w — swearing.
arabesque [air-uh-BESK] : a position where the body is supported on one leg, with the other leg extended directly behind the body.
Under the great, aching emptiness of winter’s cradle, the City of Angels ruffles the night from her feathers and begins to unfurl her wings for the day — the morning-hazy pinnacles of skyscrapers soaring up to pierce that glassy dome, frost prickling and glistening on street berms as it melts under the rising sun, and cars inching slowly along highways in the eight o’clock jam, windscreens smudged in half-attempts to wish the fog away. It’s cold enough to bite the hands of commuters, not quite cold enough to snowstorm like the northern states. Another day is just awaking, but for me, and the hundreds of other people arriving for the California Grand Prix semi-finals, the mercy of a restful darkness dissolved hours ago. The theatre lobby is as jammed as the highways, and I’m lost in the crowd, jumping up and down as I search for my partner. I know he’s here, somewhere, because he’s always ten minutes early to everything. Shoulders brush past; jackets zip and unzip; words go up and down and left and right, and keep pulling my vision out of focus. And then I see him at last, standing tall and graceful, his hands tucked neatly inside his sweater sleeves.
“Mako!” I flop my sleeves at him.
His gaze finds me, and his face lights up. “Eva!” He waves back excitedly with his sweater paws. When I reach him, we just bat at each other with our sleeves for a moment, like idiots. “Ready?”
“More than ready.” I bounce around him, and he smiles down at me. My body is buzzing like that one time I accidentally drank three shots of coffee and rocketed around the entire day, except this morning I had just one bitter espresso; it’s the movement, the crowd swirling around me, the volume rolling and pitching in feverish waves as troupes gather and mothers wish good luck, the tension, the excitement, the electricity of the second most important day of the year, everything, everything sparking under my skin. It’s compulsive, this energy. I embrace my partner, and he steps back in surprise, a tiny exhale leaving his chest, before he softens, and carefully wraps his arms around me.
“Are you cold?”
I nuzzle my face into the warm knit of his sweater. “No, I just like hugging you.”
“Oh.” Mako’s eyebrows pull together in that cute way he does when he’s confused, then gently rests his chin on top of my head. Amongst all the cacophony, his heartbeat is steady.
Misha and Sasha stumble upon us a couple minutes later, rosy-cheeked in the early morning light, and we work through the crowd to a side door. Backstage is just as chaotic — one hundred competitors squeezing into the dark corridors and dressing rooms, turtlenecked in their studio brands, sparkling tutus and expensive makeup boxes slung from their arms, sneaking other troupes judgements as they pass. When we finally hassle our way to the LAAPA dressing room, and close the door behind us, the pressure is lifted from my shoulders. The little room is peaceful, draped in blueish shadows and glowing softly by lightbulbs around the mirrors. We tuck our duffle bags into the corners, change into our troupe costumes, scatter makeup across the counter. Darcy arrives with our solo tutus. I perch on a stool, stretching out my pointe shoes, and watch the boys. Misha finishes his makeup in an astonishingly short time, so he turns to his best friend.
“Chin up.” Misha taps the brush against his temple.
Mako tips his head back and smiles. “This reminds me of when we first met.”
“Hey, yeah, it does. Good times.”
“Did you guys meet at a competition?” I say curiously.
“Gucci, Milan Fashion Week, last July.” Misha dusts foundation powder with an easy flick of his wrist. “I’m a makeup artist, when I’m not being a pretty boy. My grandfather designs for Gucci, so he nabbed me a gig. I was assigned to you for the… final show, yeah?”
“Are you guys models?” I observe Misha in the mirror as he works. It’s quite common for dancers to bleed into the modelling industry — they are parallel, after all, the art of delicate bodies.
“Signed to the same agency, baby.” He reaches over for a brow pencil. “I prefer to be the artist, not the muse, but sometimes I might be cast for runway, or catalog. Gucci model all the way, you see.”
“Brands cast models to their aesthetic. I’m a street rat looking kid. Gucci’s weird. Out of the box. Not what people might call beautiful.”
“You are beautiful,” Mako says seriously.
“Thanks, dude.” Misha twinkles, and pats him on the shoulder. “Now, Hayashi is an Armani model. Tall and muscular. A long face, masculine, a classical bone structure.” He frames Mako’s face. “This is the portrait of a handsome, elegant gentleman. The face of luxury. That’s the branding and market of Giorgio Armani. Does that make sense?”
“My mother signed the contract to Elite Management when I was sixteen,” Mako explains, his eyelids fluttering closed, as Misha leans in with the shadow. “She thought it would be beneficial for my appearance, and my family has a long-standing partnership with Armani. I tend to do campaigns and runway for them, rarely for other brands. It was lucky coincedence we met that day, and learned we were going to the same academy in California.”
“I do love Armani’s latest ready-to-wear collection,” Sasha contemplates. “The silhouettes are simply exquisite, timeless as ever…”
Within seconds, I lose track of what she’s talking about. I don’t know anything about high fashion. The only things that brew to mind with Armani are ridiculously expensive suits and Mako’s cologne. I cradle my chin in my palm and gaze at my partner’s reflection. The soft hollows of his cheeks, the pearly luster of his skin, the arched wings of his collarbones that sweep into the broadness of his shoulders and fold down into the lean muscles of his arms — I see it, what Misha is talking about.
“Eva,” Misha says after a while, and I jolt, my gaze flashing up to meet his reflection. “Shouldn’t you be doing your makeup?”
My elbow slips. A hairspray can ricochets away, and everyone glances around at the metallic bang. Right. Yes. What the fuck am I doing? I scramble to retrieve the hairspray from the floor, hiding my burning cheeks from Misha. He’s laughing at me silently. I rub at my sore elbow, zip open my makeup bag, and furiously avoid Mako’s curious gaze. My arsenal is drugstore lipsticks and cracked blushes, mascaras with expiry dates that have long rubbed away, desert-dry liquid eyeliners that I keep in hope of pressing just a little more ink out of. Eleven years I’ve been applying stage makeup, and I’m still terrible at it. It’s not helpful that I never wear makeup; the sea and the studio would wash it all away, and I like my freckles, one for each salted summer day. So it’s with reluctance that I paint on a suffocating layer of foundation, smoky eyeshadow, black wings, and obnoxious red lipstick. Next to me, Sasha is drawing a perfect cat eye, her lips pursed in concentration, even prettier than usual. I look like a racoon in drag. Whatever. The point of this is to make sure my face doesn’t get washed out from the stage lights.
Ten minutes later, Sasha clasps my face, calls me an idiot sandwich, and fixes up what she can. Then, we head into the storm of backstage. It’s actually the second day of regionals — juniors, the dancers under fifteen years old, competed yesterday. The troupe division is first, kicking off the competition at nine o’clock. Fifteen minutes. The stage managers are rushing around, earpieces clipped to their collars, already harried. I press myself against the corridor edge as they push and pull the troupes into order. Fragments of a magnified voice, as the stage door opens and closes. Glimpses of music through the concrete. Snatches of clapping. My stomach rolls over. The line shunts along. Sasha smooths and smooths her skirt beside me. The shadows are thick in the wings, dust and sweat and rosin, pooling silent and heavy in the folds of the curtains. And there it is, the bright, hot stage lights burning the audience into nothing but a thousand faceless figures, the troupe taking position, and so it begins.
Continue reading “en pointe — chapter 8: arabesque”