“Sir,” Chris blurted out. “Please, I really think I’ve got what it takes to be Ledo and can bring something new and fresh to the table. If I had to be in one show my whole life, it would be Swan Song.”
The director shook his head. “I’m sorry, Chris, but—”
“Johan,” Erik cut in as he turned from the window. “Let him finish speaking, at least. He flew all the way from Seattle, yes?”
Johan raised his brows in surprise. Chris blinked, mirroring Johan. Mercy and sympathy were the last things expected from the statuesque prince who had watched him with sphinxlike, serene judgment.
Erik turned to Chris, his gray eyes on him fully. “You were saying?”
Though Erik stood far away, he gave off an intimidating aura as if he were looming over Chris. He appeared serious, different from when he was charming a crowd during dances or signings.
Chris swallowed. “I think I can bring Ledo to life with my dancing.” He hated self-promotion and had to draw in willpower with all his might to think of his strengths as a dancer. He grew by criticism, not praise. “Although I am not a principal dancer, I…I think I’m just as skilled as one. I have high endurance and persistence. I practice a move until I perfect it.”
Erik continued to eye him neutrally with neither negative nor positive expressions. “You started ballet a bit late, yes?”
Chris nodded. “Yes… but how can you tell?”
“You are stiff, self-conscious. You have not been on stage often. We have dancers auditioning who are in their prime as principal dancers, but you are so nervous in front of two people?” Icy and detached, he took his time to speak.
How could Chris not be nervous in front of Erik, one of the best dancers in the world? He was right about the facts. Chris knew he had anxiety issues, but he was a good dancer.
“I’m not confident with many things,” Chris said more firmly. “But I am confident about my dancing. I believe I can captivate an audience. I do have stage presence—that’s also my strength. If you give me another chance, I’ll show you it’s true. I’d give my whole heart and body to be Ledo.”
Erik studied him with a taut expression.
“Captivate us, then,” he finally challenged. He motioned with his chin at the pianist, and she began to play again.
Chris moved with more determination, willing himself to ignore Erik and focus on his body. Mastering the fragility and grace of Ledo was imperative. He would not be gifted a third chance.
“To be Ledo,” Erik said, “you must wilt like a flower under the brutal sun.”
What did that mean? Maybe slump a bit? Or appear tired?
Erik hummed as he watched. “You do have presence. But your moves are flaunty. Ledo is supposed to be humble.”
Flaunty? He had no idea how to alter his posing to something humbler. After all, he was doing the classic poses correctly. He definitely didn’t feel flaunty.
Johan nodded in agreement. “Yes, something does seem out of character for Ledo.”
“I’m sorry. How is it possible that I appear flaunty?” Chris dared to ask.
Johan looked up at the clock with impatience as he sighed. “Look, Chris, we appreciate your—”
Before Johan could finish, Erik stepped in front of the director and was suddenly in position. “I may not have written the description for Ledo well enough,” he said. “Let me show you what I intended with Ledo.”
Erik began the dance straightaway and, on cue, the piano music followed him. Chris swallowed, shocked to see the famed man dance only a few feet away. Erik moved with feather light grace, donning the distraught look of Ledo. He cast glances at Chris over his shoulder. The heat instantly rose across his skin and he wanted to look away. It took all his willpower not to—doing so would disrespect Erik’s attempt to help him.
“See,” Erik said. “You are saying, look at me, watch me. You are self-conscious and your body begs too much to be seen.” Erik switched his dancing. “But Ledo is really like this.”
His character changed; he avoided Chris’s gaze, whirling around. He never let Chris’s eyes linger on him. Erik was Ledo—who wanted to escape, who didn’t want to be looked at. “You see?” Erik asked as he moved. “Ledo is the opposite of your style. He does not make dramatic silhouettes with his body. He turns and spins constantly, trying to divert attention away.”
When Erik finished, Chris found his will more ablaze than ever. He wanted to take the role of Ledo and learn from Erik, clearly a master of the craft.
“Thank you,” Chris said sincerely. “For explaining and showing me. That was… stunning.”
Johan nodded. “Yes, I hope this can serve as an inspiration for you to continue your career in Seattle. Not many receive Erik’s feedback during an audition.”
Chris fought the sting of disappointment. Another role lost. He’d worked hard, he was talented, he had tried, but none of it was enough.
Erik huffed with the tiniest glimmer in his stony eyes. “Let him advance to the next stage and try again.” He said it with such casual dismissal that Chris nearly didn’t register the meaning.
“What?” Johan asked, mirroring Chris’s confusion.
“I found his dance… interesting.”
Interesting? What did that mean? Erik hadn’t seemed captivated by him at all. And interesting wasn’t the most flattering adjective.
“It is hard to explain,” Erik continued, “but… Harper’s dancing is flawed and rushed and a bit desperate.” A motion of his hand as he tried to think of the right words. “But also… captivating, in a raw way. That is why I showed him an example. I would not have done it if I did not see potential.”
Potential? Elation dared peek through the cloud of gloom.
Johan sighed. “Well, if Erik sees promise, I don’t want to say no to that. I guess you’re advancing to the next stage, Chris.”
Hope beamed through him; he hardly believed their words. “I don’t know what to say. Thank you very much for this opportunity!” Chris paused. “What’s the next stage?”
“The top-pick dancers for Ledo will compete by dancing with Odetto—Erik—next.”
Chris gaped. He’d have a chance to dance with him?
Erik gave Chris a single nod. “Bonne chance.”
“Thank you, monsieur,” he simply replied.
A low laugh. “Just call me Erik. I am not that much older than you.”
“Yes… Okay, Erik.”
Before exiting the room, he saw Erik smirking while turning to the window, as if suppressing laughter.
Kevin texted that night: he was going to be in Swan Song. For a split second, Chris worried that Kevin had also auditioned for Ledo, and maybe he’d somehow nabbed the role without going through the second test. Kevin, however, clarified he had been selected as the Spectre King, the leader of the evil phantoms who tried to steal Ledo’s soul. According to him, Erik had been impressed with his presence and power. Envy clouded before Chris’s eyes, blurring the message. Kevin received every part he auditioned for. Every attempt ended in reward. Swallowing the familiar envy, Chris told him congratulations, and that they’d grab a drink once the next Ledo tryout was finished tomorrow. He added in another half-hearted celebration as Kevin mentioned Grace had also gotten a role as the Swan Queen, Ledo’s mother. The familiar fear rose in him—the fear of being the loser who didn’t get the part; the one everyone felt bad for. Now that Kevin and Grace were in, he must be jinxed to fail.
Chris couldn’t afford to waste a minute that night. He practiced his portion of Odetto and Ledo’s pas de deux in a nearby ballet studio until closing time.