en pointe — chapter 12: fouetté

w swearing. check out the synopses page if you need a refresher for the story!

fouetté [ fweh-tay ] : “whipped”, the quick whipping action of a dancer’s leg or body. 


7:23.

The light entering through the bathroom window is soft and grey: it is just before dawn, and the clouds are heavy, cumulonimbus, gathering low around the skyscrapers, cupping the last rains of spring before they shimmer away into the summer. Normal days, I never awake before first light, because waking me up before the sun is basically a crime, but excitement kicked me seven minutes before my alarm. I turn the tap clockwise. The water hits the ceramic in a smooth hiss, and the tiny droplets begin to sparkle as the sun begins to rise. I cradle my hands underneath, let the clear water eddy in my palms, and splash the coolness over my face.

Four days. Eight performances. Morning class, the afternoon shows beginning at three o’clock, the night shows at seven o’clock. Romeo & Juliet brushes just past the two hour mark, so I’ll be back at the dorm late. Darcy says this arrangement mimics the proper company seasons, except the seasons are way longer and might present several different ballets; forty-eight shows, perhaps more, unfolding straight after another. In just months, this will be my reality. I imagine it: a tiny New York apartment full of battered pointe shoes. Street cart coffee in paper cups. Snow gathering on the fire escapes. Mako’s arm brushing mine as we explore his city. I blink water droplets out of my lashes. The many times I’ve dreamt, this is the first time I’m not alone. How strange. New York Presidential Ballet. There are two others. Brooklyn Heights Ballet; second. San Francisco Ballet, here on the West Coast, the third most prestigious company. There was a time when the word NYPB urged a restless fire in my chest, but now… I frown at my reflection. She turns the tap off.

I shoulder my duffle bag and head to the café, which is silent and blue in the dawn, broken only by the stirring of newspapers. Piper is still in bed, so I sit in our corner alone. Cold oats and coffee. A message from Mom, who gets up at seven in the morning to let our dog into the garden, him running joyfully among the seagulls fishing in ebb-tide sands for clams, beating the sky in a furious burst of wings. Best of luck, love, we’re all so excited to see you! and a minute later, send my wishes to your partner, too. I’m picking hydrangea. I picture the flowers in front of our house: pale blue, dripping from the morning rain. He will love them.

People are warming up in the studio. Five or six. I slow in the doorway. Someone has put Saint-Saëns on, Le Cygne, and the cello hums aching and romantic through the new light. My partner is at the barre. Floating in the music, yet to notice my arrival. Even in a simple port de bras, he’s beautiful: his right leg sweeping from first position to arabesque, his arms gliding along to the piano, his shoulders and wrists arching with all the elegance of hollow-boned wings. I rest my head against the doorframe. The beauty of him is inexplainable to me. Of course, he would say one-eighty degrees and symmetry and unbroken lines, because to him everything in life can be dissected into mathematical equations, but there’s also that glow, the deep thought gathering his brows; and when he catches sight of me, it’s the smile, the smile that breaks upon his face like the moon appearing behind a passage of clouds.

I rocket into his arms. A laugh escapes his lungs, startling the morning air. He’s warm, and his lips touch gently to my forehead. Good morning. I squeeze his waist and gaze up happily. “My mom says good luck,” I tell him, “and that my family can’t wait to see you.”

Mako twinkles. “That’s very kind of her.”

Continue reading “en pointe — chapter 12: fouetté”

en pointe — chapter 11: pas de deux

w — swearing + homophobic slur + strong sexual references (nothing explicit). 

pas de deux [ pawh du duh ] : “step of two” , partnering.


The pieces of the morning drift together in the lazy, unhurried way mornings like to do: sunlight, gentle and new across my back. A swallow singing in her nest above my window. The warmth of another heart beside mine. Palm leaves rustling and whispering against the glass. A mellow and even breath against my temple. The hiss of engine brakes along the dusty street below. The weight of Mako’s arm draped loosely over my waist. Our legs tangled together. My head resting on his shoulder. I peek at him. He’s still asleep. Porcelain, in the morning light. A Greek statue, handsome and divine for eternity, if not for the steady rise and fall of his chest. I stretch and twist and pleasure in the pip-pop of my joints, reaching out to the very tips of my fingers. The temperature is just right—like floating in a summer sea—so I lay somewhere between the soft quilt and cradle of his body and dreams and waking. There’s no need to break the spell. I haven’t awoken like this since the last break at home, in my childhood bedroom with the blue sea glass lined up on the sill and the cockle shell windchime tinkling in the garden. Even though I’ve been here for five months, winter blanched the concrete of the academy dorm cold, and it’s never quite comfortable. It’s never home. I brush my hand across Mako’s cheek, and he shifts, his consciousness glimmering. I nuzzle into him happily as his eyelids flutter open. “Good morning.”

