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Location: Minneapolis, Minnesota, United States

I am a dancer with Minneapolis based James Sewell Ballet, a small, contemporary ballet company. I also choreograph independently.

Friday, January 23, 2009


So often as a performer I am a cog in the wheel of a picture or image much bigger than myself, and it is a thrill.

This is the case in MN Orchestra’s staging of Bernstein’s Mass. Six of us from JSB, as well as four extra dancers from around town, flit in an out throughout the almost two-hour piece. We represent the divine and troubled thoughts in the head of the Celebrant, the lead character, our hero.

At the end of the piece that takes us from the sublime to the ridiculous and back, we enter at the climax of the Celebrant’s meltdown, and just like at the end of London Bridge is Falling Down, we all fall down! And stay, and stay, and stay. We are there, utterly still, for like, 15 minutes. Limbs fall asleep, and I swear a chorister nodded off last night, he was so late in getting back up.

There we are, talented, muscled dancers, just lying there, and it is just the thing. We are participating in and contributing to an image. The brilliant thing about it is that when we finally get to our feet, we feel as though we’ve really been asleep. We are groggy, we look it, and that gets the point across like nobody’s business: the Celebrant has been doing battle with his Faith.

Then we stand and stand and stand. The folks around us sing and sing, and the orchestra plays and plays behind us. Stillness is a foreign thing to a dancer, and it’s fun to be charged with it. We stand amid the voices and the music; we get to simultaneously witness and participate.

The best though was the audible sniffling coming from the audience just as the lights went out and a moment before all hell broke loose applause-wise. This piece is historic (written for the opening of the Kennedy Center in 1964) and has not been performed on this scale since then. The applause went on and on, and when Raymond the Celebrant came out, he was proud and humbled and just stood there taking it all in.

It’s so nice to be a cog sometimes, to simply get to be there. It’s nice to be reminded that what we do is bigger than ourselves and that faltering faith can be a beautiful thing.


Anonymous Gary Peterson said...

"Mass" is a monumental work. Its only drawback is that one cannot see it with any frequency to soak up all of its parts and details.

11:20 AM  
Anonymous Taylor Dreyling said...

Hello Penny! I went to the show last night. You were AMAZING! The more and more I watch you, I'm super inspired. After watching the show I remembered your blog and have been meaning to read your latest blogs. (Last year I read them all the time.) First off congrats on getting engaged!!!! Second congrats on the MANY successes throughout the year with choreographing new pieces and performing. I miss being in class with you! Hope you're doing well. Love, Taylor-Courtney Dreyling

6:41 PM  
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Anonymous Ianscot said...

You're such a pro's pro, Ms. Freeh. It's reassuring to know there are people so talented and muscled (to use your happy description) who're not only willing but even excited to work toward that shared goal with others.

The directness and simplicity of this description makes me smile. Your written voice, your posture and bearing in it, are as charming as your physical performances. (Well, okay -- maybe not quite that charming. Still, you're pretty winsome in both ways, and we appreciate that out here in the audience.)

7:05 PM  
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