“So,” Ms. Adair said, letting the word hang in the air for a while, suspended on the tension. “Welcome to the last audition of your Janus career.” There was some scattered murmuring and a few weak claps until you let out a jubilant howl that got the whole room laughing.
“Thank you, Diego,” Ms. Adair said with a slightly annoyed smile. “This is a cause for celebration. You’ve all come incredibly far in your training, and now is your chance to show it off.” She drew in a dramatic breath that seemed to pull an invisible string through her spine, raising her up a few inches. Her skin was almost translucent, the veins weaving like wires over the muscles in her arms and legs. When she wore all black, which was most of the time, it gave her the look of an extremely toned vampire.
Sofia Adair had been a principal dancer with New York City Ballet and had taken over the department hell-bent on making Janus competitive with her own alma mater, the company’s feeder school. (The reason she didn’t just teach there, according to gossip, was a stormy affair with a fellow principal dancer that had ended badly and led to a falling-out with ballet master Peter Martins.) She liked to constantly remind us that we were “dancing uphill” as far as professional recruitment was concerned.
“We’re going to be brutal today,” she said. “If we see something that needs work, we’ll tell you, because our goal for May is across-the-board flawlessness.” Ms. Adair glanced at me as she said that last word, drawing it out in a hiss like water on a hot pan, and I instinctively sucked in my stomach and drew back my shoulders. They were, I’d been repeatedly told, “problem areas” that I needed to “work on lengthening.” In ballet-speak, that meant thin out. But I was built like my mom, a high school track star, tall and strong, all muscle except for the places my grandma awkwardly called my “womanly parts.” Sometimes it felt like the only thing that could make me rise in my teachers’ esteem was to reduce myself. That didn’t seem right. It didn’t seem fair.
I looked over at Mr. Dyshlenko, crammed onto a folding chair by the piano, and caught him subtly but unmistakably rolling his eyes. He was a former member of the Bolshoi Ballet who looked like an angry, aging Ken doll and who liked to yell at people for being too perfect. “Dance is about expressing the passion of the human spirit!” he had told us one time when we got paired for a sophomore recital. “You’ve got to have blood in your veins to move, so feel it pulsing! You should look like tortured lovers, not robots! If I want to look at robots I can watch the E! channel.” But I hardly ever got to take class with him; he was mainly dedicated to training the boys or working on the Showcase pas de deux. Since Ms. Adair was my advisor and the teacher for Pointe as well as Ballet 7 and 8, the highest-level classes Janus offered, I mostly worked with her. I knew this was supposed to make me feel lucky, but I didn’t feel lucky. Ms. Adair demanded surgical precision. She liked her dancing bloodless.
“We know what you’re capable of by now,” she went on, taking her sweet time walking in a slow circle around the room, her slippers landing soundlessly on the shiny hardwood floor. “We’ve all had a chance to teach you intimately, and we know your technical strengths and weaknesses. Today is about showing us what you want to do. That’s the reasoning behind the free dance format of the audition. We want to see who you really are as a dancer so that we can place you in the best role to fit your talent.”
If I’d had anyone to talk to, I would have whispered, Bullshit. But I didn’t, and anyway, there wasn’t time. Ms. Adair clapped her hands together and gestured to Mr. Stratechuck, who winked at us and started playing the theme from Jaws as she walked back to her seat. The teachers clicked their pens and rustled their notebooks, the nervous whispers faded to a dead silence, and then, just like that, it was happening. Something like fate, and I had a front-row seat.
? ? ?