To Tatyana A. Veselova,
the leader of our dancing ansamble,
a choreographer and ballet-mistress
and a wonderful dancer herself.
"Stand straight! Mademoiselles, remember that les ronds de jambes are performed in the position 'pointe', not 'flex'! Jammes, what are you thinking about? You should think about the toes of your left foot! Listen to the rythm! Alba, this is not the fifth position that you're standing in, this is I don't know what. Giry, - said Madame to her own daughter, - mind your heels! Now, the adagio again..."
It was a dancing lesson in the ballet school of the Grand Opera. The professor was Madame Giry herself, the theatre ballet mistress. The girls in the class were all about fourteen, nearing the graduation from school and the beginning of their work on stage. Conchita Alba, a Spanish lass who had recently arrived to Paris from Pyrenees, sighed and gripped the bar more tightly.
"Alba, don't hold the bar as if it were a life ring. It will hamper your movements," - said Madame who seemed to be completely oblivious to young Chita's feelings. And her feelings could be described in one word: frustration.
She was sent to the greatest theatre of Paris as the best young dancer in their duchy. She used to dance flamenco with the lively grace of a wild child of the South, catching instinctively the complicated sequences of movements. Chita was absolutely sure that she would be the most praised pupil and make a brilliant career almost immediately.
The reality turned out to be quite different. This old woman in her long, dark dress, always stern and never laughing, strict to the smallest mistakes, seemed not to acknowledge Chita's prowess at all. The dances in the Opera ballet were not as those that Chita was used to, and, in fact, they were quite boring. One perfect pose, another perfect pose, slow movements between... keep the whole body still, only one leg moving... Just boring, that's all!
To Chita Alba, who was considered apt in wild Spanish dances, all this 'ballet' seemed just a travesty of the very idea of dancing. Of course, the premiere danseurs onstage danced very gracefully and skillfully, Chita could appreciate that. But now, with all these 'classes', any possibility of solo dancing seemed very distant to her.
And this ballet mistress, Madame Giry! She could make everyone plunge deep into frustration.
* * *
"I'm sick and tired of it! - Chita cried and threw her ballet shoe across the room with a true Spanish temper. - 'Stand straight! Mind your heel!' - she mimicked Madame Giry's prononciation mockingly. - What are we supposed to be, marionettes? I tell you this is not dancing!"
"You'd better mind your tongue, Concepcion Alba, - said Meg Giry. Meg was 15 and was already considered a 'coryphee'. Nothing strange, Chita thought, for her mother was the ruler of the dancing world in the Opera. - Ballet is the very embodiment of dancing."
"Embodiment, my foot! - chuckled Chita. - Moving like frosen dolls, without freedom, without fire, every movement learned once and forever? If you want to know, Megan Giry, we in Spain consider dancing quite a different thing!"
Meg could keep her mask of authority, but it was evident that she was also rather tired of the monotonous lesson. As for the younger girls, they definitely showed their interest.
"And what kind of dances do you have over there?" - asked the most curious girl, Cecile Jammes.
"Oh, we dance under the stars! Our skirts are like flame, our scarfs fly, all our bodies move with the music! And the music, I tell you, - Chita saw that she definitely had the audience's attention, - the music is not like these boring pieces that Monsieur Baroux plays at the lessons. Our musicians play their guitars as if their instruments are made of fire! We are one with the movement, with the music, with the dance! We dance around fire, and our dance is like fire - that's why we call it 'flamenco'!
The girls listened with rapture. Chita had the southern poetical talent, so her story really seemed wonderful and entrancing. The young dancers sighed.
"And we here even don't know that there's something like that," - Cecile Jammes sighed.
"Of course you don't! Look at your professor! What can she possibly know of dancing? She is old, for God's sake!"
"Old?! - someone asked.
"Of course! She is, I think, more than 30 years old!"
"Conception Alba, my mother is 35," - said Meg Giry with her faulting authority. Telling the truth, Meg herself considered 35 a rather old age, so she couldn't really object to Chita's accusations.
"35! My God! Perhaps she was a good dancer once, but now she definitely can't dance a row! I suppose that's why she's so mean - she envies us and tries to conceal it!"
