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Under Winter Lights: Part One

Under Winter Lights: Part One

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Under Winter Lights: Part One

5/5 (1 valutazione)
330 pagine
5 ore
Nov 6, 2017


Ballet is Martina's world. Always has been. But underneath the stage lights, behind the curtain and choreography is loneliness. 

On late nights, after rehearsals, in her small apartment, Martina wishes hers wasn't the only shadow on the wall. 

But Chicago winter winds are swirling and Martina's music box world is tipped upside down when she is cast as the lead in the company's next production. And if that isn't enough...

He's the "wolf of the Mariinsky Ballet." A rebel with gray eyes. Maraav Levondovska is a brilliant dancer and Martina can barely admit to herself how watching him take the stage sets her imagination spinning. 

But company director Alan Jung, the man crippled by the art he loved, seems to find new life in his star ballerina...       

Three hearts in a dance made for two. A world made of music and motion. Come step Under Winter Lights: Part One!

Nov 6, 2017

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Under Winter Lights - Bree M. Lewandowski

Chapter One

A staleness clung to the Chicago air. October morning, hot steam from passing train cars radiated off the tracks. The wind caught and swirled around ankles, breaching coats and scarves. This was not the Chicago Sinatra sang about. Seated above the city in a high-rise restaurant, brandy on his lips and a cigarette between his fingers, he watched the windy city skyline glitter and flash in neon colors.

            But down here, at seven in the morning, the air did not have Lake Michigan to purge it clean. Exhaust, sewer and other far less mentionable odors lingered on the platform.

    Her coat buttoned up to her nose and a hat pulled over her ears, she grew up not more than two hours from the metropolis she stood in now. This state was home. Yet the weather proved to be at once unseasonably and predictably colder than expected, and her hometown felt far. A little nowhere town called Pinetree Grove might as well have been a whole other state away.

    The strap from her purple dance bag dug deeper into Martina's shoulder. Shifting to realign the weight of everything she carried, she thought briefly about sitting on one of the narrow metal benches that perched on the platform. Before Martina left this morning, she checked that the Union Pacific West line was not behind schedule. Perhaps she walked faster knowing tonight was to be the last performance of Jewels before Nutcracker season descended upon the company. But how cold would that bench be? Cold.

    A familiar rumble signaled the approach of her train. Along with everyone else on the platform, Martina inched near the painted yellow line that cautioned passengers not cross till the train came to a complete stop. Like some kind of breathing machine, the tram heaved its steam and fumes into the morning air as its powerful body eased into the station. The doors opened and Martina huddled in, hurrying to snatch a seat.

    Chicago trains are roaming creatures. By the time Martina tucked her duffel bag between her feet for safe keeping, the mechanical box lurched its way out of the station. Metal tracks hummed and buzzed, crushed by the weight of the wheels, up through the floor vibrating into her feet.

   Some mornings Martina took the bus. But now that a cold snap of air settled over the city, it made more sense to take the train and shave off some of the walking. But bus or train, her time spent inside the vehicle itself was rather short. Under five minutes, in fact. When she made the move from Pinetree Grove to Chicago, Martina couldn’t believe her luck in finding an apartment as close to The Bellus Ballet Company as she did. Perhaps the romance of living over a late-night Mexican convenience store did not strike others whose search for housing extended over a very limited budget as it did her. Mapping out her route to work every day in that first week, Martina realized that close as her studio apartment may be, there were roads keenly unfit to be crossed on foot. So, even though bus or train only kept her off foot for a few minutes, it was worth it.

    From over the intercom, a recorded voice listed the next few stops, and Martina picked her bag up as Northerly Island was named. Located away from the hubbub, grind, and cluster of downtown, Northerly Island reached out into the waters of Lake Michigan.

    For years, city ordinances mandated the island was to be only for parks and the overall enhancement of Chicago. But fifteen years ago, a petition went out from a prominent donor to some of the city’s more philanthropic members. He urged and sought signatures. Northerly Island needed to bring to life more than walking paths and sightseeing. Why not cultivate something of culture? It took two years, but at length it was agreed by city council and the mayor that a structure to house and encourage the Arts would be built. Hence The Bellus Theater emerged. An in-house orchestra, a choir and a ballet company called this theater home. In two years more time, a performing arts school adjoined the theater to provide classes in all three art forms and generate revenue.

