The unthinkable happened to Amy Grant Wolfe in 2006, when her 19-year-old son, Colin, a lance corporal in the Marines, was killed while on patrol in Iraq.
Rather than try to forget the circumstances of Colin's death, Wolfe, the artistic director of the Manassas Ballet Theatre in Virginia, decided to celebrate her son's memory by creating an original ballet, "Colin: Son, Marine, Hero," presented at the Dore Theater Friday evening.
"I had no plan on doing this," said Wolfe, who, with her family, dealt with the loss quietly at first, as she poured herself into work at the ballet. Among her delayed projects an original ballet she was to collaborate on with longtime friend and composer Mark Menza. They finally decided to get to work a little over a year ago.
"We decided to do something special and patriotic," Wolfe said. "And Mark said, 'Let's make it one step more special and make it about Colin.'"
It turned out to be the natural step for Wolfe to take, remembering what she had told her son shortly before he left for Iraq.
"I told him I've always wanted to make the world a better place, and I do that through the arts and ballet," Wolfe said. "But I was so very proud of him because he was going to a place where he was really, literally doing this."
Wolfe said the ballet opens with images of the elements of Colin's life -- a baseball bat, toy truck, ballet barre, Sabbath table, two children representing Colin and his sister, Cecile, playing.
"All the things that went into Colin," Wolfe said.
The next major sequence shows an older Colin playing with his friends on Sept. 11, 2001, and how his life changes when he learns of the terrorist attacks.
"Colin had been interested in being a Marine ever since they first came to his elementary school," Wolfe said. "But it really solidified for him on 9/11."
We next see Colin as a young man, danced by Josh Burnham, and Colin's girlfriend, Kira, as they near the end of high school, in a touching pas de deux that tells of their short-lived romance as he prepares to enter the Marines. The story follows Colin to Iraq and his last hours on patrol with his comrades, when a bomb exploded under his vehicle just seven weeks after he was deployed.
"When Colin's vehicle was hit by the roadside bomb, he was the only one killed, so we have exact accounts of his last minutes," Wolfe said.
"Right before he was killed, he was talking about us -- he was talking about his family," Wolfe said.
Despite Colin's death, Wolfe said the ballet ends in hope, a sense of community.
"When something horrible happens, on a national level or a local level, people really try to pull together," Wolfe said. "For me, (the ballet) finishes with his spirit hovering over us."
Wolfe has experienced that sense of community throughout the process of creating and presenting the ballet. Not up for the job of choreographing the ballet herself, she cited the support from Menza, the inspiration she got from his music to choreograph the dances.
"He said, 'It's a story that needs to be told,'" Wolfe said. "Those words kept me going."
Other sources of support have been the reception from audiences; kind words from other parents who have lost sons and daughters in combat; and praise from Marines and other active military and veterans, even a Holocaust survivor, who appreciated the inclusion of the family's Jewish heritage.
News coverage of the ballet, including a story on NPR, led to interest from Bakersfield residents, who asked Wolfe to present the ballet here. A fundraising campaign on Kickstarter is helping Wolfe bring her company to the Dore Theatre this weekend.
As gratified as Wolfe is with seeing her ballet come to life and receive praise, it's a bittersweet experience; "Colin" has made it both easier and harder to deal with her son's death.
"For me, in a way, Colin lives again," Wolfe said.
But it's also a wound that won't heal.
"When I have to back and remember everything and relive it and re-tell it, it's like that."