"My mother is not mean, Conception! She is just strict! And that is necessary for our education," - said Meg Giry who was beginning getting mad at Chita. But other girls silenced her:
"Shut your mouth, Meg Giry! You know Chita tells the truth! You only don't like it because Madame is your mother!"
Chita, who suddenly felt a heroine, stressed her point by adding:
"And if we ask her to dance, she won't be able to, and then she won't drill us like this!"
This simple idea momentarily silenced all other girls, including Meg. Meg never saw her mother really dancing, for since the death of her father Madame had been wearing these heavy dark dresses and walking around straight and severe. As for other future ballerinas, they began pondering the idea...
"Chita, but Madame will roast us for breakfast if we do that!" - said one girl.
"If only one of us does that, yes. But if we all ask her..."
"Conception Alba, think what you are saying, - Meg Giry said. - Are you planning a rebellion?"
"Yeah! - said Chita who grasped the concept immediately. - Aren't you French the admirers of freedom?"
"Yes! That's great! - other girls shouted. - But how are we going to do this?"
"Trust in me, - said Chita. - At the evening lesson I'll ask her to dance. And you should only support me. If you all agree with me, she won't be able to do anything!"
"Conception Alba, you will be very sorry for this!" - Meg Giry said. But she was quickly silenced by the indignated shouting of others.
* * *
At the evening lesson, when the girls were again performing these boring exercises, Madame Giry was again drilling them:
"Jammes, keep your knees straight! This is an arabesque, not an attitude! Delorme, don't look at the floor - there's nothing interesting there. Alba, mind the position of your arms!"
Suddenly Chita released the bar, turned to Madame Giry and said in a loud voice:
"Madame Giry, how can you demand all this from us? Perhaps the position of my arms is not perfect, but I, at least, can really do flamenco! Can you, yourself, perform even these simplest exercises of yours?"
Terrible silence embraced the room. To plan a rebellion against a tyrannic professor in the common dressing-room is one thing, to stand against that professor and look directly into her eyes is another. But the girls really wanted the humiliation of the strict ballet mistress. Chita's stories of the 'dance of flame' inspired them. They turned to Madame Giry and waited.
Madame Giry surveyed the room. Looked at her pupils. Squinted. Then looked at Chita.
"All right!" - she said suddenly. - "Wait for me here!" - And she quickly left the room.
The girls had no idea what to think. This was something completely unexpected. They exchanged glances, shrugged their shoulders and decided that Chita was, after all, to blame for everything - let her pay for her insolence in the most terrible way! (Though they had no idea what way that would be.)
Several minutes later, Madame Giry returned, wrapped in a long cloak and hood. She leaned over to the accompanist and said something to him. Monsieur Baroux, an old musician who had been a pianist in the Opera orchestra in his prime years, looked at her with an astonished look, then nodded and positioned his hands over the piano.
Madame Giry went to the center of the room and threw the cloak away with the best Spanish flourish. Beneath, she was clad in a wonderful dancing costume - long skirts the colour of flame, a balloon-sleeved blouse, a bright scarf. A high comb of ivory was in her hair, bracelets ringed on her arms.
And before the girls issued a sigh of astonishment, the old accompanist began playing.
Wild Spanish music filled the room, and Madame Giry's body went alive with it. She wasn't a woman any more - she was a whirlwind of movement and colour, every part of her body performing the complicate movements of flamenco with easy grace and natural affinity. She was a living flame, burning and yet enrapturing, one with the music, among the astonished ballerinas.
Chita had never seen anyone dancing the national Spanish dance with such fantastic prowess. God, she herself couldn't even think to compare with her!
The accompanist finished playing, and with the last chord Madame Giry froze for several seconds in the final pose - a flame restrained by human will. Then she calmly picked up her discarded cloak and left the room - evidently, to change back in her usual dark dress.
"Chita Alba, you're an idiot!" - cried Cecile Jammes.
"My mother is NOT old at all!" - added Meg Giry triumphantly.
Chita was completely dumbfounded. The rebellion choke.
* * *
Since that time no one tried to nag Madame Giry...
As for Chita, she studied ballet in the Paris Opera for three years, then returned back to Spain and became a great dancer there. And she always considered Madame Giry her teacher.
"She didn't just show me the movements, - said Conception Alba, - movements come themselves when you know how to do it. She showed me that, in fact, there're no separate forms of dance. Dance can have many faces, many facets, but that's still DANCE!"