Episode 044

Melinda’s Story

When Mr. Pablo first told me about Saturday’s dress rehearsal, I reminded him that I would be in classes until lunchtime. That evening, I was copied on an email from Sally to my teachers excusing me from all my classes.

But, I didn’t have to be at the theater until nine. I didn’t see why I couldn’t go to my drawing class. It would be one less subject to make up this weekend.

As I headed to the Arts Center, I felt an excitement I hadn’t felt in a long time. The crisp November air promised a clear day for all of today’s athletic events. Hartfield would be victorious.

But, it was more than that. I was looking forward to today’s rehearsal and tomorrow’s performances. I had almost forgotten how thrilling it was to dance on stage.

As usual, I was the first person in the art loft. Brian came up the stairs a few minutes later.

“Did you build that giant wolf yesterday?”

He smiled. “Yeah. Well, me and a few other artistically inclined members of the Pep Squad.”

“When? I mean, that had to have taken weeks.”

“Nah. One day to build the structure. A day to cover it. We let it dry a couple of days before painting it. That only took a day. We used the workshop over in the theater. Did you see it cross the street?”

I shook my head. “No. I only saw it on the field.”

“Oh, man. It was sick. So, we put it on some moving dollies, then tied a large rope around it and tied it to the bumper of one of the maintenance trucks. When Mr. Jepson drove it across the street, it looked like we were walking a really large dog.”

One of my classmates appeared at the top of the stairs. “Oh, man! That was epic!”

I was glad I had attended class. Even though nothing was different, I had a lot of fun. Maybe it was because I knew I wasn’t going to any of my other classes today.

When we were dismissed, I stowed my portfolio upstairs, grateful Mr. Rockwell had decided not to give us any homework in light of Wheeler Weekend. Armed with my dance bag and backpack, I crossed the courtyard to the theater.

I was early. We still had plenty of time before rehearsal. But, Madam Cheri was already there, watching Mother Ginger tap dancing across the stage.

When Mr. Pablo danced into the wings, Madam Cheri stood. “Beaucoup mieux. Much better. Now, put that costume in the prop room until later.”

I watched her climb onto the stage and disappear into the wings. One of the younger girls came into theater from the opposite door. Her mother was with her. I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to do, so I sat where I had last night.  Thankfully, more people began to arrive.

At exactly nine, Madam Cheri came back onto the stage. She had a microphone around her neck, her voice echoing across the theater.

“Good morning! I hope everyone is ready for a productive rehearsal.” I heard some quiet grumblings, but couldn’t make out any of the words.

Madam Cheri must not have as well. “In a moment, you will go to your assigned dressing rooms and get into full costume, even if you are only in the final scene. You have thirty minutes for full costumes and makeup. In each dressing area, you will find a television broadcasting the theater. Watch for your cues.”

Madam Cheri scanned the front row. “Party guests? Miss Serena will come get you when it is time to be backstage. She will also escort you back to your room. Everyone else? Your class leader is in charge of watching for your cues. You are to be in the greenroom exactly TWO numbers before you are to perform. The exception, of course, are you company dancers with quick changes. You know who you are.”

There was more grumbling behind me as Madam continued. “We will do a complete run through with a five-minute intermission. At the end of the second act, we will practice our curtain call. I will then give you instructions for lunch and the second run through. Questions?”

When there were none, she dismissed us. I followed my classmates to the black box. It looked nothing like it did for ballet class. Accordion-folded partitions had been used to divide it into three rooms with a walkway between the two entrances. Near the mirror, a television displayed the empty stage. The center room was labeled boys while the rear room was labeled girls.

A ballet barre had been pulled from the closet and placed along the partitioned wall. I found my costume hanging on it and quickly changed. After strapping my tap shoes to my feet, I pulled my cosmetic bag from my dance bag.

I didn’t wear makeup very often, but I had been dancing most of my life. When Madam Cheri sent an email reminding us what accessories we needed for our costumes, I made a mall run Sunday.

I wrapped my bathrobe around my costume and went to sit in front of the mirrors. A minute later, Livvy sat beside me with a white bag branded with a pharmacy logo.

