Amy Wolfe knows these moments are fleeting, but they are why, despite the advice of those closest to her and the painful memories it would conjure, she has created an unusual tribute to her son: a ballet that captures the life of a young man who was a dancer before he was a Marine.
She describes working on the ballet, titled simply “Colin,” as simultaneously “cathartic” and “extremely difficult.”
“For me, Colin is alive again,” she says. “So when it’s all done and put to rest, he will die for me again.”
Across the nation, parents of more than 6,600 service members killed in Iraq and Afghanistan have found countless ways to honor their children — with benches, parks, poems, scholarships. But this weekend on a Manassas stage, an audience will see not just a production in Colin’s name, but his life story as choreographed by his mother.
“I don’t frankly know how she’s able to do it,” says Mark Wolfe, Colin’s father.
As executive director of the Manassas Ballet Theatre, the professional dance company where his wife is the artistic director, he has stood by her side through countless productions. But this one is different, he says. Early on, he advised his wife of 32 years against taking on such an emotional project, and he has since told her that he might not be able to watch it when it is performed Saturday and Sunday at the Hylton Performing Arts Center.
“It will be exceptionally difficult,” says Mark Wolfe, who became interested in public service after his son’s death and is now a member of the Manassas City Council. “I think about Colin every day and cry still quite frequently.”
Mary Byers, president of American Gold Star Mothers, an organization for those whose children have died while serving in the military, understands the intensity of that grief.
“You’re never over it,” says Byers, whose son Joshua, an Army captain, was killed in 2003 at the age of 29. “You walk in a building, and a smell will trigger a memory, and it’s like you’re being stabbed in the heart.”
Byers says the biggest fear for parents who have suffered such a loss is that their children will be forgotten, so the impulse for public tributes is a strong one. She has heard about mothers memorializing slain children through concerts, bike rides, gardens and foundations. But never, she says, through a ballet.
Learning to pirouette
Amy Wolfe sits against a mirror-lined wall and watches as women and men in flesh-toned slippers rehearse the moves she has scripted. With graceful, sweeping movements, the dancers play the roles of Colin as well as his sister, Cece, his girlfriend, Kira, and his parents.