In a hurry, dread curdling his stomach, Chris headed to the studio.
Studio A was filled with chatter. Johan and Nathan stood, coffees in hand, ready to watch. Much to Chris’s horror, they weren’t alone. Other dancers were present for the spectacle, all seated against the wall, including Kevin, who grinned at him. Erik stretched at the barre, already razor-focused, his jaw tense. He didn’t seem nearly as emotional as Chris had expected. It occurred to him then this wasn’t the first time Erik was forced to defend his role. Just another day in the life of a top dancer.
“Erik, you want to go first?” Johan called out. “We should get this out of the way to resume rehearsals.”
With a serious, almost grim, face, Erik parted from the barre and walked to the middle of the floor. On cue the pianist started “Odetto’s Love.” Fast cascading notes that pulled the heartstrings filled the room. This was when Odetto displayed his love for Ledo in a solo.
Erik went into the opening moves in his signature smooth way, effortless gliding and whirling. So far, it seemed his left leg didn’t affect him. He had the magnetic power required for the role of a phantom who seduced Ledo with the power of love and bravery.
Chris’s heart burned with desire watching Erik add in a masterful grand jeté, seeming to float and land without weighing an ounce. It was textbook perfection. Erik’s dancing wasn’t just technique. There was something about the execution that couldn’t be explained, but it made his eyes mist.
When Erik finished in the pose of Odetto extending his hand to Ledo—in this case, Chris—everyone broke into applause. Some dancers were watery-eyed, staring at him with admiration. Erik breathed heavily as he walked to the other side of the room to grab his water bottle, his brows knitted as if unhappy.
“Very nice, Erik,” Johan remarked. “Graceful…as always. Chris? Your turn.”
Chris walked forward with dread. Going after Erik was a curse. As soon as he stepped to the center of the room, the rendition began.
If he did exactly what Erik did, he was doomed. No one could outdo a dance of Erik’s own creation that he had spent countless hours perfecting. A thought occurred to him, and he made a split-second decision—break the choreography again, this time, on purpose.
Chris leapt into a triple tour en l’air rather than the single choreographed—knowing it was the spin Erik struggled with in his injured state. He grew lightheaded with elation as he landed it, perfectly. Confidence swelled his chest. As he danced, he chose a few more moments to add extra spins.
When he dared to cast a glance at Erik, the man was glaring at him, arms crossed. Chris shut his eyes to focus. He understood his weakness. He still lacked the years and extreme flexibility Erik possessed to perfect each technique within the slower movements. Yet the faster tempo of this dance complemented his cardio tolerance level. He was younger than Erik, still in his prime: stronger, faster, with zero injuries and better stamina. It wouldn’t be enough to beat him. Chris had to break some rules, continue with his improvisation streak. He stalled in his thoughts. Did he want to do better than Erik?
As he danced, his body was a magnet, pulling the music to him and around him. He controlled the music and the music did not control him. These were the moments when he knew he was moving right. When he flowed in accordance with his instinct and the atoms forming his body all rang together. Everything clicked, the body moving to express in the oldest, most raw form of language known to man. Through dance, Chris conveyed what he couldn’t with words.
He was no longer insecure, anxious Chris—he was a gladiator knocking down his own limitations. He was really dancing to win, wanting to take away Erik’s Odetto.
Was he so selfish? Wasn’t it enough that he was Ledo?
No, he thought.
Growing up, he was invisible. His twin sister Tina hadn’t inherited any anxiety. She was the outgoing, charming one everyone noticed while he, Chris, hid behind her. But when he danced, he wanted to be seen. With ballet shoes on, Chris wanted to shine even brighter than Erik. Because… why not?
He added a few leaps. For going attitude, he balanced on one leg, lifted the other high before turning to pose and pirouetting once more. He ended in the same final pose, his hand pointed at Erik.
I am greedy, he thought.
Erik looked away with fury. There was no clapping. For Erik’s dance, people had been awed. For Chris, they seemed breathless, dizzy. Finally, Kevin huffed out a sigh. “Damn,” he said.
And then people began applauding with stunned expressions. Chris breathed heavily, sweat trickling down his forehead.
“That was…interesting,” Johan said, adjusting his glasses. “But it was memorable. You have a sense of flair, which I think is also passion. Watching you, I remembered that Odetto is actually a powerfully passionate character. He has to be in order to chase and save Ledo. This is the fire that Odetto needs—what Swan Song needs.”
Nathan nodded. “I think the press would certainly write about this dance. People who view Swan Song want a break from the old traditional ways. It’d make a splash.”
Chris blinked away the sweat. “You mean…”
“Will you be Odetto, Chris?” Johan asked.
His heart thundered through his ears, and he thought his ribs might split open.
He wanted to say Erik should remain as Odetto.
“Yes. Yes, I will,” he heard himself say. When he looked back with fear, Erik had already left the room.