“So, any idea what we’re supposed to do with all this?”

I smiled, holding up a small circle. “Well, this is eye shadow. We put it on our eyelids.”

Livvy laughed. “I know that, silly. I meant, what does Madam want us to look like?”

I shrugged. I was going to ask her. Brody sat on my other side, taping a picture to the mirror. He pointed to the cartoon gingerbread man. “Like this.”

I squinted at the picture. “Sooo, we should put a lot of blush on your cheeks?”

Livvy frowned. “I think the lipstick goes outside our mouths, like a clown.”

“I think we need Miss Serena.” Brody grabbed the picture, heading towards the theater again.

Livvy turned to me. “So, I was planning on playing on my phone during rehearsal, but I literally have no signal down here.”

“Yeah. We’re under concrete stairs. There’s no reception. I brought a book to read. Figured I could use some down time to keep up with the classes I’m missing today.”

“That was smart. Maybe I’ll work on my college essay.”

“Oh. Are you a senior?”

Livvy nodded. “We all are. Except Brody. He’s only a junior. The rest of us have been dancing together since we were like, ten.”

“That’s really cool. No wonder you guys all get along so well. Where you applying?”

“The state universities. What about you?”

“Me what?”

“Where you applying?”

I giggled. “I’m just a third—I mean, I’m just a freshman. I haven’t really thought about college much.”

Livvy stared at me open-mouthed for a full five seconds. “You’re a frosh? I never would have guessed. You must have been dancing for, like, ever.”

I shrugged. “Eleven years?”

Livvy just shook her head as Brody sat back down, re-tapint the cartoon, now full of pen marks, to the mirror.

“Brody, did you realize Melinda was only a freshman?”

Brody pulled his own cosmetics out of a bag. “Really? You dance awesome.” He pointed to the page. “So, that’s what Miss Serena suggested.”

I couldn’t apply my makeup while I was talking. I followed the diagram as best I could. When I was done, I stood back and opened my robe to look at myself in costume. I really did look like a gingerbread cookie.

I swapped my cosmetics bag for my Odyssey and went to sit by the television. Brody was still fighting to blush his cheeks.

“Brody. Who’s our class leader?”

He barely moved his mouth. “Livvy.”

“Wuzzup?” She was putting on mascara and barely breathed the word.

I giggled and nestled myself into a corner that allowed me to watch the television and read at the same time.

Mr. Pablo came to check on us, pleased to find all the classes were in complete costume and makeup. He himself had his face painted for his Mother Ginger costume, although wearing his shirt and jeans with no wig, he looked pretty ridiculous. It took a lot of effort not to laugh.

As soon as he left, Miss Serena trooped through the room with the younger girls in tow. Most were wearing elegant party dresses with their pointe shoes, although a few were dressed as young boys. As they disappeared through the door, I heard the opening notes of the overture. Several minutes later, the curtain opened and the ballet began.

When the first number was over, I heard some faint clapping. Some of the parents must have stayed behind to watch the rehearsal. I had seen most of the numbers yesterday so, besides glancing at the costumes every time I heard the song change, I was able to get lost in my book.

I wasn’t very aware of intermission until I heard the music resume when it was over. I glanced at the screen, watching Clara and the Nutcracker dance onto the stage. Around me, the advanced jazz class queued at the door while their class leader checked their costumes.

One of the advanced ballet dancers called to them. “Break a leg!”

Beside me, Livvy shouted, “Merde!” One of the dancing chocolate pieces flashed a bright grin before heading to the theater.

I turned back to the monitor. Besides the lack of applause between numbers, it was difficult to recognize that this was only a dress rehearsal.

The jazz class returned before advanced ballet had to leave. They were still in the greenroom when my class joined them.

There was another monitor in the green room. We watched the Russian dance while advanced ballet moved into the wings. Some of the company ballerinas had joined us by the time Miss Serena came to usher us into the wings. There were shouts of “merde!” as we hurried through the workshop to stage right.

Mr. Pablo danced  a little more energetically as he entered and exited the stage, but I felt we did a good job of hiding under the skirt. We did an even better job on stage. I wasn’t sure about my classmates, but I didn’t miss any of my marks. We congratulated ourselves all the way back to the black box.

