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  • Writer's pictureKristine Bendul

When time stands still...

Updated: May 27, 2022

Sunday, May 22nd was supposed to be such special day, not only to celebrate my 48th year of adoption having come to the United States as a new member of the Bendul family but it was also the closing day of a two month run of Drury Lane Theatre’s production of The King and I of which I was blessed to have been a part.

Instead of celebrating, I lay bawling my eyes out finally having the emotional break down I had been waiting for. The tears swelled up in my eyes and then flooded down my cheeks, sobbing as a child who takes the worst of falls. I had wondered if and when it would come at all and there it was wracking me to the core.

The shock that had overtaken my body at the time of the injury also took over my mind. I suppose that was to protect my heart and conscious mind from the deep pain and sorrow knowing that I will never ever get to experience that moment dancing Eliza again in that show with that cast on that stage.

I LOVED absolutely everything about dancing this role.

My Eliza track technically began offstage while waiting for the blackout at the end of the Hello Young Lovers reprise. The timing had to be just right because there were only seconds for me to run from off the upstage right wing “onto" the stage just up of the platform and quickly drop down into a crouch on all fours to be hidden from the audience’s view once the lights quickly came back up, hoping I was in the right spot which was marked by a small orange spike mark on the carpet. This was there to aid me in finding the “opening” in the billowing white curtains which were see through.

My crouch positioning was most awkward. Here I am facing stage left on “all fours” but technically it was two knees and both elbows with my forearms crossed. I would find the hem of the most stage right curtain with my left hand keeping my body propped on my elbows because I was holding George in my right hand. I liked to hold George a very specific way and once I found that positioning, that is how he would stay the entire show until I ran out for a river or I was shielding him from rain and the elements.

I would hold onto the curtain with my left hand because I did not ever want to worry about finding the “opening” between the two curtains at the last second when it was time for my cue.

There I was in this “ridiculous position” listening to Paulina‘s beautiful voice and the intro music to the ballet which led both the audience and myself on this magical journey, hoping and praying my body would not cramp in any way before I was able to make my entrance.

I would calm my breathe, chanting gratitude to Buddha and Spirit for the gift I knew I had in getting the chance to dance this role. I would pray to be an honest and true vessel that would embody the character so purely that I would do justice to this iconic role by moving the story and touching the audience.

I needed to shift my nervous energy into one of excitement and respect. I had to make a shift from myself, Kristine, to the slave, Eliza.

It felt like an eternity waiting on the ground and so I would find distractions. I enjoyed immensely noticing how different the air flow could be during every performance. Sometimes the curtains were so very still and at others there would be a great draft and the curtains rippled with almost a fury.

It took quite a few shows before I even realized there was a black light effect with a specific lighting cue not only on the orange spike tape on the carpet but on the cuffs of my sleeves on my costume. I loved watching this almost iridescent change in color after the lights came back up and changed at the top of the ballet.

I could not see what was happening on stage. My sight line only was capable of experiencing what happened on the upmost section of the platform. I always loved the moment when Topsy would enter, doing her jumps upstage center before jumping down for Happy People. At this moment, I could also see Uncle Thomas for a split second before they were gone.

At one point, I got bold enough to slightly peek my head up because I was “behind” one of the pillars but I could only make out the tops of the gentleman‘s heads because of their pagodas.

With Happy People almost over, it would be a very short moment before my entrance, where in a split second, the tapestry would drop. Because I had already found the slit in the curtain, I could just pay attention to the exact timing of hearing the drop release, looking to make sure the tapestry came down, I would pop up, spring through the curtain, run up the back of the platform and down the stairs to emerge center stage exactly on cue in a matter of seconds.

Silence. Stillness. Seamlessly sliding my feet downstage in character but still aware of the dangerous track in the stage floor. Navigating the correct distance to get down of that crevasse that could dangerously take one’s digits.

In those moments, Kristine faded away and I became Eliza, speaking through my movements. I was transported and took in every second whether I was caught in a rainstorm, climbing a mountain, hiding in a forest or running from Simon to encounter a river.

But nothing was as beautiful as the moment when the ballet built to a frenzy. Here I was pleading to Buddha and twirling in a panic only to drop down to one knee and pray. And then there was again this silence. Stillness. Peace.

Even though I was hastily trying to catch my breathe, I always saw from my peripheral as Angel glided downstage. I would watch as the ripples in the water calmed and my heartbeat would match. My breath would slow and I could feel the light touch my face as Angel came behind me to help me stand.

I was able to find the peace and tranquillity I needed for what was to come next and then there we were, Angel and I, about to start skating. I was able to transcend to yet even more of a magical place with every step we took together.

I never once worried about being off sync. It was pure bliss for me that I did not want to ever end.

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