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By David G. Duggan ©
Special to Virtueonline
October 17, 2022

One of the most compelling ballets is George Balanchine's "The Prodigal." The role is most closely identified with New York City Ballet principal dancer, Edward Villella. In motion mixed with music the power of emotions conveyed is so stark, so dynamic that the audience is left almost as drained as the dancer. Villella said that after dancing this role he had to down six beers to cool off. And after one performance, he was so dehydrated that he had to be rushed to the hospital. The nurse fixing his IV on the gurney thought his taught exposed quadriceps was a bone that had broken through the skin. So demanding is this role that the dance has seldom been performed since Villella retired in the 1970s.

The parable from which Balanchine, a devout Russian Orthodox, drew this dance, and its jumps, leaps, twists and turns has been diluted in its retelling. The son's demand and his profligacy, his desperation and despondency, his realization and return, the father's feast and forgiveness, then remonstrance and invitation to reconciliation are perhaps too much to absorb in four paragraphs. And that is perhaps why the dance has fallen from the repertoire.

Yet 20 centuries later the words powerfully describe the Lord's unexpected grace. Dividing property before kicking off, welcoming back a penurious sinner, offering the best meal that sinner has had in ages, and gently telling the faithful son that his time will come too, are words both comfortable and frightening. Comfortable because each of us can see our lives in those of both sons. Frightening because nobody can live up to the Father.

The Prodigal: dance, parable and paradigm. Nothing is more demanding, nothing more graceful, nothing more powerful.

David Duggan is a retired attorney living in Chicago. He is a writer. editor and loves the Anglican Way to which he has been devoted most of his life

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