On September 21st 2014 at Lincoln Center, Wendy Whelan and Craig Hall delivered a soul stirring al fresco performance of the pas de deux from Christopher Wheeldon's "After the Rain" to the haunting music of Arvo Pärt. The performance by the pair of New York City Ballet dancers was one of the offerings during the evening portion of the free, day-long Buddhist ceremony called the Shinnyo Lantern Floating for Peace.

What a joy it was to have an opportunity at close range to see the 47-year-old Whelan, who is set to retire from the stage in October, dance with all the sinewy suppleness and heartfelt emotion that have been her trademarks during a distinguished 30-year career. Hall was superb as her partner in the role created for Jock Soto in 2005, intertwining seamlessly with her and holding her aloft while the unseasonably warm breeze played with her unbound hair.

The free event, with live performances that were simultaneously projected onto two large screens, coincided with the 30th annual United Nations International Day of Peace as well as the opening of the General Assembly and the world-wide Climate Change March. The daytime schedule included a Decoda Music wind and piano quartet plus performances by students from LaGuardia High School of Music & Arts and Performing Arts and the Dalton School, among others. After sunset, in addition to the ballet segment with a live orchestra, onlookers were treated to a presentation by Her Holiness Shinso Ito, jazz interludes by trumpeter Alphonso Horne, the rhythmic sounds of the Shinnyo Taiko Drumming Ensemble, and the impressive vocal maneuvers of The Brooklyn Youth Chorus and students of the Juilliard School.

At the conclusion, with the gentle wind rippling the waters of the Paul Milstein Reflecting Pool, performers and members of the public alike wrote messages of peace on paper lanterns and set them afloat. Whelan and Hall, clad by then in street clothes, became part of the crowd that was made up of interfaith and community leaders along with New Yorkers and visitors.

The Lantern Floating is a contemporary Shinnyo Buddhist fire and water sacred rite to honor those who have passed away and to symbolize the connection of the past, the present, and the future with a message of hope for a harmonious and peaceful world. Eventually, when the throng began to disperse, I started to make my way home but I turned to look back one more time at those bobbing, luminous lanterns. I did indeed feel an inner peace.

Photo by Paul Kolnik

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From This Author Sondra Forsyth

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