The middle-aged members of Bere'sheet Ballet may describe themselves as survivors of cancer, abuse, cult brainwashing and struggles with addiction, but according to the group's founder, Marie Plauché-Gustin, that all occurred pretty much by accident. "It just so happens that they found me, and in the process of using dance for healing in their lives, that's the way this whole company formed."
Gustin, by her own admission, is not your typical Christian. She was raised Roman Catholic before moving on to teach Sunday school at a Baptist church, where they didn't take too kindly to her dancing ways. That, coupled with what she saw as the church's lack of charity when her good friend Melinda Mosley Mundy was struck by cancer, caused Gustin to move on again. At the time, the most help came from the Jewish community, which Gustin found to be the least judgmental. "One of the reasons I like to do the ballet at the Jewish Community Center [is that] I feel a great gratitude to the Jewish community for very emotional support."
Gustin is Episcopalian now, but her interpretation of creation in The Genesis Ballet II is intended to be a nondenominational "liturgical" dance. "I use the term "liturgical' rather than "praise' because we're not always happy out there," Gustin jokes.
She was just a soloist in an Easter production when Mundy asked to join the troupe, and dancing became an integral part of her friend's recovery. So much so that her doctors encouraged her to keep performing, even as she was undergoing chemotherapy. From there, people would come up afterward and ask if they could join. It wasn't until the dancers all got to talking that they realized they were using dance as a "healing art in their lives."
So the troupe came to dance not only as a way of showing devotion but also as a sort of support group with an aerobic workout. The company, in fact, derives its name from the Hebrew term for "In the beginning," the first words in the Bible. "Life, that's what we call it. The Genesis Ballet, it's a ballet about life," Gustin says.
How this dance differs from The Genesis Ballet I, for the most part, is the addition of the company's first male dancer, Jeff Lewis, who allowed Gustin to expand the choreography. Male liturgical dancers, as you might imagine, are as scarce as atheists at a Sante Fe football game. But that hasn't kept her from referring to the work as the "guy's ballet." "It's not boring," Gustin explains. "It's pretty earthy. It moves very fast.Just from raising boys, [you learn how] it's very hard to keep their attention."
As for the problems members of the group happen to be overcoming, Gustin doesn't think that necessarily makes them unique. "It just so happens that that's sort of the majority of us."