In the Spotlight

by Siobhan Donovan
07 Jan 2013 18:37 (updated 07 Jan 2013 18:37) | 0 comment(s)

“Are you a ballet dancer or an elephant?!”

It’s been almost six months and I haven’t learned yet to not seize up and freeze the moment Eric barks criticism at another dancer. You’d think I’d be used to it by now, especially since I haven’t been criticism free, but it still gives me pause.

Noticing my stalling, Sharona catches my eyes and waves for me to continue going through our movements. I grin sheepishly and pick up where I left off before Taylor steps on my heels and we mess up the entire line.

At least we’re all doing our part right.

“I’m sorry - “

“Aht!” I don’t have to look to see Eric holding up a hand to cut Delia off in mid-apology. She’s been apologizing a lot today. Every single time he snaps at her, or she goes down in an ungainly spill or falls into a bad rhythm because of a misplaced foot or hip alignment. “Please don’t. You’re obviously not sorry enough or you wouldn’t be staggering like a drunken whore with two broken legs.”

I do wince at that, and frown when I catch Colette’s pinched face in the mirror. Her cat-that-ate-the-canary smirk is very plain to see, though it does nothing to help her countenance. Sadie Jaffe is no longer with us, having finished off the season with rave reviews of her Snow Queen in the Nutcracker; she’s dancing with the London Ballet now, with quite the send off blast on New Year’s Eve. Delia was the obvious choice and inheritor of the title of Golden Dancer and Favored Principal, though she’s been falling short and Colette and Wendy are like coyotes just waiting for the prey to fall into a peaceful sense of false security.

This time my pause is too long, and Taylor does step on my heel. I stagger, she stops short and the whole line is thrown out of formation.

“Siobhan!” Taylor hisses with a glare. That single word conveys a lot, but most importantly that we don’t need to attract Eric’s attention when he’s in a sour mood.

I give her an apologetic shrug, and start back with the next step on queue and proper time. Fortunately, Eric is too focused on Delia and only Adelaide has taken a moment to notice our lag. She raises a brow when I look over at her to check our status and I’m smart enough to immediately focus my attention on Sharona’s bun instead of anywhere else in the studio.

We’re stepping into the pas de chat when Eric snarls, “Stop! Stop! Stop! What the hell are you doing, Delia?! Everyone just stop until Sleeping Beauty remembers what part of the scene we’re dancing.”

We don’t have much choice as Adelaide is no longer calling the time, and one never wants to move a muscle of any sort when Eric has just called a halt. The fire alarm could sound at the moment or a hail of bullets come through the window and we’d likely all just stand as we are.

“Party guests and fairies, take five.” Eric waves a negligent hand in our direction, his attention wholly focused on Delia. “Princess Aurora, shall we engage from the top?”

On some unspoken queue, the music resumes and the rest of the corps begins wandering toward our water bottles and dance towels.

“I want you to stand here, Delia and watch Cyn and Dawna. Mirror their every - “

“I am mirroring. I’ve done - “

“If you’re talking, you’re not watching.”

I watch in the mirror as Cyn and my mother take up positions on either side of Delia, the three of them focused on an opposite mirror as Eric circles around. I catch my mother’s disapproving scowl at Eric’s treatment of Delia and I can’t help but roll my eyes. I’ve been a first hand witness and had first hand experience of how hard, brutal and demanding she can be to her student dancers, and our skin was a whole lot thinner than Delia’s.

It’s been weird having my mother here in the studio, but she’s been the choreographer of choice for Sleeping Beauty for Eric and Cyn for the last five years. She worked with American Ballet Theatre and has even done a stint with The Chicago Ballet and the Boston Ballet Company. This is one of her signature pieces, and it’s different working with her in this sort of professional capacity than it was working for her over summer or dancing for her.

Weird, but nice; since moving in with Jenna and Preston we don’t have our morning breakfast and bonding. I didn’t realize how much I missed it until Mom and I met for breakfast at a local coffee shop before heading into the studio together.

“It’s her developpés,” Nick volunteers as I take a seat in the small semi-circle formed by he, Taylor, Sharona and Kelly. “She’s always had problems with that. It’s a known issue. I haven’t a clue why Colette or Wendy isn’t up there with Delia as understudy.”

I tilt my water bottle back and take a long swallow. Then I frown at Nick. “This is just rehearsal to learn the steps and our marks. Roles haven’t even been cast yet.”

I get that look from all of them. The one that says I’m cute and naive and how much it amuses them. It’s not patronizing, like I assumed it was in the beginning, they are genuinely amused by the naivete of the new girl. They don’t make me feel bad about it, and if anything it’s more like older siblings seeking to impart wisdom after their moments of enjoyment.

“What?” I sigh, exasperated.

“I’m shocked, Duckling,” Kelly smirks in time to my inevitable wincing. Cooper’s nickname has caught on, though only this group dares to use it, at least out loud. “You’ve been here long enough to know how this goes. The casting is just for show, to make it look fair. The role you dance in rehearsal is the role you dance in the performances. We just put in our all so that we can secure our understudy and switch parts.”

