Back in the studio the next day, Erik wore black tights, shoes, and top, looking like an austere prince of night. He gestured to indicate each dancer’s turn, one by one, for the pas de deux tryout. All around the floor, dancers sat at attention, most adjusting their ballet shoes or stretching. Shadows bled beneath their eyes, as if they too hadn’t slept much the night before.
Chris took a moment to Instagram a photo of the blurred studio with words: The dancers here are amazing! Feeling a bit nauseous… #keepcalmandcarryon
Erik danced with Ilya first—the prodigy from Moscow, a principal dancer at the age of twenty. Ilya was petite and lithe like the Ledo Erik envisioned: graceful and ethereal like a walking, human-swan fable. Shorter than Erik, his height difference would certainly look nice for a pair dance.
Chris stared at himself in the mirror, checking off reasons he may not even look the part. He may be too muscular in the arms and legs to be a fragile Swan prince. Was he just wasting his and Erik’s time by even trying? He tried to remember that Erik himself had advanced him to this stage; he wouldn’t have if there weren’t a possibility of success… right?
Erik approached him in haste, no eye contact. Chris tried not to tremble as he motioned for him to stand. He stood hurriedly, settling into position a few feet away from Erik. This was it. The moment to determine his fate. Already, his queasy stomach threatened to pull his focus.
The song began and he followed Erik’s notes, shyly avoiding his partner. Erik acted as seductive Odetto, and there was no way Chris could meet those intense eyes. He completed his brief show of technical skills, and was confident the demonstration was precise. After all, he was a perfectionist and cared about every detail of his execution. His confidence grew. Yes, he knew the footwork by heart; it was engraved into his every muscle. He approached Erik, the first time Ledo allowed Odetto to touch him, though he would whirl away shortly after. Chris stretched into the arabesque in front of Erik, raising his working leg and extending it behind his body, before transitioning to pose for the pirouette.
For the assisted pirouette prep, the hands would fall on his waist, knowledge he’d gained playing the opposite role. Instead, Erik’s hands fell on his hips and gripped the curve of his hipbones. Taken by surprise, Chris drew in a breath as his nerves combusted from the contact, not expecting the sensuous touch. When Erik drew his hands up to his waist, the electricity coursing through him was too much to bear. He whirled out of his grip without thinking, as if pushing away an unwanted advance—and broke the choreography.
Frowning, he mentally berated himself, doubt clouding his mind. He should have expected the touch to be romantic, should have been prepared. When he looked back at Erik, a line appeared between the man’s brows and his face was rigid. Chris’s body went cold. The dancers on the floor eyed him with amused looks as he twirled a single pirouette to transition back to the proper steps. His head throbbed as he continued the dance. Dammit.
The pair reached the end transition, and Chris slumped to the ground as choreographed. He winced, agonized, and it wasn’t a part of his theatrics. Breaking the choreography was the ultimate sin of ballet, the worst insult he could have given Erik.
The song ended and he returned to his seat away from the dance floor, still cringing, as Erik strode to the next dancer and the pianist restarted from the top. Some dancers smirked, making him want to vanish right then and there.
Once each dancer had their turn, Erik stood before them. “Merci, all, for your time. I will come to a decision on Ledo today, and the manager will call you with results tonight.”
Some dancers approached Erik to thank him for his instruction, for the opportunity. Chris scrambled up and rushed from the room, not looking back.
The voice inside Chris was crueler than ever as it shouted at him: failure. Again and again. Some days, he could fight the voice, but today, he was as vulnerable as a worm in the beak of a bird.
With heavy steps, he returned to his tiny hotel room, to the window with only a view of the brick wall next door. He paced, grabbing his phone and blasting Led Zeppelin, his favorite band. All he could think about was going home as soon as possible. There, he could curl up in bed for days, forget his humiliation. As Robert Plant wailed, Chris opened the dresser drawers, pulling out his clothes. Every item was black or gray, mostly band-related shirts.