Livvy clapped her hands as soon as we entered the room. “Alright. Who forgot to bring lunch?” Everyone raised their hands, including me. Livvy nodded. “I’m going on a fast food run. What do we want?”

During the final number, Miss Serena went to retrieve the younger girls from the practice hall. As she passed through the black box, she told us to head backstage for the curtain call.

We were still discussing our lunch plans. But the jazz class had already removed their costumes. They rushed to change as the rest of us returned to the theater.

Instead of trying to cram us all into the greenroom, Miss Serena lined most of us in the hallway. My class was in the prop workshop, right on the edge of the wings. I could just barely see the stage from where I stood.

I heard the final notes and could see stage lights darken. When the curtain closed, the dancers left the stage, lining up near my class. A moment later, the lights turned back on. I couldn’t see Madam Cheri, but I thought she might be standing in front of the curtain.

“Thank you, thank you. I would like to take a moment to introduce you to our dancers. We have our intermediate ballet classes.”

The curtain opened the younger girls, still dressed for the party, sashayed out with their arms over their heads. When they were all in a row on the stage, they joined hands and took their bows. They then bourréed back, scurrying en pointe with their left foot crossed behind their right and their ankles barely separating, to the rear of the stage, where they sat on the ground.

“Our advanced jazz class!”

The disheveled chocolates ran barefoot with their arms trailing behind them. When the last person arrived on stage, the first took her bow, each chocolate following in a cascade effect. They followed the first dancer around the stage to kneel behind the intermediate class.

“Our advanced ballet class!” The girls in their cream-colored dresses with tutus that stuck straight out from the waist looked more like fairies than marzipan candy as they piquéd their way onto the stage. Each girl took a step to her right, then pushed onto her right toe as she lifted her left toe to her right knee before sliding her left leg down behind her right. After two piqués, another girl joined the stage until the entire class was able to bow together. Then, they continued to piqué, only this time with turns, until they were lined up beside the jazz class.

“Our advanced tap class!” We had planned our curtain call during our last rehearsal. Mr. Pablo danced to the center of the stage with us under his dress. We exited in pairs, doing running flaps to our starting positions. As soon as Livvy and I joined the line, we did running shuffles until we were close enough to hold hands and bow together. As we flapped our way to kneel beside the ballet class, Mr. Pablo made his way into the rear corner of the stage where his skirt could not interfere with any of the dancers.

Madam Cheri introduced the general company before introducing each of the lead dancers by name, saving Clara and the Nutcracker for the end. Each dancer entered in a unique manner before standing along the front of the stage.

After everyone had been introduced, Madam Cheri put down the microphone in her hand and turned to face us.

“Everyone who isn’t sitting, do so. That performance was good, although I’m disappointed with the jazz class for not remaining in costume. There are a few numbers I want to practice before the second rehearsal.”

She glanced at her watch. “We’ll take a one-hour break. Remove your costumes, try not to ruin your makeup. I want everyone ready to go in one hour. The first scene needs some work. Also, Spanish Dance and Reed Flutes. Everyone else can remain in the dressing rooms.”

I followed my classmates to the black box, swapping my gingerbread dress for jeans and the Hartfield sweatshirt I had bought for Wheeler Weekend. Livvy turned to me as she tied her sneakers.

“Josh and I are driving carpools to a sandwich place we saw on our way here. You in?”

I thought back to the long list of rules. One of them involved no boarders in day student cars. I was pretty sure this was the same thing. “Um, I don’t think I’m allowed.”

“Oh, bummer.” Livvy looked torn.

I followed Livvy into the courtyard.

“You guys go ahead. Just, don’t be late coming back.”

“We won’t!”

We parted ways at the Art Center parking lot. There were fifteen students in the advanced classes, not including me. Somehow, they seemed to fit into the car and minivan doing the lunch run. I shook my head, waving as I headed to the dining hall.

Melinda’s Journal

Saturday, November 4

 (Author note: I am not sure what this journal entry should be about. Any suggestions? Leave a comment below.)