CHAPTER ONE

Ballet fiction. Haha. I amuse myself when I can’t sleep

CHAPTER ONE: PRESSURE

Sounds of thunder echoed through the empty theater; pure percussion. Slowly the lights are brought up creating a haze across the stage, dimly lighting the elaborately painted backdrop. Then from out of nowhere, women dressed as swans appeared on their toe shoes, moving birdlike back and forth in a frenzy. “STOP. STOP. STOP. Amelia, you are out of line and Daria you are supposed to be a swan, not a crow,” a deep voice came from the darkness. Sitting in a sea of worn out red velvet chairs, the Artistic Director yelled into the mic, “Francis, go find someone from the costume department, you are spilling out everywhere. Have you gained weight or something.” All of the swans looked at her, embarrassed for her, and dreading what was to happen next. The air was cold and awkward, they stared out into the darkness trying to find where the voice was coming from. Francis began to panic, and before another word could be said, she ran off into the stage wings fighting back all of her tears. “Take twenty minutes ladies, and when you come back let’s go from the top of second act. And try not to be a mess. This is Swan Lake, not Duck Pond,” his voice was the voice of God in the theater. It put fear into everyone because you never knew if he was going to be in a good or bad mood. He transformed at the theater, in the ballet studios he was like a father figure; demanding but nurturing. In the theater, he was a reckless tyrant who held your career in his hands and your future in his eyes. That is the thing about a career in ballet, it is always uncertain and pending on the whims of an artistic director.

The women went into the dressing rooms. Their tutus flipped upside down against the backs of the chairs. Vanity lighting from every angle, and mirrors taunting them in every direction. Francis was not at her messy, filled with makeup and hair pins, station. As they slid on their warm-ups and leg warmers, the swans eyed each other in the mirror. “God. It wasn’t like she didn’t notice. I mean it is kind of obvious that she has been gaining weight,” a snarky mouse voice shrilled off.

“You are such a bitch Camilla,” Daria whipped around fast throwing a stick of eyeliner at her.

“Don’t get makeup on the costume, you know better. Or at least, you should.” Camilla had been in the corps de ballet for six years but hadn’t been promoted. This was her third time doing Swan Lake with the company, and every time Swan Lake came into the season’s repertory she was always cast as the same thing: SWAN #4. She wasn’t tall. Her height matched her voice. Small and mousy. The door swung open. Francis was standing in the opening while all of the swans gawked. She slowly walked down the aisle of chairs to her station and plopped into her chair, “They said they don’t have any bigger costumes and don’t have time to make a new bodice.”

“You will be fine. Just strap the girls down with this,” Giselle threw over an ace bandage and then duck tape.

Francis looked at the taupe bandage and squeezed it tightly. “Five minutes ladies. Five minutes.” A voice over the loudspeaker echoed the room. The flock started to move out. Francis stayed behind. She unhooked her bodice and slipped her arms out of the painful elastics holding the pure white costume up. The elastics were so tight they left deep red marks on her shoulders and chest. Looking into the mirror, fully topless she began to tightly wrap the ace bandage around her breasts while fighting back more tears. This time tears of pain. “Do you need help?” Ashley, an apprentice with the company popped her head into the dressing room.

“Please.”

Ashley started the duck tape in the back and slipped her hand under Francis’s arm and pulled the roll over the top of her breast and pulled tight.

“Shit.”

“Sorry. I know it hurts, but you will get used to it,” her voice was calm and relaxed. “You know I have been taping my boobs down for years.”

“Really? I’ve never noticed.”

“It’s because I make it a point to not let anyone see.”

“Oh.”

Ashley began taping even tighter and worked her way down to Francis’s waist. She pulled the tape around and around then ripped it from the roll, “Done.”

“Thanks.”

“Here. Let’s see if it looks better. I’ll hook you in,” as Francis moved the bodice up she noticed she had more space in the costume. She could feel herself becoming a swan again.

