The audition for Ledo would span over a couple of days with several timeslots, to give every accepted applicant a chance. Chris was scheduled for the first timeslot in the morning.
A few weeks earlier, all dancers auditioning for Ledo had been mailed choreography instructions. Included was a description of Ledo’s character and the inspiration behind his design, written by Erik himself. Ledo was a shy, innocent character, and Chris was confident he embodied the very role—at least in terms of how he felt. Ledo was also inspired by Erik’s favorite music: a slow, beautiful piece called “Le Cygne” by Camille Saint-Saëns.
For inspiration, he watched an online video of Erik dancing to the music for one of his practices. However, seeing Erik dance, a whirling snowflake that could melt and vanish by magic, was intimidating. The dance wasn’t just about perfecting techniques; it was about creating poetry with the body and giving one’s very soul to the audience, something Chris wasn’t quite yet sure how to do.
Despite being daunted, he had practiced nonstop, often working at least eight hours a day until he couldn’t possibly perform another pirouette.
His first task on the anticipated morning was to Instagram an image of his ballet shoes, asking his friends back home to wish him luck. Then came the ritual of preparing to head into the ballet studio: inserting contact lenses and shaving as closely as possible, until his face seemed to have never known facial hair. In traditional ballet, dancers faced pressure to be unmarred by tattoos, piercings, unique haircuts, facial hair, and other personal expressions of self. In the mirror, he became a different person as he removed the piercings in his ear, at the center of his bottom lip, and through his tongue.
The piercings were like a security blanket. Already, he caught himself biting his lower lip as he watched his face become bare. Stepping into ballet shoes meant shedding the outside world. Even before attempting a single ballet move, he was made vulnerable. Did Erik also leave behind a part of himself before entering the studio, or was he naturally born with ballet shoes on and nothing to hide?
Once he reached the studio in Westminster, Chris waited in the sterile hallway, seated on one of the wooden benches. This time, he blended in with an outfit of black tights, white shirt, and broken-in ballet shoes. He’d made sure to take his antianxiety medication but, at the moment, it didn’t seem to be working—he couldn’t stop reaching for his currently nonexistent lip piercing, which he’d normally fidget with. He’d soon be in front of Erik Magnusson, auditioning for a major role. Paranoia, one of his worst enemies, crept into his mind, playing scenes of him tripping over his own feet. Chewing his thumbnail, he stretched his ankles as he filled out the information sheet.
Name: Chris Harper
Age: 24 (in a couple of months)
Weight: 170 lbs.
Ethnicity: Mixed -- Black, Asian, Caucasian
Previous Injuries: None
After he turned in the sheet with a copy of his resume, he sat back down and took a few deep breaths, trying to calm his twisting heart.
Then he heard it. His name. Called across the room.
The brightly lit studio was designed with mirrored walls to highlight the dancer’s every movement. The director, Johan, stood by a grand piano across the room and studied him intently. Chris’s skin crawled as though the gaze were a physical touch. Was he criticizing his body? Though he was fit, ballet had a way of making even the most athletic people insecure. It was all about visual perfection; a criticism could always be found. Were his shoulders too muscular for Ledo? He imagined the character had to be equally slender throughout his body, similar to Erik’s natural form—proportions perfect for flexibility and defying gravity. Chris was slim and muscular, but certainly not willowy. With his arms exposed, he looked more like a boxer.
Erik Magnusson was stationed ahead of him, facing the only wall without a mirror, his smart silhouette outlined against a window. Beyond was the cityscape of London. Like Chris, he wore the standard practice clothes of a dancer. Chris had mentally braced himself to face his hero at last, but Erik didn’t turn to look at him.
While Chris awkwardly took his place in the center of the room, the pianist in the corner began playing “Ledo’s Theme” without any verbal warning. He hastily settled into first position as the ethereal piece rippled through his being, the music like a falling leaf. However, the notes didn’t soothe the tempest of nerves as he began the delicate dance, peeking at Erik every so often, curious if the man watched.
Erik occasionally glanced over, but without any expression. Of course, he wouldn’t remember a random person he’d met during a signing. Eleven years ago, their age gap seemed large. Now, no stranger would know one was several years older than the other.
Was he so uninteresting to Erik? His focus blurred, his balance trembling while going attitude with one leg suspended. Had Erik already crossed him off since he’d dropped his glass like a klutz the night before? Cringing at the very memory of it, he burned with anger.
Watch me, he psychically begged. For a moment, Erik narrowed his eyes—cold, emotionless—and Chris’s heart squeezed tightly. Did he mess up? He forced more flare into his pirouette.
He hadn’t performed even a quarter of the dance when Johan spoke. “You’re kind of stiff.”
The piano stopped abruptly, and the disappearance of music was disorienting. Chris tried to find his footing after the spins. As he breathed heavily, he saw his dream crumbling around him.
“I don’t think you’ll make the cut,” Johan continued, and Chris’s heart smashed into pieces.
Impossible, Chris thought. He wasn’t that bad. No, no… he was good. He knew he was. That’s why he was here.
“Can I try again?” he asked, his voice lacking the confidence he needed. He closed his eyes briefly, lamenting the turn of events.
Johan reviewed his sign-in sheet and sparse resume. “You’re twenty-four years old? You’ve never been promoted up as a soloist?”
Out the corner of his eye, he saw Erik spare him a brief glance. It was only for a split second, but he knew the reason. Erik had been named a principal dancer at eighteen.
“Yes, I’m twenty-four.” If only he were younger; perhaps then his lack of prodigal progress would be less obvious. “Well, I’m really twenty-three, technically. My birthday is in a couple of months. Near Halloween. Yes, a Scorpio, hah, but not dangerous.”
Johan didn’t even crack a slight grin.
Chris looked down. “I’ve never been a soloist,” he finished with defeat. “Only the corps de ballet.”
“Okay, well, thank you for your time.” Johan checked the name sheet. “Chris.”
It cannot end this way. Eleven years had gone by, desiring to reach Erik’s level. Despite his nervousness, he knew he was a talented dancer; he could complete moves his colleagues struggled with. While his anxiety stood in the way of achievement, his therapist had helped him manage some of it. He had a good chance to succeed now. Why not me? Why not?