He smiles sleepily, and lightly nudging his forehead against mine, murmurs, “Don’t you have a test?”

“Motherfucker!”

I rocket upwards. I grab around the bedsheets and search for my phone wildly. The digits blink at me offensively. 8:53. A missed call from Sasha. “Shit, shit shit!” How the fuck did I sleep through the alarm? I leap off my bed and shoot into the bathroom. I splash cold water on my face—gasp at the shock—and tug a brush through my hair. My elbow smacks into the ceramic sink and I utter a fresh stream of curses. The half-rolled tube of toothpaste topples to the floor. I leave it there. I don’t even change. Pajama party calculus test, I don’t care. When I dart back out, Mako’s sitting up and leaning back into his arms, narrow-eyed in the bright light, a laugh playing around his mouth.

“What time is it?” He raises his hand to block the sun, his words softly blurring together.

“Almost nine, so I gotta run. Catch up on your precious beauty sleep.” I lean down to pat his head and he pushes at me gently.

“Shut up and get to class, Eva.”

“Fine, fine! See you later.” I quickly kiss his forehead, catch his smile begin to glow in surprise, grab my pencil case, and then dash through the door. Wait. Did I just-

Luckily, I manage to make it to classroom just before the test begins. I glance around—half the class is in this room, and none of my friends—and fly into an empty chair. The calculus teacher pauses in giving me the paper to raise an eyebrow. I just breathe out a sigh in relief. The moment of ease is shattered when I click my pen and turn over the first page. I try to remember how Mako explained the equations last night, and not the way we had nestled together, or the way I could feel his lean muscles under the knitted sweater. No. Stop thinking about him.

The test is over in an hour, and to my immense surprise, I feel like I haven’t completely bombed it, unlike every maths test ever. The second class is English, so I head straight to the co-working space with pajamas and messy hair. Piper and Sasha are sitting at our table in the back. The latter looks refined as always—I already know she’s gotten the top mark in class—but Piper looks a little frazzled, which makes me feel slightly better about my disheveled state. She sneaks me something wrapped in brown paper that turns out to be a zucchini muffin.

“I thought you might be cutting it fine with studying,” she whispers.

“Thanks, Pipes.” I hug her, and devour the muffin cold. The English teacher plays the film we have been analysing for the past couple of classes. It’s Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet, which I only half listen to because the story is quite as ridiculous as the ballet. Instead I think of my partner, who must have awoken and gracefully departed my dorm by now, doing whatever he does when everyone else is struggling in high school academics; listening to his Harvard lectures, frowning in that deep concentration which creases his brow. Misha arrives and slips along the wall as discreetly as one can do in hot pink cat-emblazoned trousers.

Sasha looks him up and down. “Solano, why are you wearing Hello Kitty pajama pants?”

Misha juts out his hip. “It’s called fashion, sweetie, look it up.”

“They’re super cute pants!” Piper says enthusiastically, and then gives him a stern look. “You didn’t get any sleep, did you?”

“Wrong. I got a very healthy ten minutes.” He yawns very healthily and sprawls onto the bench. “My brain is actually fucked, dude. Why don’t you look as dead as I feel, Eva?”

“Mako was helping me last night.”

He is suddenly awake. “What time?”

“Until like… three. We slept together. No,” I say hastily, when Piper splutters on her water, “we fell asleep together. We didn’t even kiss or anything! I mean, why would we- I don’t even like-”

“You like his abs,” Sasha points out.

Misha saves me. “No way,” he says incredulously. “His sleep schedule is from nine-thirty to six.”

“Well, he was rather grumpy.” I tap my chin. “It was cute.”

He studies me, clear and curious. “No. I mean he doesn’t let anyone mess up his schedule.”

I blink. And shrug. People keep saying my partner should be doing this or that, and I neither know or care about why they expect certain things from him. I wonder if Misha will say anything more, but the English teacher hushes us, so he merely smiles to himself in a knowing sort of way.

Romeo and Juliet die, the credits roll, and we’re meant to begin working on our film analysis essays for the rest of class. Sasha examines the pages of notes she had been scribing throughout the film. I ignore my nonexistent notes and turn. “Pipes, have you found a nice place for your birthday?”

“South Coast Botanic Garden.” Piper perks up. She’s been searching for cherry blossoms, a rarity in the city. “It’s in Palos Verde.”

“I’ll drive,” Misha says brightly. He likes driving the off-peak highways of Los Angeles, the top of his crimson Ferrari down. “Forty minutes from here. I know the place well.”

