The Bridge of Aspiration

"I’m an addict.
Ballet is my morphine."

Six months after the death of her father, Erin Weir's mother commits suicide. Orphaned, she is taken to London in a bid to escape the guilt-ridden village of her childhood.
There seems to be no way out of the cycle of depression she's plunged into but then she discovers ballet, a gift that may be powerful beyond anything...


23. 23

Dear Erin Weir,
We are writing to inform you, as a member of our summer 2014 touring company, that auditions for our spring season will be held on the 22nd of November.
The performance will be an adaption of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s classic, A Little Princess, and we welcome back choreographer Joseph Byrn for another season
We look forward to seeing you on the 22nd,
N. Ellington
Chairman and Founder of London Burroughs Young People’s Ballet.

“Do you… well, do you want to audition again?” Natasha asks hesitantly. “It’s fine if you don’t.”
“Are you mental?” I ask incredulously. “Of course I’m auditioning.”

It has barely changed in the months since I was last here; its alterations are slight and hardly noticeable. Bags have been rearranged on the benches, water has been dribbled over different tiles but, as a whole, the changing room is indistinguishable from when I first saw it. A time machine set of studios, an unchanged changing room. Its dancers come and go, leaving marginal traces, but it alters for nothing.
Natasha flaps about me uncomfortably, checking for black marks on my tights or stray threads of hair as though it really matters. All attempts at presentation are scrubbed off by sweat when the auditions begin. They’re looking for beautiful lines, not beautiful hair. Her cold, frantic fingers unnerve me as they flicker awkwardly over one another. I know she’s only trying to stop me from getting hurt but how can I explain to her that this studio is more like home to me than anywhere else.
 “Are you sure about this Erin? It’s not too late to pull out, I shouldn’t think; you haven’t been given your number yet.”
Does she not get it? I’m here because I want to be and because I know that I need to be. Coming back here is like going back to the grade five lessons after my humiliating first week.
 “I’d completely understand; your wrist… and last time and-”
“If you don’t want me to dance you could just tell me.” I say sharply. Her hands wilt as I speak but I haven’t got room to feel bad about it. She is putting me off the idea I was so certain of earlier and I wish she’d stop.
 “No, sorry, I just thought…”
 “You just thought what?” I snap.
 “I just thought you wouldn’t want to put yourself through it again, especially if there’s another tour.”
I do understand what she is saying; what if I come to a rematch of my summer and get fists raining punches onto me? I can’t decide whether going to hospitals has become easier since my broken wrist. I wonder whether I’ll be able to enter a hospital one day without being forced to remember.
“Stop it,” I say, “Please, stop talking.”
 “Sorry,” she responds automatically. “You’re nervous.”
 “I’m not nervous,” I bicker although I am. “I’m just annoyed that you never seen to understand.”
 She inhales like she’s been wounded and it strikes me that I’m really saying it, not just thinking and imagining.
 “Please understand; failing at ballet is far less hurtful than not doing it at all. All I ever want to do is dance and, if I can’t do this now, I feel like I’ll never come close.”
“I get it,” she says and then her mouth falls shut, pressed and sealed at the corners.
She looks so helpless as she watches me pull on my shoes and leave the changing room. I feel her eyes on me; sorry, pitying, asking to be forgiven and I regret even speaking.
I turn back, throw my arms around her and mutter into her coat:
 “You’re a good mum, you know.”
The prospect of the audition is less daunting this time; I feel like I have more of a right to be here and, as we warm up, I find I am able to join in the hesitant talk and laughter.
“There’s nothing to be nervous about,” the woman leading the warm-up tells us and, now that I have begun to dance, I know she is right. I realise I’m not actually nervous anymore, just excited but trying to contain myself within my tightened muscles. “It’s just like a normal class but with people watching.”
“Who’s watching?” One girl asks.
 “Three very important people,” she replies; “the choreographer, the artistic director and the founder of the company.”
“Whoa.” We breathe collectively and then she claps her hands rapidly and starts us off on a new combination of galloping and skipping. We finish her final routine and have to queue up in number order, about to go in.
“If there’s something new that you’ve never done before then don’t panic; they’re looking for people who can learn, not people who already know.” She holds open the door and flashes us smiles. “Good luck and have fun, remember to smile.”

The dance pulls me apart, toyed like a morsel on a fork, it dissects me. I am peeled away, shedding my skin like onion layers until there is no such thing as the chrysalis, there is only the butterfly filling and overwhelming me. Somehow the movements just feel right, like they have been programmed into me. Like the very first day, I forget to care and the world ceases to exist. I let myself sink, unrecognisable, into the fingers of the music that shape me.
It’s just me and ballet, intertwined and raining dreams on each other. That’s how I like it best.
“Lovely.” Joseph says when my group – the last group – finish. I can’t tell whether he means us or the class as a whole.
 We are instructed to go to the next room to wait, like before.
Like before, I get a recall.

