Manassas Ballet Theatre’s ‘Colin’ will expand to full length to tell soldier’s story

December 2, 2013

As a child, Colin Wolfe trained to be a dancer.

Ballet is the family business. His father, Mark, is the executive director of the Manassas Ballet Theatre, and his mother, Amy, is its artistic director. But Colin chose a different path. Inspired to serve after Sept. 11, 2001, he joined the Marines and went to Iraq. He was killed by a roadside bomb in 2006 at age 19.

In creating “Colin: The Ballet,” Amy Wolfe choreographed a work to celebrate her son’s short life in dance. A collaboration with composer Mark Menza, the four-part ballet debuted in March and has been performed four times, including once in Bakersfield, Calif.

Now Wolfe wants to share more of Colin’s story. That’s why she’s creating a full-length version of the ballet, extending it from 27 minutes to nearly two hours. Wolfe and Menza will join forces again for the project, which will be unveiled on Veterans Day at the Hylton Performing Arts Center.

Wolfe sat down recently with The Washington Post to discuss the project that exacerbates her anguish and allows her to remember the son who died too soon. Here’s an edited transcript of that conversation.

Do you see the ballet differently every time?

The performance in Culpeper [was] our fourth time. . . . When they dance it, for me it’s as fresh as the first time. And the story never gets stale for me. I liken it to “Romeo and Juliet.” Its such a beautiful story . . . that’s the way the ballet “Colin” is for me. Every time I get through to the end it’s like, “Let’s do it again.”

It’s not difficult?

For me as his mother? It’s always difficult. Two separate things are here. One is the fact that within this one body there is the artistic director/choreographer and then there is the mother. When I’m working on the ballet, I hold the mother at bay. So that’s pretty much how I get through the difficulty.

As the mother, what makes it so poignant is that I don't grow tired. Within this ballet he lives again.

Are there moments that you particularly like both as a mother and a choreographer?

Yes. There are moments that are especially poignant. It’s in the fourth movement and the character of Colin has left the stage. . . . He has been in Iraq, going up and down the streets on patrol. You know the roadside bomb is about to go off and he’s about to be killed. My character, the mother, then runs onstage into his empty room where they have danced earlier in the ballet. And he’s not there.

How it happened exactly is the two Marines showed up at 4:30 in the morning and the doorbell rings. I had not slept at all. Call it mother’s intuition. The doorbell rings, and Mark goes to the window, and he's like, “Oh, my God, Amy, it’s two Marines.” You know. You know at that moment.

What plans do you have for the longer performance?

We are going to add 40 minutes more of music, so it will become a full evening-length ballet. I feel the music is absolutely beautiful. Now Mark Menza, the composer, has to get down to work and write more music, but prior to that, I have to get down to work and flesh out the libretto. Decide what scenes were not shown should be shown . . . to make it an hour and 45 minutes.

One scene that jumps into my head is Mark and Colin. Colin saying, “I want to be a Marine. I’ve made up my mind.” And Mark saying, “You should go to college and be an officer.” Colin said, “No, no, no. . . . I don’t want to tell others to do. I want to do.”

There’s also the story of Colin and CeCe, his younger sister. That all needs to be fleshed out. CeCe absolutely adored Colin; they were four years apart. As they grew older, they fought like brothers and sisters can, like cats and dogs as teenagers.

What’s so sad is how he got killed at 19. A 19-year-old is still so young, and he was just beginning to be more mature and come into adulthood, and therefore their relationship would have gotten beyond that silly stage and come to the loving, get along so-happy-to-have-each-other stage. That’s something I want to show.

What made you want to do a longer “Colin” ballet?

The ballet “Colin” was such a huge success, and it resonates with so many people. Not just fellow Marines; not just fellow military. Really it resonates with anyone who has lost a loved one for whatever reason. And therefore, there [were] a lot of requests for us to tour it. But as a one-act ballet, we had to decide what are we going to tour it with. Really what it calls for is coming up with a full-length “Colin.”

It was amazing the reaction that I got from this ballet. Voice mails, e-mails, Facebook messages.

What was the message?

“Thank you so much for this ballet. I cried and cried.” I got the most gorgeous phone call from a Holocaust survivor. In the ballet, I also touch on Colin the young Jewish boy. He was so proud to be a Jew and learn the Hebrew prayers. This woman, in her eighties . . . all her life she has been afraid to say she’s a Jew. And here’s a ballet just putting it out there. For that reason, she called and said thank you so much.

Is there any part of you that doesn’t want to launch this project because it’s painful?

Yes. extremely. We've done “Don Quixote” since then. . . . We’re working on “The Nutcracker” now. Then we have another ballet in March and another in May. Thank goodness I have all these other projects. It would be extremely depressing and difficult just to work on this project.

How will the longer project change people’s perception?

That’s to be seen. What if it doesn’t work? There’s no guarantee that people are going to love it as much or more than the one act. Its entirely possible people will say, “Amy just should have left it at the one act.” But I feel it’s something I have to try to do because of everyone’s reaction. I have so many ideas already popping into my head.

For me, that’s the spirit of Colin hovering over us. I feel I’ve got this time to carefully come up with the ideas . . . and hopefully it will fall into place and we’ll have something for all time.

Is it the ultimate lasting tribute to Colin?

More than a tribute, I see it as a lasting gift from Colin. Colin wanted to make the world a better place. That’s why he became a Marine and that was why he went to Iraq. He felt he’d be helping the people of Iraq and the world in general. Now, through his ballet, he continues to help people. He continues to help them come to peace with their own loss or to realize even in the midst of loss, you are giving and receiving.

Jeremy Borden covers Prince William County, Va., for The Washington Post.
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