“Wow. This really did work,” Francis started to laugh. Ashley peeped her head over Francis’s shoulder and smiled at her through the mirror. Her delicate fingers hooking the bodice together, tightening the corset laces, buttoning the buttons and snapping the snaps. “All done. Go get em.”

“Thanks, Ashley. Really.”

“You better go before you get yelled at for being late.”

Francis ran up the stairs to the stage. The music was already on, and when she looked out from the wings, she saw Page dancing in her place. She peeked her head from the wings, From the audience she looked like a floating head. She quickly pulled her head back in. Camilla was standing in the wings as well, “Don’t worry. He didn’t replace you. He is running the third cast of swans.”

“Thanks,” Francis looked around and other senior corps de ballet members were standing around watching the weaker cast run the second act. Machines began to buzz and the stage slowly became engulfed in fog. There they stood. Young apprentices, and new corps de ballet members: the up and comers of the company. Camilla felt uneasy and walked back towards the stage door. Francis could feel her heartbeat faster. “Where is Ashley? Is she ready? Her entrance is coming up,” the stage manager Lucy looked frantic. “I’m here. I’m here,” Ashley almost knocked over Camilla running from the door. In the five minutes that had passed, Ashley completely transformed from the dressing room. Her deep red lipstick contrasted her pale white face and blonde hair. She had pinned in her swan crown, and drastically changed from Ashley a nineteen-year-old girl from Kansas City to Odette the Swan Queen of New York Ballet Theatre. She went onto her toes and bourréd out, her arms gracefully moving with sincerity. The corps de ballet stood in their classic swan pose, not even blinking, as Ashley glided through the fog, back to the audience, arms moving up and down at just the right speed and quality. As she turned to the empty audience, her blue eyes sparkled in the stage lights. “Magical Ashley! Just Magical!” God approved.

“Fuck. We are screwed. At nineteen and an apprentice, Ashley is debuting as Odette and I can’t even get into the formation correctly,” Daria leaned into Francis. The two of them watching intently. Francis was watching in amazement while Daria’s laser focus on Ashley was of vicious jealousy. “I know I shouldn’t say this out loud, but I hope she hurts herself.”

“Wow, Daria. You are starting to sound like Camilla.”

“Franny, she is going to take your job and mine. Wait that is not true. She is going to get promoted before either of us do and she is still in diapers.”

“Well, she did win the grand prix two years ago.”

“Winning a fuckin’ competition doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have to pay your dues. Isn’t that what Phillip always tells us. You have to pay your dues in the corps, and your handwork and valiant efforts will pay off? He is such a prick.”

“Really tell me how you feel Daria.”

“Fuck this. I am going with Camilla.”

Francis stood in the wings watching Ashley move. Francis had been in the corps de ballet for four years and was an apprentice for two years prior to that. Ashley glided from one side of the stage to the other, and Francis’s eyes followed.

Is Daria right? I have been busting my butt for six years in the company, and for another four years in the school. Now, all of a sudden Ashley is debuting as Odette. What am I doing wrong? Will I always be in the corps? Destined to be nothing. Oh wait, destined to be Swan number ten? 

“Ashley. What was that? That was awful. How am I supposed to have faith in you, if you start to die of stamina half way through the pas de deux? Where is Yvette? Someone get me, Yvette,” and God turned on her just like that. Ashley ran off stage, breathing heavily.

“You were great Ashley. He will give you another go. This is just the process. Don’t beat yourself up too hard,” Francis patted Ashley’s back.

“Yeah right. Get a grip Francis. This isn’t girl scouts where everyone gets a turn, this is ballet,” Ashley pushed Francis aside and walked off into the darkness of the theatre wings.

Time passed and Yvette made her way to the stage with Alexander, her prince for Swan Lake. They had been partnered together for at least ten years. The two were ballet royalty. Yvette became a principal dancer when she was twenty and made her first debut as Odette at twenty-two. Alexander was previously with the Royal Ballet at Covent Garden but came to New York Ballet Theatre just for Yvette. The two stood in the wings, and Yvette leaned over Alexander, “Another one bites the dust.”

