A precious handful of ballet companies across the United States, United Kingdom and Canada have come across a brilliant discovery. It turns out that dance programs for people with Parkinson’s Disease are giving patients a new joy for life. Practicing ballet is not only improving their motor skills and lifting their moods, but for precious moments, the dancers entirely forget they have a debilitating, degenerative brain disease.
Inspired by her own experience with a similar program at Mark Morris Dance Group, Benicia Ballet Theater Director Margaret Kenrick has a new spin on the healing connection between ballet and Parkinson’s. She’s telling a powerful story through a production called Legacy, a full-length ballet that includes dancers of all ages, and chronicles the lifespan of a man who faces a heroic battle with the disease. Kenrick is also a scientist who researches age-related macular degeneration for Genentech, and has been living with her own chronic illness, Lupus.
“This is a topic that is very near and dear to my heart. As I have been overcoming my own illness for the past 12 years, I know it’s time for us all to start thinking about ways to live with chronic illness while staying happy. We need to know all the possible ways to address it, and still live lovely, long lives.”
Legacy’s storyline highlights the challenges of Parkinson’s disease as it impacts the body over time. Inspired by the real life story of a much-loved professor, Lewis Stolzy, who lived with Parkinson's, the ballet unfolds his experience of learning to live with the disease, rising above the loss of movement, and eventually finding peace. The ballet begins with him looking back at his young life, full of passion for his career and family. However, as the story progresses, he struggles more deeply with the disease and becomes more isolated. Lewis shelters himself from loved ones as he awakens to how severely Parkinson’s will impact his life. Eventually he learns to accept the man he has become, and is able to share generously of himself.
The music for the ballet was written by local composer Dr. Durwynne Hsish. He and Kenrick met as science professors at Los Medanos College, and the innovative work embodies their shared passion for the intermingling worlds of art and science. Like the Parkinson’s patients who are now practicing ballet to heal their bodies, Legacy merges the worlds of ballet and biology in an equally meaningful way. As it is expressed through the dance, and a series of related public programs, this creative work has the potential to heal and educate whole communities over time.
“The story of Legacy addresses the universal themes of love, death, and the meaning of life. My music needed to help evoke the powerful emotions that come from these themes, and also be enjoyable to dance to,” says Dr. Hsish. “As I wrote the ballet, I kept in mind the wide age range of the performers. I have tried to write music that is accessible, evocative, and direct, but that also feels new. It is music where the emotional intent is immediately clear, but upon close examination also offers interesting twists and colorful orchestration details. It has been a privilege to write this piece, and I am so looking forward to seeing it come to life.”
The world premiere of Legacy will take place with two performances on Saturday, March 17 at 2pm and 7pm in the newly renovated Solano College Theatre, with music performed by the Symphony Orchestra of Northern California. Purchase tickets, or make a donation to support the production of this exciting new work at beniciaballet.org.