    The current director of The Bellus Ballet was Alan Jung. Taking over management of the company five years after the opening, Jung’s approach to ballet was considered by many to be European. At first scorned for the sense of grace-veiled athleticism his dancers exhibited, very different than the almost gymnastic quality currently in vogue with American ballet, some said this former dancer of The Paris Ballet could not bring his methods and outlook to Chicago audiences, let alone the broader American public.

    A hip injury, which proved fatal to his ballet career, left Jung with a limp and cane. However, Alan was determined to bring the ethereal quality of European dance to the U.S. The first production The Bellus performed under his keen eye was Igor Stravinsky’s The Firebird. A lavish production of rich costumes and flaring choreography, set to the adventurous romantic score by the famous composer left Chicago audiences on their ear. The production was lit with gems, bright lights and a corps de ballet whose movements were strikingly soft and oddly mesmerizing. The reviews acclaimed Jung and his one-world outlook on an art form that carries far more adulation in Europe than in North America. Attention and audiences grew and soon, when the season schedule of The Bellus Ballet was announced, tickets flew out from the box-office. Even across the proverbial pond, companies such as The Royal Ballet and, of course, The Paris Ballet nodded their heads in approval of the dancers Jung created.

    With a slight jolt, the train stopped. Her bag slung over her shoulder once more, Martina alighted into the frosty morning air. From the station, it was about eleven minutes by foot, and Martina often relished the idea of how much shorter it would be if she still owned a car. But that, like many other things, she gave up when she moved from her hometown. In fact, the price Martina sold her car for paid the first and last month's rent for the little studio apartment on 18th street she now called home. It felt like a heavy price to pay no matter how many people swore she would not feel the loss of a car living in the city. All the buses and trains, they promised, would make her forget why she ever needed a car in the first place. Yet right now, the sun’s light barely peeking over the gray glass mirror that Lake Michigan, Martina nestled her nose deeper into her coat; a car would have been nice.

    Like some kind of Roman temple, The Bellus stood in shadow not yet touched by the morning light. Great purpose and forethought went into the direction the theater ought to face. The doors opened to the west to catch the glory of the setting sun, one bright light giving way to the rising of the curtain and the lights of talent on stage. When the school went under construction, it was decided that the rehearsal rooms and studios must face east. Morning classes should wake with the sun.

    Twelve wide steps led up to The Bellus Academy. And by now some of the other members of the company, dancers and musicians alike, fell into step with Martina as they all ascended. Grumbles and half pleasant grunts served as salutation. Dancers, like herself, were scheduled to attend a morning warm-up class, no matter if there was a performance later in the evening. Some of the musicians taught classes at the school and probably envied their fellow company members, still snuggled in their beds.

    At this hour, only one door among the four was unlocked. Warm air flushed Martina’s cheeks as she pulled off her hat. On the polished floors her shoes clacked loudly and the sound hovered in the high ceilings. At the end of the hallway, Martina heard familiar voices. Few but familiar.

    Pushing the door to the women’s locker room open, Martina  began to fumble with the buttons on her coat. With a little sigh of relief,  dropped her duffel bag onto the floor and plopped down onto a cushioned bench. Bent over her boots to unlace them, a familiar body plopped down alongside her.

    I thought you might be late, said Aashi Na, Martina’s closest friend in the company.

    Why would I be late? Martina asked, looking up at the ethnically ambiguous face she half envied, especially considering the Midwestern apple pie written clear across her own.

    Didn’t you have to watch Mrs. Uribe’s baby again last night?

    I did, yeah. But all she does is sleep, really.

    Aashi shrugged her shoulders and Martina waited for what her friend’s real question was. Aashi had a habit of asking one meaningless question when she had another behind it.

    Did you hear the news?

    Bingo. Here it was With a half-smile, Martina shook her head that she had not.

    Yesterday after rehearsal, I heard Lubov talking to one of the seamstresses.

    Martina waited, twisting her brassy hair into a bun; Aashi paused for dramatic effect.

    Lubov told her that she’d need to make time for a guest principal dancer.

    Jamming a stubborn bobby pin into the coil of hair now atop her head, Martina crinkled her nose. So? Lubov’s always telling the seamstresses what to do. I’ve seen them duck down hallways when he comes.

    Camille Lubov boasted of a train of accomplishments that extended far behind him. Born in France, but trained in Russia, he danced under greats like Yuri Grigorovich at the Bolshoi Theater. His energy and verve for ballet far exceeded his height, but never his voice. The French accent rang out in his words. Even seasoned members of The Bellus cringed when Lubov’s booming voice came crashing down upon them. It was impossible, it seemed, for him to not yell. Happy, angry, frustrated or tired, his voice carried through walls. But even the corps members he made cry, and the male dancers who quietly cursed his impatience, knew, deep down,  his short temper was rooted in his zeal for ballet.

