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The Letter: A Civil War Ballet

Posted on Wednesday, November 28, 2018 at 7:21 pm

Photo Special to the Civil War Courier
A promotional photo for ‘‘The Letter,’’ a Civil War Ballet. For more information about attending or booking the performance of ‘‘The Letter,’’ contact Phillip Otto, Artist Director, at phil@huntsvilleballet.org.

During my tenure as a living historian, I have traveled extensively. I have been to numerous reenactments, speaking engagements, dances, and ladies’ teas. I thought I had seen in all, but I was very much mistaken.
While attending the Battle for the Armory in Tallassee, Alabama, I was invited to attend a ladies’ tea and social. I was humbled by the invitation and honored to join. The setting was a barn, and everything was decorated with grand fanfare. The food was exceptional and the Talisi Cotton Belles (Order of Confederate Rose) hosting the event went above and beyond. I was quite impressed.
I had been talking to my dear friends, Scott and Tammy Myers, who were portraying President and Mrs. Davis. President Davis stated he was going to offer a prelude to a ballet presentation regarding the War Between the States. I had never heard of such an event, much less witness a performance. I waited with great expectations.
President Davis gave a rousing interpretive presentation of his last speech in Washington City on the Senate floor. Then entered two youthful characters dressed in period attire. There was a hush upon the crowd as Ashokan Farewell began playing. The young man, who was portraying Major Sullivan Ballou, reached into his pocket and pulled out a letter dated July 14, 1862. It had been written at Camp Clark, Washington. Then it began with…
“My Very Dear Sarah: The indications are very strong that we shall move in a few days — perhaps tomorrow. Lest I should not be able to write again, I feel impelled to write a few lines that may fall under your eye when I shall be no more.”
The young Major Ballou uttered not a word, but rather spoke with his facial expressions and body language, as the words in the letter came to life. As he swayed to the music, his lovely wife Sarah, gracefully pirouetted to his side.
As I watched, I saw the essence of the War Between the States captured in poetic majesty. The words did not speak of war but rather demonstrated love. The words entwined with the ballet performance, while the letter continued to speak to the hearts of men and women.
“Sarah my love for you is deathless, it seems to bind me with mighty cables that nothing, but Omnipotence could break; and yet my love of Country comes over me like a strong wind and bears me unresistibly on with all these chains to the battle field.”
I watched in disbelief, as the couple brought to life an unconditional love through their interpretive dance. Gracefully, with an eloquence I had never seen before, they intertwined within the prism of yesterday. I found myself weeping and openly sobbing, as the words and the dance permeated my soul. I felt as if I was graced with the presence of angels. As I looked around the area, I found that I was not the only one so moved and so filled with emotion for love of country as well as family. The dancers continued. Slowly Sarah placed here arms around the neck of her beloved and for the last time; they embraced with endless love being whispered by their spirits.
“But, O Sarah! If the dead can come back to this earth and flit unseen around those they loved, I shall always be near you; in the gladdest days and in the darkest nights … always, always, and if there be a soft breeze upon your cheek, it shall be my breath, as the cool air fans your throbbing temple, it shall be my spirit passing by. Sarah do not mourn me dead; think I am gone and wait for thee, for we shall meet again.”
Slowly, she faded into the mist. Slowly Major Ballou became motionless and was no more. Slowly an awareness of what had transpired overcame the audience and they erupted into a standing ovation. We had been privy to a magical moment so surreal that it lingers, as their spirit passed by. Sullivan Ballou was killed on July 21, 1861, at 1st Manassas (Bull Run). Sarah lived to be eighty years old and never remarried. She had felt the touch of true love’s kiss and therein was content.
I have witnessed many events in my life, but few have touched my soul as did this prelude to the ballet. This sampling convinced me that I must see the whole performance. For more information about attending or booking the performance of ‘‘The Letter,’’ contact Phillip Otto, Artist Director, at phil@huntsvilleballet.org.

By David Chaltas


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