***

Continue reading “en pointe — chapter 11: pas de deux”

en pointe — chapter 10: entrelacé

w — swearing + mild sexual references.

entrelacé [ ahn-truh-la-SAY ] : ‘interlaced’


The world is nothing but light and shadow, flickers of white glowing through glass and shadows pooling in corners, tangible things dissolving, blurring, time losing her measure. The only moment of clarity is a little lemon tree: potted and jade-leafed, bearing fruits of a thin and bitter yellow rind, and I focus all my will upon it.

“Stop.”

Studio B settles quietly into existence again as my rotation slows and I face my partner. He’s watching me, hands clasped neatly behind his back.

“Your central axis is perpetually leaning forward, it’s going to make you fall. You’re throwing yourself too much into the torque.”

My chest heaves in the fight for oxygen. “I need the momentum.”

“Well, control that momentum. Restrain yourself, or the pirouettes will control you.”

Easier said than done. Ballet is beauty, in the articulated defiance of physics and natural limits that always seek to bring the human body crashing back to earth. My instinct is always to push that delicate balance, to reach beyond, but I suppose he’s right. He always is, for technique. I measure a deep breath. Take a few steps back. He presses play on Ludwig Minkus, and I try again. One. Two. Three. My head snaps and whips around to spot the lemon tree, my pointe shoes thudding a rapid beat, and this time I try pulling back the force in my launches. Eighteen. Nineteen. Twenty. I stop—just before I crash into the other side of the studio. My hands drop to my knees. I squeeze my eyes shut, sweat dripping salt down my temples.

“Good.” Mako’s teaching voice melts into familiar, soft concern. “Are you okay, Eva?”

“Yeah.” My mind strays to the bottle of pills below my bathroom sink. “I’m just going to hurt like a bitch tomorrow.”

Under the gel pad and layers of tape and bandages, there’s a hot, sticky pain. It’s my toes bleeding into my shoe again, and before long will seep through the hard glue and card to stain the rosy satin. For fuck’s sake. Another pair I have to throw away early.

Mako hands me my towel and water bottle. I press the towel to my face, sopping up as much sweat as possible. The spring breeze drifting through the courtyard doors is just cool enough to be pleasant. I sigh at the faintest relief, and manage a smile at my partner. “Let’s take a break before Basilio.”

Inset amongst feathery desert yuccas and pavers burned white by summers is a shallow pool, the water dappling slowly under the shadows of swaying palm fronds, and the sun as she makes her languid way down the sky. It beckons me through the open doors, so I let the silky ribbons of my pointe shoes fall, around the blisters swelling raw and unforgiving on my feet; then I perch on the edge, and dip my calves in the cool water. It soothes the pain a little. Mako sits beside me, leaning back to watch the clouds drifting serene and untroubled across the evening. After a while I sense that his thoughts aren’t so, and I touch my fingertips to his cheek.

“I’m fine,” he answers with a smile. “Just a little tired.”

“You’re always tired,” I say gently. “Are you getting enough sleep? Nutrition?”

He lowers his gaze from the sky, and gives me a strange, careful look. “I suppose I’m always working, which is okay, but sometimes I feel… like I can never stop, and truly rest. It’s nice, spending these in-between moments with someone, with you.” The words spill from his lips, like he hadn’t quite meant to say it, and he draws himself up like a frightened bird, embarrassed. “I’m sorry. That’s-”

“That’s not a silly thing to say.” I rest my head on his shoulder. “Sometimes this gets lonely.”

The thing about ballet is that it takes everything. There’s no halfway, or meandering journeys. It needs you to obsess, to pour your heart out, to sacrifice your time and sanity and peace. Eleven years, I have never known a normal life. The friends I almost made in Malibu couldn’t understand why I was never free to hang after school, why I always turned down invites to wild parties for the dance studio instead, why I didn’t have a real boyfriend. Often, it feels like my family is the only lifeline to the beyonds of my world—and often, this is a world in which I dance alone.

He smiles, leaning closer, and gently touches his forehead to mine. The steady rhythm of his breathing stirs my lips, and warmth blossoms in the center of my body, sweet and yearning; then his breath catches, and he turns away from me. Something eclipses the pink light of his face as he closes his eyes, his brows gathering into a frown, and steadies himself. “I’m glad we’re friends.”

“Oh!” My heart skips a beat. “Me too.”

There’s a pause in which I bite my lip, dazed, confusion beating at my thoughts. Wait. What just happened? Was he about to- Mako flicks his hand through the water and the coolness peppers my cheeks. I gasp. Splash back at him. His laughter is bright, just as the droplets that flicker gold in the air.

