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Passo d'addio

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Marie has known Odette since the latter was but a little girl of barely eight. It’s really been a long time, she muses, since the girl’s become her protégée. Really a long time...

 

When they first had met, about thirteen years ago, Marie had been a teacher for nearly a decade, by now, and Odette had just enrolled at the Opéra. The kid was a little chick, one that had barely hatched, in a group of kittens, and even if all the girls in that particular class where young, Odette was the littlest among the little ones and the youngest among the young ones.

How a child of eight had been put in a class of ten to eleven year-olds had been a mystery to her, but, after just a few lessons she had attended, Odette immediately stood out to her. Even if she wasn’t as precise as her classmates, Odette had passion, and grace, and the lightness of a feather. Marie was impressed, to say the least. In the months following those fateful first classes, Marie had met with the kid’s uncle and had made arrangements with him about Odette starting to take private classes in addition to the ones she already attended at the Opéra. When he had told the girl, Marie was there to witness the scene, so she saw how the girl had squealed excitedly and had hugged her uncle, bless the man, and then Marie herself too, a cascade of “thank you” flowing out of her mouth.

From that day on, Marie had groomed little Odette, shaping her into the finest dancer the Opéra had ever seen, a future étoile, the youngest to ever dance on the stage of the Salle Le Peletier. The best. The girl was responsive, she didn’t need to be told twice: if Marie corrected her stance, the next time it would be perfect, if Marie told her to smile more even if she was dead tired, she would comply. Odette was one of the best students she’s ever had, one of those students who absorbed everything like a sponge but didn’t let go of anything. It was truly delightful to teach her! In all those years she had been her student, her protégée, Marie had come to love Odette like she was part of her family: she had invited the girl and her uncle to her home many times, and even Marie’s niece was also fond of her. It’s like, Paul had once told her, I have a cousin, Aunt Marie! Odette had become family, and it was undeniable. Another undeniable thing was that Marie had a soft spot for the girl, and Odette had made her less stern, softer. It was sickly sweet, from a certain point of view.

Marie had seen her grow, seen her change from a quiet child to a resourceful teenager to a strong, proud young woman. She had witnessed her first failures on stage and she’d seen her cry, but she had also witnessed her stand up and try again, and again, and again. Odette had a strong spirit, she wasn’t one to whine, and that was a thing Marie admired. But she was also tender and sweet, even if she tended to hide it, and Marie did see that in the interactions she had with her classmates and friends, and, above all, with her uncle. Odette was sentiment, flow, passion, desire and coldness. She could conjure all those emotions in a single gesture, and it would always be perfectly real and natural even if it was an act. In one word, she was amazing. Far from perfect, but all in all it was not far the day she would dance on stage and have people come seeing ballet because of her.

Obviously Marie had her start from the bottom. A little role in the corps de ballet here and there just a few years after she had become her student, but from then on it had been a crescendo: every new ballet performed at the Salle Le Peletier had Odette getting roles each time more prominent. Marie had everything planned for Odette’s debut; and, to have it being as grand as she wanted it to be, she had to let Odette in the ranks of the coryphées for a bit longer than everyone would. If being a judge and a teacher had taught her something, the secret to have people wanting something was making them yearn it, watch it from afar without being able to have it. That was what she was making with Odette. And maybe, having her partnered with some not so good male dancer was foolish, but this way she could stand out more to the public. It was all for strategy, in the end.

Then there were also those times when Odette had gotten good partners, like that two times with that Mérante boy - Louis? Loris? - something like that. That one was really good, she could give him that, and Lucién had taught him well. That had not been strategy. That had been misfortune. And that had been a misfortune also because Odette seemed to have developed some sort of liking to him. No, that was not good. It could destabilize her, break her concentration during rehearsal and, God forbid, during the actual show in front of a huge public. She’d have to talk to her about him, and luckily, Odette would understand.

Odette did understand, but that did not deter her from spending her time with him and getting closer. Really, sometimes she wondered where the girl had let her brain, but whining had never taken people anywhere, so the only things Marie could do were sighing and frowning at her every chance she got, and hoping Odette knew what she was getting into. And, to not whine, Marie had explored the various positive outcomes she could get from her student’s friendship with Lucien’s young pupil, and maybe, just maybe, after having lined up all the possibilities it didn’t seem all that bad. But still! She was not going to change her mind so easily!

Apart for that, Odette’s career was going on smoothly. And, Marie giggled by herself, the girl was already searching variations and solos to bring to her pas d’adieu. Even if she still had three years ahead before that day. God knew what she would bring for her final recital as a student. Surely something particularly difficult, technically and visually speaking. She had always been one to try things more difficult than strictly necessary, always biting off more than she could chew. But Marie did like her character for what it was, and even if Odette was sometimes a little too bold and aloof and arrogant, all her quirks were the better part of her. Those were what made her great at what she did, and, sincerely speaking, the school needed to have things spiced up a bit.

With her pas d’adieu Odette did exactly that. Not even she knew what her pupil had prepared for that recital, and it had been a great surprise. Really the greatest surprise Marie could ever receive. For her pas d’adieu Odette had brought la Sylphide. The ballet created just because someone had seen Marie dance and had thought she was the lightest danseuse ever. They had never seen Odette. They had never seen the innate grace in her movements, or the emotions playing so real on her face, in the arch her arm made, in an arabesque she hinted, the deliberately slow movements, the adagios through that particular solo.

No, they had never seen Odette, and that was still the plan. She had to prepare her to her out-and-out debut, the real one. All those little roles she had given her throughout the years, those had been just crumbs thrown at birds to lure them. No, the real deal was still far. Let them come to her. Let them guess, wonder, who this monstrously good dancer is. Let them. After her pas d’adieu, Marie had decided to choreograph a ballet for Odette, because she was so good and needed something worth of her talent. Le Papillon had been a natural progression of Odette’s years as a choryphée, and Marie was proud of all the effort Odette had put into that role. She had been proud. She would always be.

 

She still is even now that her most precious student is lying on a bed, unconscious and wrapped up in bandages, with her breath that can barely be seen or heard. She’s proud of Odette, but she wishes she could tell her now that she needs it the most.