was asked why he wanted to be a ballet dancer. He answered, "Which would you rather do, spend your day lifting up scantily clad women or out on the football field with a bunch of guys, patting each other's butts?").

They dated for two years and then married in 1994. While they were both dancing and earning $18,000 salaries, they managed to sock away enough money for a down payment on a house and a honeymoon in Europe. Reed retired two years ago with his own significant injuries and unable to dance.

"When you're a dancer, you have to give it all to the profession, financially and in lifestyle," says Reed. "It's not a glorious job. I've had five operations: my ankles, my knees. I've had two hernias."

His wife jokes that she soon may have to turn in their futon for a real bed because of the difficulty her 32-year-old husband has getting up from the mat each morning, snapping and cracking, and straightening up for the next few minutes as if he were acting out a chart on the evolution of man.

The two never danced together as partners because she is five-two to his six-four. But once, when she played Cinderella, he played one of her ugly stepsisters.

In a Ballet Arizona brochure, there is a striking, albeit nonhistorical, photo of the two together, posing as Romeo and Juliet, he bare-chested and noble, holding the inert body of his dead lover, she wrapped in a crimson cloak, toes pointed oh so perfectly, her long blond hair falling almost to the floor.

It's a fitting image; Romeo and Juliet, after all, is the ballet that made Gail Passey-Reed want so badly to be a ballerina.

Ballerina nightmares: Where most of us dream that we are walking around downtown in our underwear, a ballerina dreams that the curtain is going up, and the white lights are hitting her face and she's wearing the wrong shoes, that her hair is falling out of the bun that took so long to wrap, that she's got a four-count and an impending cue and her mind's gone blank.

Or that her body breaks down and refuses to carry her through the run of the performance. And for a trouper like Gail Passey-Reed, that might be the most chilling nightmare of all. As this year's Nutcracker opening loomed large, it was with her every day.

The show was set to open in Tucson before it ran in Phoenix.
"After the dress rehearsal in Tucson, I went back to the dressing room thinking I wasn't going to be able to do opening night, and maybe I'd be lucky to do the Phoenix show," Passey-Reed says.

Michael Uthoff's system as artistic director is to rotate several sets of dancers through each role over the course of a long run for ballets such as The Nutcracker, partly to give them a rest and partly to further the development of younger dancers. Passey-Reed was to dance the lead for the opening and closing in Phoenix and several performances in between. On nights she was not dancing as Sugar Plum Fairy, she would dance lesser roles.

But when Uthoff saw her hobbling in Tucson, he decided to relieve her of her corps duty and use her only for those shows in which she was to be lead.

"You don't want to end your career like that," he told her.
Later, Uthoff told New Times, "She doesn't even show [the pain] as much as I think it is. It's not worth it. It's not like she's getting $30 million like some athlete."

Passey-Reed rallied. Her opening in Phoenix garnered her the most gushing review she'd had; the Arizona Republic described her as "exquisitely musical . . . , shaping phrases with intelligence and grace, producing sparkle in the Sugar Plum solo."

But now, days later, on a night when she's not dancing, Passey-Reed moves graciously backstage among the child dancers--there are 80 or so among the various casts. They sidle up to her for hugs. Maybe they like her, she says, self-effacingly, because she is not so much bigger than they are.

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Michael Kiefer