***

Continue reading “en pointe — chapter 10: entrelacé”

en pointe — chapter 9: développé

warning — swearing + mild sexual references.

développé [ dayv-law-PAY ] : “to develop”, a movement where the working leg is drawn up and extended to an open position.

A C T   I I   —   F A L L

The latter half of the year begins as surely and gracefully as a well-rehearsed variation—the sun ripples in sweet, golden, palm-frond waves across the east corner of the academy café, our little unspoken corner, until at roughly eight o’clock Misha slips into the pool of sunlight and sinks into his unspoken seat at the leather booth. Mako soon follows with two bitter cups of meandering steam, maybe espresso or matcha for himself and macchiato with oat milk for Misha, and they spend a quiet moment together before Sasha arrives to kickstart their daily quota of arguments. By the time I descend sleepy-eyed from my dorm, alongside Piper, and nestle comfortably beside my partner, the café is humming with the morning news and caffeine, at least one literary debate is concluded, and breakfast is spread warm and inviting upon the table. I peel a clementine, discard the spiraled skin and white pith, and drizzle honey on the orange-gem segments; the flaky croissant melts on my tongue, and the sense of contentment washing over me is enough to quiet the faint, buttery guilt.

“Eva, there are crumbs on your face.” Mako leans in and brushes his thumb across my chin. I squeak happily through the croissant. My gaze catches on his neck. There are smudges of palest green scattered across his collarbones, bruises fading on the arch of his throat.

“Who gave you that?” I touch his neck interestedly, and he gently nudges my hand away.

“Someone I met at regionals.”

Misha blows lightly across his dark roast, twinkling in silver glitter and eyeliner. “I thought you didn’t let people give you hickeys.”

His smile slants. “The situation called for a little pain.”

“What are you guys whispering about?” Piper asks.

In the most unfortunate timing, I’m halfway through another bite of croissant, and choke. My spluttering coughs draw the attention of nearby tables, and he has the audacity to wear an innocent expression. Misha just takes a long sip of coffee. All that is seen above the rim of his cup is the high arch of his brows.

“Dirty things, Rozehart, cover your ears,” Sasha says, unimpressed. “Kingston, you were the only one in the troupe not to flounce away and copulate after the competition.”

Copulate.” Misha laughs.

“Shut up, Solano.”

“Really?” Now that I think of it, Vicky and Taylor were flirting around during lunch break, too. “I was kinda busy stressing about the competition. Besides, I can’t let boys distract me.”

I say the last part very firmly and quietly to myself. This semester, my focus must stay fixed upon the Grand Prix Finals, which is just over four months away. Winter break was precious little time to relax with my family, and now it’s back to work. I tell my friends about the past weeks; spent working at the local equestrian centre, fishing and diving in the cool, silvery ocean beyond my home, and a family hiking trip to Sequoia National Park where snow fell silently among the great redwood trees and whispered around the shifting edges of ice-glassed lakes.

Misha listens with keen interest. He notes down the names of the trails and waterfalls, and then describes his own holiday. “Every year, I fly back to Milan to spend Christmas with Alessandro and Paola- my grandparents. It was cold as fuck, so we knitted blankets by the fire and drank spiced mulled wine and it was excellent. Pipes?”

“Not much! I just worked in my mom’s bakery,” Piper shrugs, not unhappily. “It was really busy, we had a million orders for cakes. I’ll bring you guys some strawberry shortcake one day.”

A fine gold bracelet shimmers on Sasha’s wrist, and she shows us the tiny inscription, Amor Omnia Vincit—a present from Samuel, much to Misha’s approval. “I simply spent the festive season at home. I even helped make Christmas supper,” she says proudly. “Yorkshire puddings, and trifle for dessert. Before you say anything, Solano, it actually tasted good.”

“Is your house okay, though?” He asks sincerely.

She points a glittering gold finger at him. “I didn’t set anything on fire this time, pasta boy.”

“Mako.” I poke him. “Do you want to tell us about your break?”

He blinks, smiles, and nods. “Well… I returned to Japan. My family gathers together every Christmas at our estate. I worked in my father’s office for a few days, and got called in for several campaign and editorial shoots. Most of the time, I was babysitting my niece, Chiharu.” He taps through his phone and brings up a photograph—him, dressed in a winter coat, snow dusting his hair and cheeks blossoming, a little girl in his arms, three or four years old, who is waving her tiny mittens at the camera. She’s beaming, and his expression lingers. It takes me a moment. His smile isn’t pinned back by worry lines or tense reservation, but open and glowing, his face softer and younger than I’ve ever seen him.