    So? Aashi repeated with some impatience. So, let me tell you the name he gave to the seamstress. Aashi scooted closer to Martina, who, by this time, had managed to don her leotard and tights. Maraav Levondovska, she whispered with relish, as if his name was taboo.


    Who?! Aashi grabbed Martina’s arm. Do you live in a box?

    Yes, Martina teased, thinking of her little studio apartment.

    A whisper was no longer possible for Aashi. Maraav Levondovska! They call him the Wolf of the Kirov!  

    Martina giggled, but it was clear how very serious Aashi felt this information to be.

    I heard he slept with one of the directors and got her pregnant! And then there’s a rumor he struck one of the men onstage, during a performance! He’s walked out on rehearsals and been too drunk to dance for a show! I had heard he left the Kirov but I thought it was a rumor.

    "That’s what you thought the rumor was?" Martina interrupted incredulously.

    Without skipping a beat, Aashi continued. But it must be true! He left Russia and he’s coming to Bellus!

    Well, I’m sure the Kirov-

    An insipid voice interrupted. You know it’s only referred to as The Kirov Ballet in the Western world, right?

    Amanda Coyne, a fellow corps member, stood in front of Martina and Aashi, clearly on her way out of the locker room yet not before she could assert her presence.

   To all of Europe, it’s the Mariinsky Ballet, she stated.

    Aashi’s smile was sour and Martina spoke before her friend could. Er-thanks Amanda. We’ll see you in class.

    Better hurry. I heard Mr. Jung is auditing warm-up class today.

    Better hurry, then, Aashi snapped in. You’ll want to get that first spot at the barre.

    Amanda sneered, but did, in fact, hurry out of the locker room. Martina offered Aashi a half-reproachful look, sugared with a smile and motioned that they, too, should actually get moving.

    All companies have their own way of doing things, of taking care of dancers. Some, perhaps, more assiduously than others. The care and concern The Bellus Ballet Company regarded its dancers was of the highest degree. Within the school itself, there resided a full service cafeteria where members could avail themselves of a complimentary meal every day. The resident physiotherapist always boasted an open door, practicing preventive medicine in a field where the body undergoes extremes not even professional athletes would be prepared for. A relaxation room, lit with ion salt rocks and filled with the soft bubbling sound of fountains remained open to all dancers.

    On top of all these amenities, the class schedule of The Bellus offered lessons ranging from a daily ninety minute warm-up session (to thoroughly stretch and ease the dancer’s body into what might be a ten hour day of dancing), to eccentric cardio programs, Tai Chi, and technique classes of varying styles. In fact, it was mandatory that members of the company take at least three lessons a day, unless choreography for a performance exempted them.

    In the first few years of Alan Jung’s direction and his insistence for all these programs, his critics proclaimed that Jung was creating an unsustainable world, sure to collapse in on itself. They maintained that his own injuries skewed his perceptions. Tragic though his fall from dance, both literally and metaphorically was, Jung could not possibly handle each dancer with kid gloves and save them from his own fate; however, time proved his naysayers wrong. Performances on The Bellus stage displayed ballerinas and ballerinos who shone from the care given to them. Interviews with dancers who came to The Bellus from other companies underlined what seemed to be true on stage. The Bellus was beyond compare.

    From inside the classroom, clear rolling piano notes wound themselves around Martina. Each rehearsal room had a corner specifically set aside for a piano and the musician who played it. Sometimes members of The Bellus orchestra played for class, but Mr. Jung often tried to hire from outside of the company, creating a paid position for struggling musicians.

    This morning Martina chose to wear her soft canvas ballet shoes; a nagging strain tugged at her short calf muscle since the previous night which she did not want to aggravate further by wearing pointe shoes. Under her feet the gray vinyl floor, known collectively to the dance world as a Marley floor, felt kinder than some of the hard wood floors in other studios. Taking an open spot at one of the wooden barres lining the walls, Martina began to articulate her feet, rising slowly into her relevé and returning down to a flat foot. Musical notes of no particular melody floated out over the room. Some of the company members talked to one another softly as they waited for class to begin.