Sharona leans against Kelly’s shoulder. “Yeah, why do you think Wendy was so pissed that you started out dancing the Arabian roles before final casting?”

“Because Siobhan owned that role and was way better at it than Wendy could have ever been?” Nick suggests with a boyishly charming grin. He’s almost as hot as Coop, but unlike Coop only swings toward men from what I can tell. Still, he’s a great bit of eye candy. For not the first time, I think that Preston would like Nick, and if he wasn’t pseudo-dating, or whatever it is he’s doing with Coop, I’d introduce them.

I smile graciously at the compliment and sip my water bottle. I’m getting better at taking the compliments and not down talking my talent, but still haven’t managed to figure out how to walk that line between pride and arrogance. “I’ve seen it every year. Wendy wasn’t bad.”

“Stop it.” Kelly nudges me with his foot. “No, Wendy wasn’t bad. You, however, were better.”

“We are going to get you to own your talent if it’s the last thing we do,” Sharona rolls her eyes dramatically. “At least you’re not ducking your head and blushing anymore.”

“Is anyone else here thinking of taking up drinking? I’m starting to think that might be the only way to get through this routine.” Eric’s voice rings out loud and annoyed and everyone focuses on their water bottles, or towels, or cell phones. “It’s very simple, Delia. You have been dancing for years. Do you want to tell me what the problem is?”

“Her developpés,” Nick sing songs in a soft whisper earning a swat from Taylor.

“Maybe the choreography could be changed a little,” I suggest quietly as Eric’s tirade continues and Cyn falls predictably into the role of ‘good cop.’ I’ve known my mother to do such on the fly when her dancers really just can’t get it.

“And maybe monkeys will fly,” Taylor snorts. “That developpés is the entire set for the rest of the dance. It’s the mood and the tempo, and frames the elegance going forward for the final fall. Eric would never go for that.”

“Change the routine?” Eric snorts derisively and I dare to look over my shoulder. My mother and Cyn have evidently suggested it to him and he’s not hearing it. I can’t hear my mother’s response clearly, but I can tell she’s already outlining a few changes that can be made.

“No, absolutely not. It’s not that difficult of a dance. I’ve had dancers previous and I’ll have dancers after who can do it perfectly. Dawna, you’ve had sixteen year old girls who can perfect this. I’m not asking too much of my professional. Do I need to get one of your sixteen year olds in here to show how it’s done?”

“Yes, maybe you should since I’m not your precious Sadie and I’m not good enough!” A water bottle sails across the dance studio and bounce skids across the floor. Delia’s voice is high and shrill, and dead silence follows her tantrum. Looking around, she snatches up her bag and storms out of the studio, the doors slamming loud in her wake.

“Oh no she didn’t,” Nick keeps his voice low and softly snaps his fingers.

“That’s what happens when you’re fucking the director,” Sharona whispers.

“Sharona! Where’d you hear that?” Taylor gapes at the other dancer.

Eric claps his hands. “All right, everyone, break is over. We are going to do this from the beginning. And yes, I’m well aware that I need Sleeping Beauty.” As we put aside our water and other distractions and stand, all our eyes go to Colette and Wendy who straighten up and discretely preen. We’re looking at them, and don’t notice that Eric isn’t.

“Siobhan. Front and center.”

I know it’s my imagination, but in that moment I feel as though the whole room darkens and there’s a giant spotlight on me. I smooth my hand over my dance skirt. “Me?” I glance at my fellow dancers who are all far more interested in stretching than offering me any backup or support.

“Yes, you. Did everyone take idiot pills this morning? We are doing the party scene for Sleeping Beauty and apparently my Sleeping Beauty has taken leave of her senses. Therefore, I need Sleeping Beauty, so hop to.”

I take a few tentative steps toward Eric, my gaze swinging to Colette and back again.

“Today, Miss Knight. Unless there’s a problem? You do know the choreography? Weren’t you one of those sixteen year olds that I just mentioned?”

“Yes.” I can’t lie about it. I know the choreography well. I was there from the first day my mother choreographed and I’ve probably danced all the roles at one time or another. There are a few changes from the student company performance to the professional, but I have an idea of what they are.

“Then let’s go. Dawna and Cyn, if you will please give Siobhan a quick refresher so that we may all move forward — “

“Eric, I’m ready. I know the parts,” Colette calls out, strolling confidently toward him.

“I’m sure you do Colette, but this scene needs the Lilac Fairy so stay in your role please.”

I take my place, with a last quick glance around at the dancers I consider to be friends. I get a full range of smirks and a less than discreet thumbs up from Cooper. Squaring my shoulders, I take up the mantle of Princess Aurora, with Kelly’s words echoing in my head.

The casting is just for show, to make it look fair. The role you dance in rehearsal is the role you dance in the performances.

I don’t know how much truth is in them, and I can’t let myself think about it. Today, I just have to dance.


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