In last month’s installment of “Girl in Motion,” aspiring ballerina Anna started her first year at the School of Ballet New York and became friends with her talented roommate Hilary and one of the cutest guys in school, Tyler.
Anna lay on her bed, arms crossed behind her head, legs propped against the wall, thinking. It was hard to believe a year and a half at the School of Ballet New York had flown by, and she was already 18 and a senior in high school. She and Tyler had been sort of an item ever since last year’s BNY gala opening, when they had shared such a magical evening watching Elements, the Roizman masterpiece that Anna dreamed of performing. Though there was hardly any time for real dates like at the high school world she left behind in Rock Island, IL, Tyler was there for her through the ups and downs of their demanding lives as preprofessional dancers.
Anna had spent the last year focusing on every detail of her movements. Her awareness of every step, each position and every part of her body grew and grew as the months went by. It took many weeks, but Anna had seen the impact of Madame Sivenko’s lesson. She’d been so humiliated when Sivy made her hold that red exercise ball in her hand during barre. Now, a year and a half later, she realized she held her hand in a completely different and utterly beautiful way. She could see that the shape had become natural to her as she looked at her reflection in the mirror during center. She was further along her path to ballet perfection, the Roizman way. Her favorite style in the world.
For SBNY’s Spring Workshop, the renowned showcase for graduating seniors, Anna and Tyler were cast together for two performances of Fire.
Hilary, Anna’s roommate and friend, was awarded the famous female solo in Earth. The expansive lines of Earth’s commanding choreography fit her like her favorite pair of jeans. Hils truly owned the role after her first rehearsal.
Back in the dorm after a full day of practice, Hilary mused, “What’s the big deal about Workshop, Ace? Everyone is so stressed out. You’ve either got it, or you don’t! Except for you, Anna, you’ve earned it all. I’m jazzed you and Ty are doing Fire. Bet that’s what you two name your first kid.”
Anna smiled back, scarcely hearing. Her dress rehearsal for Fire was tomorrow. Sivy would critique her every move. Fire rehearsals had bonded Tyler and Anna even closer. She anticipated the rehearsals almost as much for the time she spent with him, as for the dancing. Anna thought constantly about the steps: as she fell asleep, in her dreams, when she awoke and during every spare moment of the day.
* * *
“Now, Anna and Tyler,” Madame Sivenko said at the rehearsal, “let’s run it again.” Tyler took Anna’s hand and led her onto the floor.
Anna struck the opening pose: fourth position en pointe, facing the stage left wings. Tyler stood parallel, to her left, looking in the same direction. He held her left hand and reached across her back to put his right hand underneath her other arm, giving her support.
On the first note, Anna bent her left leg, still on pointe, and let her right leg fly out behind her in a powerful battement. She and Tyler moved through the choreography, punctuating Stravinsky’s angular music with their passionate movements. As they danced, Anna’s body and limbs warmed. Sweat ran down her face.
Fire’s adagio ended with an almost impossible turn. Anna spun away, pushing against Tyler’s arm while whipping her leg around in a half circle. She pulled in her foot and tried to spin around as many times as possible. It was a turn they had blown in the past, but this time they were charged up. Anna hit a perfect triple and sustained the ending.
Not bad, she thought to herself as she doubled over in the stage left back corner after running offstage.
Anna struggled to catch her breath as Tyler danced his variation, but his solo didn’t last nearly long enough. She had to run back on for her variation before her breathing was totally under control. She pushed through the steps, mentally counting in order to stay precisely on the music’s beat.
Madame Sivenko’s grey eyes opened wide, watching her closely. The teacher’s trademark eyebrow shot up in subtle approval.
Anna’s variation ended. Tyler ran onstage. The two repeated the opening and moved towards the final moments of the pas de deux. Tyler’s easy, natural touch helped Anna dance more skillfully. His sweat ran down across her skin and she heard his heart pounding. His exhaustion paralleled her own, and it was a good feeling, a team feeling. They pushed each other mentally, and willed themselves to the finale. Running towards Tyler to take a flying leap, Anna soared into the air and thought, I’m so alive!
Tyler caught her and pulled her back out of the airborne split, checking her forward motion abruptly. He lowered her, bringing her nose to a stop centimeters from the floor as her legs wrapped backwards around his head. They opened their arms to the side to hit the final pose precisely as the bass drum slammed, ending the piece.
Her blood pounding, Anna felt wonderful. This is my role. It’s right for me, she thought. I remember when I believed I’d never be able to dance something so complicated. Now I can.
“Good,” Sivy said. “But now you must go beyond technique. You have the steps. Not enough. Now you must be artists.”
After the rehearsal, Tyler moved closer to Anna, wrapping her into a hug. She pulled him close and buried her face in his chest, not caring how sweaty and gross they were. His heartbeat calmed her for a long time. He held her tight and closed his eyes until she was ready to let go. Her hair had frizzed and her face was splotchy when she glanced in a mirror, but it didn’t matter. When they walked out of the theater together, she laughed at one of his bad jokes. Later that night, when she crawled into bed, she fell asleep thinking about how he had held and comforted her.
Earth was first. Hilary floated through her commanding solo, her perfect feet buzzing through the five minutes of intricate patterns, scarcely touching the ground. As her captivating performance concluded, Hils let her lithe body hug the ground, embracing the earth. The New York dance audience, parents and friends leapt to their collective feet as if on command. As the curtain dropped, Hilary sauntered offstage to accept high-fives from her classmates in the wings.
Air and Wind went by in a blur. Anna couldn’t even watch. She was so happy her parents were in the audience. Since mid-April, from the time rehearsals for Fire had begun, Anna finally had accepted that she hadn’t grown tall enough for Ballet New York. The spring had been tough. Even though she didn’t have a job yet, when her parents visited her in New York, full of pride in her and repentance for their ambivalence towards her life in ballet, she felt closer to them than ever before.