    A sharp clap snapped across the wide space. Dame Hess, her short determined strides noiseless on the rubber-like material of the floor, made her way quickly to the far end of the room. No words were needed. This was the start of class. Each dancer placed his or her left hand on the barre and waited to see what their first plie combination would look like. Some days Dame Hess demonstrated and some days her curt German accent cut the French language of ballet in half as she recited the routine.

    Martina, her wide pale blue eyes on Dame Hess, fairly drank in the movements set before her. So much so, she did not notice Alan Jung linger alongside her, his gaze downwards upon her feet.

    Miss Mariposa?

    Oh! Mr. Jung! I’m sorry. I didn’t see you, Martina faltered, feeling embarrassed.

    Still looking down at her feet, Alan pointed with the cane that often accompanied him. "I see you’re wearing flats today. Yesterday during run-through for Jewels you went full-out on a leap you should have marked. Does your foot trouble you now?" he asked, looking up at her.

    Shifting uncomfortably under his hazel-set stare, Martina shook her head. Not-not my foot. My leg.

    He nodded. See Rose after class.

    The physiotherapist.

    I don’t have an appointment with her today.

    You do now, Miss Mariposa, he answered quickly, leaning on the polished cane near his side. He spoke to no one else and made his way towards the edge of the room where a cushioned chair waited.

   Perhaps there had always been an abruptness about Alan Jung. But it had been tempered with joy found in sailing across the stage, flanked by the music of an orchestra and thunder of an applauding audience. He adored Ballet. But loves can leave us. And like a fickle paramour, Ballet let Alan fall, cruelly too, in the middle of a performance of Don Quixote. After months of therapy and half-promises there was hope he’d dance again, the sharp loss of his future embedded itself in his manner.

Thin-rimmed glasses did not mar an unfaltering gaze. Martina knew many of the women in the corps had made a romantic effort in Mr. Jung’s direction. His injury left him with a limp they found charming. And with a face like Jacques D’Amboise, Martina understood. He was handsome. But the harshness in his stare and the gruff manner with which he spoke always left Martina feeling as if she made a mistake somehow.

    Blinking several times to regain her concentration, Martina focused on the combination. The gentle motions of the first plie combination at the barre are meant to ease a dancer’s body into further combinations, each slightly longer and more difficult than the last. As the piano’s melody rolled out over the room, Martina felt it wrap around her body and lift the cold walk of her morning, the twang in her muscles from a late night of practice and little sleep. She breathed in and out with each bend of her knees; her discomforts drifted.

    Martina felt that certain delicious sensation all dancers experience when their body wakes up into dance. Hours from now, Martina might strain under the demand of what her profession dictated. Pushed and constantly pushing to make motions and movements unnatural to the human body seem effortless and full of joy, dancers strive for an idealistic standard they may never attain. Music must have a body to make it visible and dancers must embody the melody. It’s impossible. But it must be fought for. And right now, her motions tuned in to each stroke and pause of the piano, Martina felt as close to that ideal as she had ever been.

    A solid forty-five minutes passed before everyone moved away from the barre and into the center of the room for a series of combinations known often as center floor. Musically known as adagio and allegro, these combinations could be small consecutive jumps done in all five foot positions or grander jumps, still contained to one spot. Perhaps elongated slow balancing exercises designed to test and push flexibility and core strength were done. Throughout Dame Hess corrected the line of an arm, the angle of a tilted head. A leg could be lifted higher. An outstretched position could be reached more deeply into. It was never good enough.

    In warm-up class the idea was to ready each dancer for his or her day; larger more energy-straining movements were left for choreography sessions. But by the end of class, Martina felt dampness linger in her hairline. She pulled a sweater on to keep her muscles from getting too cold before thanking Dame Hess and exiting the studio.

    Some Bellus dancers already knew their schedule for the day and made their way to those commitments. But Martina and Aashi walked towards the entrance that attached the school to the theater where the daily schedule was posted. Both young women knew tonight was the final performance of Jewels, but Nutcracker season was upon them and rumor had it that some rehearsals for the larger scenes in the ballet were already set to begin.

    I hope I’m not cast as a mouse, Aashi said as they walked. I’d rather be a party boy than a mouse.

