Rising Up: Heritage Ballet's 15th Anniversary Extravaganza's surprise
By Angela Long
June 7, 2016
The dancers kneel on the stage. Andra Day's "Rise Up" fills the Northern Lights Performing Arts Pavilion. "I'll rise like the day," Day sings. "I'll rise unafraid." Soon all eight of Heritage Ballet's Pointe Group, its most senior dancers, are rising, reaching for the sky.
They dance for a woman who has risen from a near-fatal car accident in February to sit in the front row on this Sunday afternoon in June: Jennifer Paton. The beloved high school teacher was on her way to a Nordic ski competition with two of her students, two of the "Rise Up" dancers, Christine Bishop and Brynn Meyers, who now touch palms as Day sings "All we need is hope, and for that we have each other."
When dance teacher and owner of Heritage Ballet, Julie Barban, first heard Day's song in early spring, she felt inspired. "It just came to me," she says. "I thought, I need to do a dance. I thought of Jennifer and the girls."
Barban has been teaching Bishop and Meyers since they were three. Lynda Shadbolt, whose daughter is also part of the tribute, says, "Julie has worked her butt off for this community for 15 years. She makes all those girls look beautiful on stage."
And today, from preschool girls to high school girls, from tap performances to ballet, from contemporary to jazz, every dancer is given a chance to shine with a beauty that Barban's choreography ensures is more than skin deep.
Barban is humble about her 26 years of experience in the world of dance. She claims the choreography for "Rise Up" is simple. "I really wanted it to come across as projecting love," she says.
The girls were wary about performing the dance at first, says Barban. "When they realized what I was going after they thought, this is going to be heavy duty and everyone is going to cry."
There were tears during rehearsal, she says.
And there are tears today. Day sings, "In spite of the ache we'll rise up and we'll do it a thousand times again, for you." The dancers hold their heads high, looking toward Paton. It's impossible not to cry, even if you've never met the woman who has inspired an entire dance troupe.
The finale ends and Paton rises. Audience members stop to hug her as they pass. Asked if she is surprised by the tribute, Paton says, "I've been surprised so many times by this community."
She walks away, cradling a bouquet of flowers. Another gift from the dancers.