For once, Hilary watched intently from the side. “Merde, Ace,” she whispered. Anna and Tyler took their positions in the wing.
“Kiss me,” he whispered.
Anna smiled, leaning into him and pressing her lips briefly to his. They grinned at each other and her body tingled as the music began. The knot in her stomach forgotten, they ran onstage and lost themselves in the rhythm of Fire.
She had never performed for such a discriminating audience. All the recitals back home in Rock Island had been for family and friends. The audience in New York was far more critical, made up of various dance directors from all over the country, as well as professional dance critics. And yet, she danced for herself. It’s a magical thing, she thought, when a dance meant for one person can reach hundreds.
She tuned into how beautiful the music was. For a few minutes, the stage was hers, the audience was hers, and she gave the performance of her life. She was more confident than she had ever been. It wasn’t about the technique anymore.
She focused on the choreography and the moment, but beyond that, she sensed that a deeper part of herself had appeared. The music dictated the emotion and timing, but Anna began to let herself go beyond the steps. She was dancing now. Her feet, her arms, her whole body let her fully express who she was. The audience could see it. She felt their love.
The magic of that workshop performance brought Anna’s dancing to a new level. The crowd applauded enthusiastically and they took their bows, beaming at each other. As soon as the curtain fell, Anna joyously threw her arms around Tyler’s neck. Clinging to each other, they laughed as he spun her around and around.
* * *
But everything wasn’t perfect. Although Anna had gone to all the ballet companies’ annual auditions, she received not a single offer from any of them. She had watched her friends, some screaming for joy, others straining to demonstrate good sportsmanship by showing support for their successful classmates. Anna’s heart had sunk as the weeks went by. As she sat with Ty outside the building after Workshop, she was silent and thoughtful. Unlike her friends, she had no job on the horizon.
Dejectedly, she’d filled out college applications to NYU, University of Chicago, even the University of Illinois. I could always start at Blackhawk Junior College in Rock Island, she’d thought. Her father had smiled as he wrote the application checks.
But now, [ital: Fire] had happened. She’d danced the show of her life, and she wanted to spend every spare moment with Tyler.
“Don’t you dare give up yet, babe,” Tyler urged with forced cheeriness, reading her troubled mind.
“Whatever,” said Anna. “Thanks for being there for me. I know you’ll love Ballet New York. On your way to the top, don’t forget the little people.”
“Shut up,” he snapped, hurt.
She dropped his hand. For the first time in a month, she didn’t invite him to hang out in her room.
* * *
Sitting on her overstuffed duffel, packing her shoes on her last day in the dorm, Anna heard the phone ring.
Madame Sivenko was on the line.
“Come to my office, Anna,” she commanded. “Right now!”
Racing downstairs, Anna shoved her way through a small crowd by the front desk. Anna recognized Hilary’s mom hugging her friend’s grey-haired grandmother. Hilary stood next to them and grinned.
“Ballet New York,” Hilary’s mother said. “My daughter, an apprentice with Ballet New York! I’m so proud.” She turned to Hilary’s father and hugged him. Hilary looked happy. Not surprised, but happy. Like her mother, she always expected success.
“Way to go. Congratulations!” said Anna as she hurried past them, walking straight into Madame Sivenko’s office. As she stood there, trembling breathlessly, Sivy walked around to the front of her desk.
“Sit, Anna. I’ll leave you two alone.”
Startled, Anna looked around the office. A slender sixty-year-old man with silver hair, a strong jaw and piercing eyes stood up from a chair tucked inside the darkened doorway.
It was William Mason. The ballet legend himself. Anna knew him instantly. She had stared at his picture on her wall ever since she was six. Instinctively, she stood up straight.
“Thanks, Sivy,” he said. His low voice was soft and commanding. “We’ll only be a few minutes.” Madame Sivenko walked out of the room, shooting Anna her trademark eyebrow of approval. Anna’s hands and feet felt cold, like she was in shock.
“I enjoyed your performances this weekend,” William Mason said, offering his hand. Shocked, Anna recalled the formula rejection letter she had received just two weeks ago from his Metropolitan Ballet Company in New York. It was signed William Mason, with his secretary’s initials below.
Am I awake? she wondered. She awkwardly stepped backward, forgetting to shake his hand.
“Well,” he said. He lowered his hand. “Please sit down.”
Anna was mute. She had no idea what to say.
His smile suddenly lit up the entire room. “I’d like to offer you an apprenticeship with my company.”
Anna choked down the lump rising in her throat. Somehow, she managed not to cry. She nodded and listened as he told her information she had known for years: that MBC had 45 dancers and danced Roizman ballets, as well as new works by its resident choreographer, Pablo Velasquez. In the 15 years since its inception, William had single-handedly built MBC into one of the top five companies in the U.S.
“Your contract is for 35 weeks,” he continued, “We need you to start as soon as possible.”
Anna was overwhelmed. She nodded, still unable to speak.
“Here’s my card,” William said. “Please let me know in the next day or two if you’ll be joining us.”
Anna didn’t need to wait. “Okay,” she blurted. “Can I sign now? Thank you. Thank you!” She signed her name twice as he pointed to the appropriate blanks. She stood.
His eyes studied her intently as he smiled again. “I’m looking forward to working with you,” he said.
Can my life really change this fast? Anna wondered, pinching herself to make sure she wasn’t dreaming. Now I’m really a grown-up. A professional dancer. But, am I ready? Am I good enough?
She raced down the hall to tell Tyler and call her parents, her dreams beckoning her forward.