Alexander chuckled, “Let’s just see what the casting board looks like tomorrow.”

Yvette placed her hand into Alexander’s large palm and smiled. The two gracefully walked out and resumed where Ashley and Marco left off. Marco was still standing on stage, lost and confused. “Marco get off the stage,” the voice of God commanded. He ran off confused, “I thought he just asked for Yvette? Why is Alexander in my spot? I didn’t mess up. It isn’t my fault that Ashley doesn’t have what it takes.”

“Dude, like Yvette will ever partner with you. I mean she is Yvette Rumelad. Hello. Duh,” a corps boy chimed in laughingly.

“I guess. But if Ashley fucks this up for me, I am going to kill her,” Marco walked into the darkness as well, only the shimmer of his white tights could be seen.

A strip of light shot through the stage door, which disappeared quickly. Footsteps in pointe shoes could be heard. Daria and Camilla made their way back into the wings, “She is losing it down there. I feel bad for her.”

“Camilla. You hate her so don’t act concerned,” Francis lashed back in a whisper.

“True. But she doesn’t even have a contract yet. I mean she is an apprentice. Super messed up of Reed if you ask me. I mean like, if she blows this, do you really think he is going to offer her a job here?”

“I never thought of it like that. I wonder-“

“You wonder if he did it in on purpose? Probably. Reed is a sadistic douchebag and a horny dog rolled into one,” Camilla laughed, looking at her nails. “Wanna grab a drink after this? I feel like we are going to need it. We still have two more hours of rehearsal tonight.”

“I’m in,” Daria laughed. “I am going to need more than one.”

Rehearsal finished and the swans retired to the dressing rooms. They wiped off their make up and took of their adorned costumes. The elegant and scared swans became regular women in their twenties. Slipping into tee shirts and sweaters, scarves and sneakers the room went from a glamorous parlor of makeup and beauty to a simple locker room of women laughing and trying to get out of the workplace. As they cleaned up their stations, Francis neatly placed her station back together adding an ace bandage and duck tape to her line of beautiful cosmetics against the mirror. She starred down at the two things that might have saved her job, but the director didn’t even notice. “Come on Franny let’s go,” Daria’s voice was relieved and softer. The girls headed out of the dressing room and out the theater’s back door.

“Of course, it would be raining? Could our day get any worse,” Camilla’s mousy voice spiked.

“Come on, let’s grab a cab. It isn’t that big of a deal,” Franny laughed and walked to the curb. Covering her gelled back hair. “TAXI!” She yelled at the top of her lungs. “I swear, it is never like the movies.”

“Let’s go around to the front of the theater, we probably will have better luck out there.”

Daria, Franny, and Camilla walked arm and arm. Their hair still in crisp tight buns, their ballerina figures now hid under layers of clothes, trench coats, and numerous bags. The three of them waited on the curb, watching the city lights flicker. The three were giggling and laughing about the day’s happenings when the Reed’s voice could be overheard. “What were you thinking? You aren’t stupid are you? Are you? Answer me damn it. Don’t just stand there. Say something. God you are useless,” Reed stormed from around the corner in his rain dropped stained navy blue cardigan. His messy, wavy, slicked-back hair was slightly disheveled, “Ladies.” He nodded at the trio.

“Who was he yelling at?” Camilla whispered.

“Ashley?” Daria leaned in closer.

Franny could feel herself moving towards the alley next to the theater. She slowly turned the corner to find no one, “Was he talking to himself?”

“That wouldn’t surprise me. Come on girls. Taxi is here. Time to drink,” Daria hopped into the cab first. The girls packed themselves into the backseat of the onion smelling cab. The three were on their phones, checking their emails and social media. After a fifteen-minute drive, the three were safely delivered to their apartment. “So good to be home.”

“Don’t get comfortable Camilla, we are going out. It was your idea. I’m just going to shower real quick.”

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