“Oh, she’s adorable,” Sasha says tenderly.

I glance up at Mako, and the gentle light of his smile as he looks at the photograph is just the same. “Did you take time to rest?”

“It wasn’t work, looking after her. We visited the yuki matsuri in Sapporo. I don’t usually like venturing into winter, but she loves playing in the fresh snow, and the ice sculptures were beautiful. Her parents are always busy, so I…” He hesitates. “I want to make sure she isn’t lonely.”

I tuck my head under his chin and sigh. “You both look happy.”

Continue reading “en pointe — chapter 9: développé”

en pointe — chapter 8: arabesque

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.”

“Huh?”

“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”

en pointe — chapter 7: attitude

w — swearing. 

attitude [ah-teh-tewd] : a position where one leg is lifted, bent at 145 degrees. 


The twenty-fifth of November is one of those rare winter days that ache of summer; the sun is shining, the grass smelling sweet, and I join my mother and my sister to harvest our vegetable garden for dinner. Parsnips, carrots, and leeks, for Mom’s classic winter soup, the one that always warms me to the soul. There are sourdough loafs rising in the oven; the scent drifts from the open kitchen window. I think it might be my favourite scent in the world. I say that about many things, but it’s true, in this moment. I can’t wait until the loafs are pulled out, just before dinnertime, sliced through the golden brown crust, and I can melt a knob of butter on the warm bread. It will be hard reining myself to a single slice.

There are a couple of honeybees humming sleepily in the cornflowers, and one bumblebee is ambling around, a little confused. She keeps on bonking into petals, so I steady a stem, and after pollinating, she comes to rest in my palm. “Oh, hello.” I cup my hands. “Shouldn’t you be sleeping?” The bumblebee doesn’t reply, of course, but she lets me stroke her gently. They are the most friendly type of bee, always peaceful unless you really piss them off — and if so, they do this nice thing of raising one leg to warn you. Sure enough, when my dog comes trotting over and curiously nudges my hands, the bumblebee pulls a metaphorical middle finger at him. I gently move her to a flower before things turn messy.

“Señor Papperino, do you really want to get stung again?” He, this adorable idiot, tried to eat a bee when he was a puppy, and got stung on the nose. You would think that was clear enough of a lesson, but alas, he inherited Matias’s astonishing lack of common sense. Señor Papperino just wags his tail and plops down between my sister and I.

Fawn tells me about university as we unearth a fresh crop of onions. She’s in the second year of her Environmental Science degree, now, learning about fragile hydrological systems in the nearby National Parks. She tells me about her very helpful and very engaging tutor, and how she’s looking forward to the winter research trip he’s leading.

“I can’t believe you have a crush on your university tutor. That’s some straight up Wattpad shit. What do you think, Mom?”

She pretends not to hear my swearing. “How old is he?”

“Twenty four.”

“A four year gap is fine.”

“See.” Fawn nudges my leg. “Adrian’s not just a tutor. He’s a botanist, and a conservationist at Kings Canyon. Remember how beautiful it was, that summer? He really cares about the earth, Eva. The way he talks about preserving sequoia trees and…”

“And he’s like, hot as fuck, right?”

“Eva!” Mom reprimands.

I’m right, though, because Fawn’s cheeks blossom, and she throws an onion at me. I laugh, catch it, and roll it into the basket. That’s probably enough vegetables for tonight. I smooth the soil back down, brush the dirt off my hands, and lean back, enjoying the sun. Breathe in, and out. I fill my lungs with the fresh, salted air, til they almost burst, hoping it will last me through the city grey until another long weekend.

Mom pulls out a stubborn knot of weeds before she speaks again. “Are you ready for the exam?”

The annual ballet exam is just under a week away. “Yep! I feel pretty good about it. My partner’s been helping me lots with technique.”

“That’s nice of him. Is your Achilles holding up okay?”

“For now.” The past month, that worry has lingered at the back of my heel. If I push myself over the line, the injury could flare up again, but where that line is — it’s a fickle thing. “I just hope it won’t suddenly mess me up in the exam.”

“I’m sure you will do wonderful. You work harder than anyone I know. The things you achieve amaze me every single day.” Mom kisses my forehead, just like she did to tuck me into bed when I was younger, and when she withdraws, her eyes are a little sad. “I’m so proud of you, love. Even if that means I don’t get to see you much.”

“I know, Mama.” Something is stuck in my throat. “I wish the academy wasn’t so far away.”

She sighs, gathers up the basket of vegetables, and smiles in her reassuring mother way. “Well, I’m glad you’ve made such good friends this year. I rest easier knowing that you’re happy with them.”

