Updated: Jan 28, 2021
He sat at the front of the room, his hair was perfectly glued to his head. A blank stare fell from his eyes onto the room. He didn't speak english, or at least he chose not to.
I had missed so much already. I had an idea of what La Sylphide was, but this wasn't it. This was different, this was complicated, intricate, French. Once again I only had a short period of time to learn, master, and put on stage my best possible work.
Like I said, I had missed a lot, I hadn't been in the rehearsals from the beginning because I wasn't originally cast, but once again I was asked to step in, to the leading male role, at the the last minute.
I was trying to learn as quickly as possible, and I was excited at the prospect, but scared of the immensity of the work in front of me. In contrast to the challenge of dancing the leading role of James was the simplicity of what rehearsals had been as one of the corps men in the first act and as such my stamina was not what it needed to be.
There I stood, marking as best I could at the back as the first cast danced at the front. I watched the choreographer watch us as we fumbled through the details. I knew that I would get private rehearsals to iron out the details, but tonight I had to fake it as best as possible.
I recall the usual yelling and frustration often shown to dancers when they don't grasp movements immediately which only compounded the complete lack of time to prepare. It was an interesting predicament to be in, as there was no one else to dance the role, everyone else would be dancing in Versailles or was injured and so I continued in my fumble.
Ballet is a world of hierarchy. Corps de Ballet to Soloist to Principal...Ballet Master to Artistic Director....Choreographer to Icon. I sat somewhere close to the bottom at this time, but here I was being asked to rise up to the top and with only 2 weeks. Then came a defining moment. The words left his lips as simply as a please or thank you, or a good morning when passing an acquaintance. It was these words that showed me the man at the front of the room, the man who had created this absolute challenge of a ballet fell into the icon category.
His words though not spoken to me, still ring in my ear whenever I dance, teach or coach. He chose, quite out of character, to speak these words in English to the principal ballerina dancing at the front of the room. "When you step into the arabesque, do it because you choose to do the arabesque, not because it is the choreography. You must make the movement your own. It must come from within you or it will not be believable."
From this moment my career changed. I was no longer dancing the steps, it was now time to make the steps mine. I no longer had the option to fake it. It had to come from my soul. I had to become James. My art had to be believable and I only had 2 weeks. Game on.