“Now, who can tell me how we find the area of a parallelogram?” I tap my pen against the desk and supress a small yawn.
“Yes Erin,” Mr Blithe continues.
 “I didn’t have my hand up sir,” I reply quietly and he looks like he can’t decide whether to be angry or obscurely impressed.
 “You’re quite right but I believe that I am the one who chooses who answers, not you. You know the answer and I am asking for it.” I nod acceptance of his rules, not even sure of why I countered him initially. I suppose it was something to do with not wanting to present my knowledge to the class. One thing I’ve learnt from secondary school is that knowing things gets you attention and I do not want more attention.
 “Base multiplied by perpendicular height,” I tell him and he writes it on the board.
“Good, thank you, so in this example here-”
He stops mid-sentence, interrupted by a wrap of knuckles on the door.
 “Hello? Come in. What do you want?” He asks the receptionist who stands, framed and holding a note, before us.
 “I’ve got a message for Erin Weir,” She announces and something inside of me tenses, both confused and anxious.
“I’ll take it,” he says and shoos her from the room.
He reads it quickly and then sets it on his desk, refusing to let me have it until the class have finished working through his series of ‘shape’ questions. I do not mind this; at least it certifies that the notice contains nothing serious and nothing urgent. I let the knot in my chest unfurl and loosen itself and the lesson resumes its tedious path.
Eventually I am presented with the slip of paper and those on my table crowd over me, trying to steal glances at my mysterious delivery.
Your mum called to ask us to pass on this message: London Burroughs Young People’s Ballet called saying that you have been given the title role of Sara Crew in their ballet. She’s very pleased.
I wonder if mum is pleased. I wonder if she’s proud, I wonder if she can feel anything. How much does a person feel once they’ve been tattered and beaten on rocks? Nothing. What about dad? Nothing too, I suppose. How should I know?
Natasha is pleased – that seems to mean something to me.
“What’s it about?” Maddie asks in a low whisper.
“I’m going to be a ballerina,” I hiss back at a weirdly uncontrollable pitch.
She stands up in her chair in the middle of the class and cheers, her incriminating whoops filling the damp corners of the classroom. “I knew it, I knew it! I told you!”

I take my place and start to dance but everyone is watching and expecting such wonderful things from me that I can only focus on the fear of their expectations. The dance does not welcome me in, it doesn’t even lull me the way it normally can. I am frightened of it because I must do it well and as a result I cannot do it well because I cannot relax into it. They will all watch me and wonder why I was cast; this stupid little girl whose limbs do not seem to function properly anymore. I fumble my movements; nothing flows and the dance does not weave its magic. I blunder my way to the end; I know that I might cry soon. My dancing history is far more awash with tears than my real history. It’s easy to cry from humiliation and less so from grief.
 “We’ll nail the steps eventually; you just need to use your time effectively – we’ve taught it to you but you need to teach it to your body. When we have breaks or when we practise something else, go and work through it in a corner until it’s so natural it’s like putting on a t-shirt.” I nod very quickly so that they don’t have second thoughts about me and wonder why they chose me. I will dance for as long as I can stay standing.
 “The big issue with it is that I’m seeing too much of you. I’m watching the dance but I’m not seeing the dance; I’m seeing a little girl who’s frightened and unsure of where she’s putting her feet. You’re a very good dancer but you’re too distracted with feeling your own emotions that I can’t believe that you are Sara Crew. From the minute you step on that stage; we have to believe you are a Sara, a girl who’s scared and oppressed but still defiant. She’s lonely; she had everything she needed to be happy and it’s been taken away from her. She’s lost her home and is living in this strange new place in London, she’s lost her father who she loved more than anything, and she’s lost her way of life. She should be pitiable but have a stubbornness about her which refuses her to allow the pity. She has her imagination to hold onto. Dance Sara Crew for me.”
 I nod again, more slowly this time to show that I have understood, but when she restarts the music I dance Erin Weir because that is all I need to do.  There is no need to act or to pretend because I am Sara Crew. I lost everything but myself and I very nearly lost that. I’m glad that I’m holding on instead.
The music lifts me and I soar to the ceiling lights.
Children’s Ballet Excels
A Little Princess – 21st to 31st March – London Burroughs Young People’s Ballet. Review by Pete Lodge (23/03/15).
London Burroughs Young People’s Ballet’s newest success, A Little Princess choreographed by Joseph Byrn, proved once more the astonishing talent of up-and-coming dancers. In this season’s production, a fantastic blend of performance and ballet, two particularly stunning new dancers are introduced by the company. Mathilda Briggs, aged 13, produced a polished performance as the young servant Becky with astonishing technique for her age. However it was Erin Weir’s unforgettable portrayal of the heroine Sara Crew that stole the show. Although less technically adept, her dancing was insightful beyond her years and the characterisation was hauntingly well pitched.
It seems that the youth company can do no wrong, turning-out winning performances season after season, and this is undoubtedly partially down to the strong corpse de ballet of young dancers. The dancers were chosen from hundreds of audition candidates and we look forward to seeing more of its rising stars.

 “Now that’s something worth ruining a wall for,” Maddie says when she reads it.
We lie back on my bed, her head by my feet, and watch the empty ceiling.
 “Maddie?” I ask after a long silence; “Can you paint me a bridge?”
“What? That is the weirdest question I have ever been asked – I swear!” She laughs for and while and then; “anywhere in particular?”
“On the wall,” and we both know which wall I mean. “It looks like a spiral but it’s made of squares. And dreams,” I say slowly. “The Bridge, I mean. It’s made of squares and dreams.”

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