For Rebecca, Alonzo, Stjepan and Luka
Many years ago, on the day before I was to perform with a local dance company, a friend was shot and killed in the city, and I completely fell apart. There was no way I could possibly get up on a stage and dance, especially as the evening started with my solo – my first big chance to show myself as a dancer – and I was in quivering shock.
Herb got me dressed and to the venue in time for company warmup, where I stumbled through the motions in a daze. When the opening music began I found myself onstage blinded by stagelights, but as I moved into my solo my body took over and I danced an improvisation of grief rather than the choreography I had rehearsed. It was only when the music changed and the others joined me onstage for the rest of the piece that I came out of my trance and realized what I had done.
I was mortified and fled quickly after we’d taken our bows, sobbing in Herb’s arms and dreading that I still had to come back the next night for another performance!
But when I arrived the next evening full of apologies, they grabbed me in bear hugs. “Where did you disappear to last night?” they demanded. “Everyone came backstage looking for you! You made the piece! Do it again!”
Wonder of wonders.
I have been reminded a lot lately of how to get through hard times and the power of art to heal, especially when the artists are fine at their crafts and are able to use them to transmit deep personal emotion that resonates with our shared human experience.
My daughter Rebecca, a violist who knows the power of her art to heal, plays in homeless shelters, prisons and hospitals; the visionary choreographer Alonzo King of the LINES Ballet uses dance to speak the universal language of love and interconnection between bodies, minds and spirits; two young Croatian cellists Luka Sulic and Stjepan Hauser of “2 cellos” play from a depth of soul rare in such young people, and make it clear their intent is to bring us together through the universal language of music.
These amazing young men were no doubt inspired as children by the ‘cellist of Sarajevo,’ the man who took to the streets with his cello during the infamous Siege of Sarajevo. After witnessing the murder of twenty-two of his neighbors standing on line at the bakery shop near his apartment, this man went out into the concrete rubble with his cello in an attempt to reassure himself and others that goodness still existed in the world.
Every day he would go out to play in the bombed-out streets no matter what. I do not know whether snipers eventually got him, but his spirit has survived into the next generation with these two amazing fellows who play like angels and are letting us know that the world can be gloriously beautiful despite everything, as the cellist of Sarajevo was saying during a horrific war that lasted four years.
Now, though, they can perform on the world stage as modern technology brings them right into our lives on screens that can fit into our pockets, reassuring us that hope and joy can be found everywhere, even in a land torn by war a mere generation ago.
Beauty, art and love in the face of a world going crazy may be what we need now, in all the ways we can provide it for one another. I bless these young cellists their vision, their extraordinary talent and their wide-open hearts. Whenever I feel discouraged, I tune them in on YouTube and let them fill me with gratitude for their gorgeous music – and the courage to carry on. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f_RjlIPuqyc
They seem to know just what they are doing, and not only musically. It is as if they were born for this very task – to find one another in the fragmented country of Croatia – to remind us all as times get harder of the power of joy through their music, and that healing happens when hearts and spirits are lifted out of ordinary reality into a higher frequency of magical awareness, which is the artist’s gift to us all.
This is not cello playing like anything I have heard before, believe me. They have too much fun, from Bach to hard Rock, and use their music with so much heart and passion that it feels like they are making love to the world, with us in it. Like my daughter and Alonzo King, they are our healers whose medicine is their art form.
As Stjepan put it in an interview,
“We want to get people out of their seats, from seven years to seventy years, so happy they all jump and sing together!”
I can feel in my bones what moves these young musicians, and what moved the cellist of Sarajevo, and if I had been there during the war I hope I would also have had the guts to go down into the streets between bombings to dance in the rubble. If I were a singer, I hope I would have had the courage to climb the bell tower and sing my heart out there. If I were a painter, I’d have liked to have painted on the bombed-out walls with anything I found there – lipstick, charred wood, clods of earth!
As it is, I am a writer, and so I write.