Last Dance

Page 6 of 7

Every time Passey-Reed makes this entrance, there is a communal gasp in the audience, because in addition to the striking image--the beautiful little sculpture she saw in Romeo and Juliet--there is a palpable presence that radiates out of her, tonight more than ever.

There is no live orchestra performing the score this year; the ballet company lost money last year and then lost a much-needed grant; cutting out the performance fees to the Phoenix Symphony this year was one of many belt-tightening strategies that Ballet Arizona had to employ.

"It feels live," Passey-Reed says of the orchestra performances. "You feel energy coming out of them, and the music is so beautiful that it can help motivate you."

Nonetheless, even with the pre-taped music, she is a beacon of energy.
Her husband Michael paces nervously backstage, looking close to tears. Gail was very emotional when he dropped her off, he says, and he's worried about her.

But he needn't be. She virtually flies through the grand pas de deux, and the solo that follows, which puts even more strain on her damaged leg. When she soars upward in the finale, the audience explodes.

After the last curtain call, at least a dozen of the children in the cast gather around her for hugs and autographs, and some of her co-dancers wait in line for their hugs and kind words as well. Some of them are crying, but Passey-Reed is as poised as ever, smiling brightly.

Then she walks back to her dressing room, and she weeps.
That night she will lie in bed staring at the ceiling, thinking fondly of the past and worrying about the future.

At exactly 10 o'clock the next morning, as if on cue, she arrives for a meeting at the Coffee Plantation on Camelback Road.

She is dressed conservatively but elegantly in a simple black skirt and sweater and black stockings. She wears big dark sunglasses, and her long blond hair is hanging down past her waist in a simple ponytail.

There is absolutely nothing flamboyant in her entrance, but she is still radiating presence from the night before. And she moves so gracefully that she inadvertently draws the gaze of every person sitting on the patio. Heads turn in unison and follow her as she walks.

She is pale and spent-looking; the sustained adrenaline of a two-week run has finally been allowed to ebb away.

When she sits down, she says that the fact of her retirement has not yet reached her.

"I don't think it will kick in until I'm watching it and I'm not part of it," she says, but she's fighting back tears nonetheless.

Passey-Reed can speak optimistically about the excitement of starting a new chapter in her life, but there is a sense of stage fright in her telling.

She witnessed her husband Michael's retirement and saw him go through a depressing withdrawal from the tight confines of the ballet-company community. The physicality of the art forces a closeness upon the dancers. They have touched each other everywhere, and so the boundaries from person to person tend to be less abrupt than between people working in an office. And you have to trust explicitly someone who is balancing you above the stage on one hand or catching you when you leap purposefully into space. Michael had missed the rush of performance, too.

In fact, Passey-Reed will probably dance minor roles in the spring to fulfill her year's contract, but she will not dance in lead roles.

And she expects that her transition will be less traumatic than her husband's because even if she will not dance next year, Ballet Arizona has asked her to stay on and work her way into an administrative role with the company. She will work full-time at jobs she's done on a part-time basis in past years. She orders shoes for the dancers, for example--each of the women goes through 60 or 70 pairs of custom-fitted pointe shoes per year, which eats up $65,000 of the company's budget. She works as the ballet school's secretary, overhauling the books, wiping runny noses, soothing bloody toes, and quieting disgruntled ballet moms in crisis. She sews and designs many of the company's headpieces and other costumes--in off-seasons she has worked in the wardrobe department of the Ice Capades.

But mostly she intends to be a mom. Her doctor has asked her to gain weight, and she realizes that it may take time to bring her body to a less physically strained point.

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Michael Kiefer