***

Continue reading “en pointe — chapter 7: attitude”

en pointe — chapter 6: jeté

w — swearing.

jeté [zhuh-tay] : “thrown”, a leap from one foot to another.  


Twenty-five years ago, Dad says, was the time he escaped from the cold, unforgiving grasp of Bridgeport up north, and down into the sunny warmth of Los Angeles. He and Mom settled into a quiet cove of ocean and eucalyptus, to begin raising our little family, and found a small, scrappy lease in the city to begin his own kickboxing gym. Not in a trendy, expensive neighbourhood like the Arts District, but working class, to the west. There’s nothing like the gleaming, perfect, whitewashed million bucks of the academy; life grows here, wild and unchecked, dandelions peeking out from cracks in the sun-baked pavement, plaster fading and peeling off the edges of bungalows, pastel pinks and blues and lemons, grafitti and posters for local gigs that are now long echoes in the past, layered up over and over each other, many voices and fleeting stories in a language I can’t quite decipher. As I walk by colourful and tiny restaurants bursting at the seams, I catch a delicious hint of grilling pinchitos that Aunt Lilith likes to cook. A Pontiac rolls along the street with music blasting, windows cranked down and bass shaking the road, the guys inside singing off-tune at the top of their lungs. The imperfections and aged patina to it all would make the academy students screw up their noses, but Dad says he feels at home here, teaching the lively neighbourhood kids, and so do I.

Torres Muay Thai is one of my favourite places in the world. Two days a week, I liked to pop in and punch through a couple sparring sessions, maybe with my brothers or cousins. Now, my dance schedule means that I can’t travel around the sprawling city much, but every so often, I work in the time to wrap my knuckles in cloth, and train with Dad, like this Sunday, a golden evening in early October.

“Kid, watch your sides. Pull back the power of your strikes. You’re always so intensely focused on the offence, you lose sight of the big picture, and you leave openings in your defense.” Dad raises his fists. “Try again.”

I wipe the sweat off my forehead, suck in a deep breath, and reset my stance. And then I strike again, with my elbow, my knee, the eight points of my body. He dodges and counter-strikes as easily as water, years and years of Muay Thai running in his veins as naturally as blood. I let my senses and reflexes guide me through the fight. It’s several minutes, maybe five, before I almost catch his shoulder with a downward roundhouse kick, and he steps back, palms open.

Dad, stop letting me win!”

“If I wanted to win, this fight would be over in three seconds,” Dad points out calmly. “I’m not here to win, I’m here to teach you.”

I hate to agree, but good point. “Can I have a two minute break?”

He nods, and I grab my water bottle, taking a blessed moment to recharge. The water is silver for my parched throat. Kickboxing is just as tiring and painful as ballet can be, but I glory in the grit, because there’s no added pressure of having to be silent and pretty. It’s enjoyable, practising with Dad, without the real and bruising hits of sparring that I sometimes take part in, a great cross-training exercise for cardio and strength.

From another part of the gym, I hear Amaya’s triumphant voice. “You’ve gotten rusty, old man.”

I glance over to see Uncle Raphael with his hands on his knees, trying to catch his breath, and Amaya with her hands on her hips. My cousin comes here often, around her engineering studies and part-time modelling work. She’s tall and beautiful and very slender, and she likes to stay in shape by kicking ass, true to family tradition. I heard that when Lilith and Raphael were younger, they also trained intensively in Muay Thai with Mom and Dad, but settled into their quieter working lives as the years in California passed by.

“No shit,” Raphael wheezes. “And I’m not old. The disrespect I get from my own daughter.”

“Yes, respect your elders, Amaya,” Dad says. I laugh and we get a middle finger in our direction. And I wonder where I got my attitude from.

Continue reading “en pointe — chapter 6: jeté”

en pointe — chapter 5: piqué

w — swearing. 

piqué [pee-kay] : pricking, a quick and concise turn.


The sea’s always lived in my blood. If I search the depths of my mind for the oldest memories, the ones that drift like grains of sand, they’re of home, the beach that plays with the dandelion clocks in our garden year by year. If I sit very still, I can feel the first touch of the summer ocean, salt ebbing around my ankles, Mom grasping my hand. If I stay quiet long enough, I can hear her words. Listen. To the sea, and the way she breathes. The way the moon pushes her tides, how the wind pulls up her waves. Listen, and I’ll be safe and nurtured. The sea’s always more powerful, and for those who forget she can’t be controlled, she won’t hesitate to drown.