Chris’s eyes burned as he swore with frustration. Maybe he’d never belonged to ballet to begin with. Suppressing his tears, he began packing his luggage, trying not to replay his error in his mind. He hadn’t booked a return flight, just in case he was chosen. But now all he wanted was an immediate escape.
Led Zeppelin faded out, replaced by his ringtone.
He could only assume Kevin had heard about his blunder. He didn’t want to talk right now, didn’t want to get a drink and revel over Kevin’s success. When he glanced at the phone, though, it wasn’t his friend’s number calling. It was a London number.
He answered. “Hello?”
“Mr. Harper?” a voice asked.
“Yes? This is he.”
“Hi. My name is Nathan. I’m the manager of Swan Song.”
Chris flinched. “Oh, hi.”
“Thank you for coming to the second tryout today.”
“Yes, thank you for having me,” he replied as he eyed the luggage sadly.
“I know it was a difficult audition,” Nathan went on. “But it’s only because this role is very important to the production. Erik said this is the most pivotal role he’ll ever choose, in fact. Ledo has to be perfect. You know, he poured his whole heart and soul into creating this show.”
“Hmm,” Chris said, fidgeting with the hem of his shirt, struggling to pay attention to Nathan over his own berating inner voice.
Nathan talked more about how Erik developed the choreography, words that flowed in and then out of Chris’s ears. “Erik and Johan had time to go over the roles this evening,” the man said, catching his attention. “And I wanted to let you know that Erik has chosen you for the role of Ledo.”
“What? Who?” Chris asked. He must have misheard.
“He’d like you to be Ledo.”
Chris’s heart jolted and he blanked. The logic wasn’t there. He’d failed today’s dance, no question about it. Erik had hardly looked at him during the audition. In fact, he’d looked pissed off.
“Are you sure you have the right name? My name is Chris... Chris Harper.” Maybe another dancer had the same first and last name. He’d known a Chris Harper in high school. It wouldn’t be the first time.
Nathan laughed. “Yes, that’s right.”
“Uh… I’m… Ledo?”
“Yes. Would you be interested in accepting the role? We’ll need you to show up for practice tomorrow, to figure out the logistics, as I understand you’re from Seattle. Your calendar will need to be clear until mid-December. There will be some traveling…”
Chris gasped, his head spinning. This was happening too fast. He needed time to process. “Oh. Oh! I…I am free. Free all year.” He took a breath. “Geez. Thank you. Thanks. I’ll be right there in the morning. I’ll do my best!”
Nathan laughed again. “Whoa, okay. I’ll run you through the schedule first. Our tour is scheduled pretty differently than typical ballet tours. We premiere at the Royal Opera House, and then have two shows at Palais Garnier in Paris. Our last show is in New York, at the Metropolitan Opera House. We’ll rehearse for several weeks between shows because Erik wants to ramp up techniques after each showing. Every morning…”
His voice faded out as Chris’s mind raced. The Met! Palais Garnier! Royal Opera House! The stages of his dreams. It was odd to spend such a long time between shows for a limited run, not to mention the cost of staying at each location, but he was too overjoyed to dig deeper into the reasoning for changing up each show.
When Nathan finished and the two said goodnight, Chris stood in the hotel room with his band shirts strewn around, Led Zeppelin once again pounding through the air.
He was no genius; he was a late blooming dancer from Seattle with serious stage fright. He loved ballet even if he was always in the corps—one of the many background dancers in matching outfits.
And now he’d dance in the Royal Opera House. Palais Garnier. The Met.
He was going to be Erik’s partner.
Swaying, he grew dizzy. The room blurred away and he broke into happy tears as he clutched his hammering heart. Once he calmed down enough to think, a question floated through his mind.
Why did Erik choose him despite the mistake he made?
His phone buzzed again; this time it was a call from Kevin. When Chris picked up, he was bursting at the seams to tell Kevin the news and for once, he had something to celebrate tonight.