    Most ballet companies produce The Nutcracker. It is, perhaps, one of the most well-known ballets to the wider public. Set to the music of Tchaikovsky, it tells a story originally written by E.T.A. Hoffmann of Clara Silberhaus and the nutcracker doll she receives as a gift at her family’s Christmas party. Enamored by the handsome doll, Clara sneaks downstairs after the party to play and falls asleep, awaking in a dream world where mice attack and her nutcracker comes alive to save her. Together they travel to the Land of Sweets, greeted by the Sugar Plum Fairy. Snowflakes and dolls from around the world dance and entertain Clara and her Prince. The ballet ends when she wakes from the dream. The original performance of the ballet in 1892 was only twenty minutes long, and a flop. Audiences and critics did not understand. But years would pass and the story would be brought to life again. This time as a success.

  Few ballet companies produce what is a child’s dream without actual children performing in the production. However, The Bellus did not follow in that tradition. Alan Jung’s decision to dance an all adult Nutcracker stemmed from the belief that highly trained dancers could produce that magic fairy land world the story needed to live in. Also, instead of having a Sugar Plum Fairy, in The Bellus Nutcracker, Clara dances the Suite of the Sugar Plum Fairy as part of the overall pas de deux at the end of the ballet with the Nutcracker Prince. Although not the first company to make such a decision, critics in Chicago predicted audiences would not accept this radical vision.

    But opening night the first season displayed a musical journey into the heart of every young girl who longs for excitement and romance. A ballet production that can get lost in fluffy snow became an adventure full of magic, peril, and love. The curtain barely touched the stage that first night before audience members jumped to their feet in thunderous applause.

    As dancers in the corps de ballet, Martina and Aashi were likely to be cast as party-goers, mice or snowflakes. The more prominent roles of the dolls and Clara would go to soloists and principal dancers.

    Martina nodded in response to Aashi’s comment. Me too.

    The connecting door of the school and the theater swung open. Maxim Choi stepped through.

    Miss Mariposa. Miss Na, he remarked pleasantly, with a small nod of the head.

    Both young women smiled.

    It was easy to smile at Maxim. Assistant to Alan in everything, from promotions for the company to over-zealous choreographers, Maxim Choi spoke softly and always with a smile. A long-standing joke within the company itself was that years of working with Jung left Maxim devoid of any other facial expression. Usually dressed in a sweater vest and long sleeve shirt, Maxim perpetually had a blue-tooth receptor clipped around one ear and a tablet tucked under his arm.

    "Are things very busy already for Nutcracker?" Martina asked.

    Things were busy two months ago, he answered simply. Miss Mariposa, I believe Mr. Jung was anxious you should see Rose today. If you have time now, I know she is in-between appointments.

    Martina looked down, Oh, yes. I hope…I hope Mr. Jung isn’t-

   Maxim shook his head, quickly understanding the hesitation in Martina’s voice. He’s not angry. He just wants his dancers taken care of. Turning to Aashi with that small smile, he continued, Miss Na, please make sure your friend makes it to Rose’s office.

    And with that, the bluetooth receptor flashing violently, Maxim scurried off.

    Ms. Thracion’s office was relatively small. Currently the only resident physiotherapist of the company, she had no need for a large office. However, the constant wave of dancers, musicians and even students of the school somewhat warranted a larger space.

   Pleasant, though possibly over-worked, Rose smiled and always seemed to know or remember what was going on in the lives of the men and women who sat upon her massage table. Steady hands worked out kinks, strains and swells. When Martina first arrived at The Bellus, she visited Rose. Each new company member was required to pay her a visit. Walking to her office now, Martina felt sure Rose’s diagnosis would be the same: sleep more, worry less.

    Rose waved as Martina walked in and motioned she’d be with her shortly. Julia Main sat on the padded table, Rose’s hands digging deep into her shoulder. Seeing Martina, Julia produced a somewhat sour smile.

    Well, perhaps not sour. But not pleasant either.

    Julia Main was one of several principal dancers at The Bellus. Long-legged, roles like Firebird and Odette seemed made for her. And Julia seemed to know it. Her transitions from corps member, to soloist, to principal dancer were brief. In fact, she spent the least amount of time in the corps of any of current Bellus dancers.

    And she was pretty. So pretty.

    Seated across from where Julia rested, Martina felt the mirror come out: the inner mirror every young woman knows too well. It shone both reflections in question and let the viewer decide which outshone the other. Martina slumped down in her chair. She could practically feel the freckles that plagued her face marching even louder. Looking in that awful mirror, she was positive her hair grew redder by the second and her chest flatter.

    Alright, Julia, you’re done. I’m fairly sure it’s just stress.

    Well, I may come back if it flares up again today.

    Rose nodded to Julia with a weak smile and motioned for Martina to hop on the table.

    "Miss Martina, I heard your

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