Peaceful days like today, when I can sense a friendly breeze, no storms on the horizon, I surf. Early evening, maybe the last Sunday before summer dissolves into fall. I gather with my siblings at Alec’s tiny hibiscus-painted flat near Venice Beach, unearth our surfboards from the back of his living room, tuck them under our arms, and race each other to the sea. It’s Matias who hits the waves first, whooping like an idiot, and I follow quickly, toes sinking into wet sand, before I slide onto the smooth timber of my shortboard. I paddle away from the beach until the only thing I can hear are the seagulls and surfers calling to each other. The gentle peak of each wave rolls underneath my board, and I wait, for the right one. When it comes, I take off and catch the wave just before it breaks, white water and sea spray, and I feel alive.

***

Monday mornings, Darcy leads us through dance history. The class is up to the nineties-era greats, the generation two steps ahead of ours — retired, now, given the short professional lifespan, yet the ballerinas we still dream to become.

“Now, who do you consider to be the icons of this generation? Hands up, please.”

“Svetlana Pominova,” Sasha says promptly. Heads turn, with abrupt intensity, yet she presses on. “Pominova is the youngest ever dancer to enter NYPB, at seventeen years old, and went on to become the greatest prima ballerina of her time.”

I picture her, very beautiful despite the grain of nineties videos, snowy and silvery, and tall, taller than I am, yet impossibly feather-light. I like watching her best in Giselle, a ghost whispering like icy mist across the stage. As perfect as her technique was, or as breathtaking as her cold grace was, however, her dancing always felt a little… emotionless, to me. A sacrifice of expression for perfection.

“Indeed,” Darcy replies, with a knowing sort of smile. “Pominova retired from the Presidential Ballet twenty years ago, but still, she is regarded as the pinnacle of beauty and technical mastery.” She folds her hands together delicately. “Who else?”

“Natalia Vishneva!” Piper pitches in.

“Ooh, yes.” I perk up, and we high five under the table. Vishneva is one of my favourites. The polar of Pominova, I think, bursting with so much energy and emotion like she can’t contain it, a dancer that sends thrills through you, makes you feel what her character is feeling, happiness and grief and everything in between.

“Vishneva is renowned for her turns, and her leaps, because her movements are like fireworks. And she’s small, but she manages to shine brighter, a million times bigger.” Piper sighs in reverence. “Amazing.”

I wonder if I will be like these ballerinas one day. I hope to. I want to. I strive to.

Continue reading “en pointe — chapter 5: piqué”

en pointe — chapter 4: relevé

w — swearing. 

relevé [re-luh-vay] : to rise, onto the tips of the toes. 


Boy, I hate pas de deux. It’s not that the class is super difficult; everyone is already quite experienced, so for the second session, we begin running through lifts. Fish dives, and shoulder sits, all fairly easy and ones I’ve practised many times before. Mako’s not even that bad of a partner. I can tell he’s being careful not to criticise me again, his grip feels assured, and strangely, he doesn’t seem to be struggling with my weight. He’s okay, when he’s not judging. And despite all of this, I can’t quite ignore my heart hammering in my chest, or the sweat prickling on my forehead. It only gets louder, harder to wipe away, when Darcy talks through the flying lift in Giselle. I’ve done this one before, too. Mako holds his hand out, waiting halfway like always. I stare to his right and press my palms against my ribs.

After a silent minute, he withdraws his hand, smooths it over his hair, and sighs deeply. “What’s wrong, Kingston?”

“Nothing’s wrong,” I scowl.

“Then why are you hesitating? I know this is a difficult lift, but-”

I clench my teeth. Pearly whites will be ground down to dust, if I keep going at this rate. “I’m not scared.”

He pauses. “I didn’t say you were.”

I focus on the dancers around me. Anything other than the silence pulling, longer and longer, between us. The soft thuds of feet as other pairs go through the motions of the lift. A piano score from Giselle, glittering lightly from the stereo. Vicky and Misha snapping at each other. Something about treading on toes.

“Alright,” Mako finally says. In the quiet of his voice there is softness. A note of sympathy. I want to smack him. “I understand if you’re scared of being dropped. We can take this slow, but you need to trust that I’m strong enough to lift you.”

“I’m not scared,” I repeat brusquely. Even to my own ears, I sound incredibly stubborn. “I can see that you’re ripped. I’m more worried about your intention.”

“Excuse me.” The concern in his gaze freezes over into black ice. “Are you seriously implying I would drop you on purpose?”

“Well,” I kick out wildly at this weak point in his calm, “that’s what your don’t get in my way bullshit sounded like!”

“I would never stoop as low as sabotage,” Mako says coldly.

“Yeah, and I’m supposed to take your word for it, am I?”

“I’m trying to help you.” He loses his patience. “You’re being extremely uncooperative, do you realise?”

