Goooooood morning readers!
So today I’m doing something a bit different. Surprise surprise. Writer and hilarious blogger Chuck Wendig issues various flash fiction writing challenges to his readers, and this week it’s a Flash (non) Fiction challenge—write an actual event from your life as a story in 1000 words or less.
This makes sense to try on a few levels. One, I really enjoy short fiction, both reading and writing. Two, I love me a good prompt. Three, since this is first and foremost a dance blog, why not tell one of my many outrageous performance stories?
So here we are. This actually happened during a Nutcracker show when I was about 14—though I have dramatized it a bit. It is called “One Job”.
I had one job.
The only ultimatum, the golden rule of performing: The Audience Shalt Not Know Something Is Wrong.
Scenery doesn’t fly in or out as planned? Dance around it. Supposedly removable fairy wings get stuck on a dancer’s costume? Yank them off. Stage crew hands you the wrong prop? It’s not the wrong prop anymore. I was fainting while dancing in the corps of the Waltz of the Snowflakes? Keep it together until the curtain closes.
I didn’t know why my head was full of fuzz and my vision blurry, but it really didn’t matter. Excessive theater spray-paint? Anemia? Undiagnosed tulle allergy? But the rationale’s not important while performing. Analyze later. Off-stage.
My first clue had been my feet: they no longer hurt. Now a normal person—one who didn’t spend 15+ hours of their life with bundles of leather, plastic, and cardstock tied to their lower extremities—would assume the disappearance of pain was a good thing. But here, in the theater, in the middle of a 10-minute piece, it was either a harbinger of a transcendental performing experience, or of sensory shut-down. Since I was stuck endlessly bourrée-ing in a vast diagonal across the stage with 15 other identical dancers—gonna go out on a limb and assume it was not a transcendental experience.
My second clue had been my arms. Usually at this part of the performance, I could feel them stretching in both directions, striving to be larger than my 4’ 8” frame. But nothing was happening, and I was pretty sure it wasn’t because the white bits of floof around my biceps had cut off the blood supply.
We were in the final stretch of the piece. Clara, Herr Drosselmeyer, and the Nutcracker, newly brought back to life and made human, all took their sweet time climbing into the remote-controlled sleigh. They waved languidly, the swell of Mr. Tchaikovsky’s score and the creeping motion of the curtain at the edges of my rapidly receding vision signaling the audience to clap. My tunnel vision focused on center stage, the spot where both heavy red curtains would meet and end Act I. The curtain would close, cutting us dancers off from the observers—the only time we could relax and let go our personas as magical creatures in a fairy-tale world. The curtain would close. Would close. Had to close. Just make it to the close. CLOSE FASTER, DAMMIT.
My head spun, the klaxons and alarms from the lizard-brain warning me “We’re going down! Pick a spot and brace for impact!” I’d have argued, but being on a stage in a tutu and pointe shoes in front of a gazillion people does not lend itself to talking the lizard-brain out of a total system shut-down.
Clara and escorts finally off-stage, the curtain halves whooshed together. The (presumably) thunderous applause scattered and faded. All my fellow snowflakes thumped down off their pointe shoes, but I took it further, crumpling to the black marley with one thought lingering in my vanishing consciousness.
You had one job. Good job.
P.S. Header photo credit to Kirsten Quinn Nagiba.