“And you can fuck right off,” I snap.

“Kingston, Hayashi!” Darcy barks, and I jump. The whole class falls silent and stares. I didn’t realise how loud our voices had become. “Both of you, outside. Now.”

I follow her into the corridor without sparing Mako a look. The hallway is quiet, the tinkling of piano muffled, and although balmy summer sun pours in through the skylights, a pleasant breeze cools the depths. Darcy whips around to face us. For a petite lady wearing blossom earrings, she glares with such fierceness, I step back. “What are you two doing?” Darcy thunders. “Arguing like immature teenagers! You will be professionals soon, and a basic skill you require is to cooperate with your colleagues, no matter what differences there are. I expected better from both of you!”

Shame prickles across my skin, and I glance down at my shoes. Maybe I have been rather uncooperative.

“I didn’t pair you two just because you’re my best dancers. Pas de deux is not just who look beautiful together. The finest partnerships are those that grow, where the partners not only become greater artists together, but apart. Both of you,” she snaps her fingers at us, “are exceptional, but still young and flawed, and there is much you can learn from each other. However, you cannot do that if you keep bickering all the time!”

“Your weaknesses,” Darcy finishes calmly, “are each other’s strengths. Do you understand?”

I glance at Mako out of the corner of my eye. His brows are furrowed, but he inclines his head. I quickly look back at Darcy, who is staring at me severely. “Kingston?”

The words stick a little in my throat. “Yes, I understand.”

“Good. Learn to work together or I will switch you with Solano and Satterlee. Now, let us get back to class. I do not want to see you two fighting again.” She disappears into the studio with a final flare of her skirt.

Silence falls. Darcy’s voice thrums in my chest, over and over, like a heartbeat. How am I supposed to learn from Mako? I would rather suffer Vicky’s endless insults than give him the pleasure of critiquing me. And me help my competition? As if!

Continue reading “en pointe — chapter 4: relevé”

en pointe — chapter 3: assemblé

w — swearing. 

assemblé [a-sahn-blay] : to assemble, to join together the legs in a jump. 


The first Saturday of the semester is free, since modern dance class and troupe rehearsals haven’t begun yet, so I set out into the shimmering hot morning, earbuds firmly in place, and jump onto the Metro E Line. It’s a long, slow journey — taxi would be faster, but I can’t afford that shit — so I let the rhythmic sway of the train sliding through downtown, the flickering gold bars of sunlight across the seats, and my hour’s worth of music lull me into half-sleep. The train arrives at Santa Monica Station at eleven o’clock, and I barely have a minute to breathe in the salty air, looking wistfully towards the beach, before I’m enclosed in the 534 and fall into a stupor again. Amaya and Amir live just a few minutes away from this bus stop, with Alec and Sunny a little beyond in a tiny rented flat at Venice Beach. One weekend I’ll visit them, but not today.

I turn my head to watch the ocean sparkling, white edges of waves and tiny drops of jade flashing over deep blue. It’s in a good mood today, along with the clear, windswept sky. The glass shivers as the bus carves a wide turn along the Pacific Coast Highway, and rising from the waves as a pearly crescent of sand, Surfrider Beach comes into view. I straighten up, the sleepy hum of the bus dissolving. Just before the ocean frothes and crashes into the beach, I can pick out the specks of surfers bobbing up and down, waiting for the right curl. My favourite place in the world is right amongst them. As much as I love the studio and the stage, I love being with the ocean more, where I’m wild and free as the wind and sun and water.

Twenty minutes after I pass the surfers, and celebrity homes thin out into cliffside tussock, the bus slows down in front of my stop, an old, flaking bench under the dappled shade of an eucalyptus tree. I hop off with a shout of thanks to the driver. The scent that embraces me when my shoes land on the dry grass is home. Sweet, heavy eucalyptus baking under the sun, salty brine lofting uphill from the bay. Growing up here, the scent is ingrained, but after a week spent in the smoggy depths of Los Angeles, I feel a rush of new appreciation. My steps are light as I head down a narrow, dusty road. Every so often, a letterbox appears half-hidden in overgrown grass. I turn at the last one, and the quiet whisper of trees wrap around me. Peace. A three-note whistle sounds above me, and I look up to catch a golden-crowned sparrow flitting among the leaves. I missed this, the tranquil hymn of nature not yet disrupted by glass skyscrapers and glitzy mansions. It’s lucky my parents bought this ragged sliver of South Californian coast twenty-five years ago, along with a tiny ramshackle cottage, because there’s no way they could afford it today. I turn the last stretch of sandy driveway before the trees open up to a clearing. Home.

Continue reading “en pointe — chapter 3: assemblé”