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Drina Behind the Scenes

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"I must," Drina said to herself, "stop minding it so much when someone who isn't me gets a rôle I feel should be mine. If I keep on like this, I'll turn into a prima donna, and that would be a sorry state of affairs."

Only that morning Mr. Dominick had called her into his office to let her know that he was planning a new production of The Breton Wedding, with Rose Conway dancing the leading rôle of Josette. "It's no good us reviving that ballet if the public believes you're the only person who can dance Josette," he had said. "Think of the Company, Drina. We could certainly use the revenue we'd gain from leasing the performance rights."

It was true, of course, that the Dominic Company always needed more money. Igor Dominick had continued his father's practice of creating new ballets whenever he had an opportunity; it had made the company's reputation, but of course new ballets cost much more to produce than staying with a classical repertoire. Drina was well aware of this, and normally she greatly admired Mr. Dominick's innovative approach. In addition, since her own career as a ballerina was now well-launched, she would normally have been happy to give another dancer an opportunity.

But over the past year, after dancing Josette in the first London revival as well as on a few short tours, Drina had come to think of the part as her own special rôle. The very idea of another dancer, even one she liked as well as Rose, taking it over left her stunned and speechless. Moreover, there was always the vague sense of guilt that came with knowing that her friend would once again be compared to her. If the critics thought Drina's performance as Josette had been better, Rose would be hurt. But if they should think Rose's performance the superior one... well, that would be a great blow, and there was no denying it.

She had found herself stammering out a vague agreement to Mr. Dominick, because his reasoning was sound and because he had clearly made up his mind. In return, seeing her ambivalence, he had offered her a different argument: "Quite aside from the Company, Drina, if — God forbid — anything ever happened to you, surely you wouldn't want The Breton Wedding to be lost again?"

He did know how to persuade her, Drina thought wryly, appealing to her sense of history like that! And at least he had done her the courtesy of letting her know privately, instead of finding out with the rest of the Dominick Company. At any rate, the decision had been made and the notice was posted; all that was left now was for her to try and like the idea — or at least not let anyone know how much she hated it.

*****

There was a kind of peace to barre work; on days when she practiced alone, Drina was rarely aware of observation, no matter who might peek into her little studio. The familiar movements always soothed her, and any difficulties that awaited her outside the studio would be forgotten for a time. Working with the rest of the Company, however, as she did most days, her dancing could often betray her emotions to anyone watching. After a class in which her body had felt stiff and tense all over, Drina was quite sure that at least a few of the Company had realised that Mr. Dominick's announcement about The Breton Wedding bothered her more than she was letting on. Therefore she was not surprised to have Queenie and Ilonka come up beside her once the ballet mistress had dismissed class.

"Do you mind it terribly?" Queenie asked. "I would, if it were me."

"I did," Drina admitted, "when we first heard. But Mr. Dominick told me that if I'm the only one who can dance Josette, then we haven't properly revived The Breton Wedding at all, and I suppose he's right."

"That may be, but to have Rose take the part instead of you! And she'll be dancing with Igor."

"Why shouldn't she dance with Igor? After all, they are... whatever they are." But Drina felt her face flush, and realised that Queenie, as she so often had in the past, had put her finger on at least some of the trouble.

"He is your partner," Ilonka observed.

"Yes, but he's her boyfriend, and there's no reason he shouldn't dance with anyone else. It's a — a question of suitability. Isn't that what they always say?"

"Of course," Queenie said, "but how often does that actually make any of us feel better when we're not the chosen ones?"

"It doesn't matter," Drina said. "It can't matter, anyway. Mr. Dominick has made his decision, and I would feel awful if I tried to stop Rose from having this chance."

"You wouldn't," said Ilonka kindly. "It's just not in you."

But Drina, as they hurried away to the canteen, was all too afraid that "it" might possibly be "in" her after all.

*****

Grant was still at work when she left the Dominick, so Drina called in on her way home to see Adele Whiteway. She was warmly received, for between Drina's rehearsal and performance schedules and Adele's newest stage designs, they had lately been too busy to see much of each other.

"You needn't stop sketching on my account," Drina said once they had greeted each other. "I know where everything is; I could make the tea today."

Adele laughed as she resettled herself at her worktable. "I'll take you up on that. Was it so obvious that I'm not ready to stop yet?"

"Your hands are all smudged with lead," Drina said, settling down in an armchair that afforded her a partial view of her friend's design. "You seldom look that untidy unless you're hurrying to get an idea down."

"You do know me! But I can talk while I work. I've been expecting you."

"Then you've heard?"

"About the new Breton Wedding production? Yes. How is everyone taking it?"

"Well, Igor has no objections, of course. The Company seems fine with it — evidently that first production broke whatever jinx might have been there. Rose keeps eying me anxiously, and I know I'll have to talk to her later, but I do want to get my own feelings in order first."

"And how are you feeling?"

"Jealous," said Drina grimly. "It's quite selfish to feel that Josette ought to be my rôle, of course, but I do. I can't seem to help it."

"That's only natural, isn't it?"

"Perhaps. But I feel awkward about it, all the same, and worse because it's Rose."

"I can see that does make a difference, though I wish it could be otherwise. It's unfortunate that you and Rose should both be so talented and just the same age. It means that the two of you are bound to compete, however much you try to avoid it."

"Yes-s, but I hate that we're always compared to each other. So far I've always come out just a little bit better, and I can't blame Rose when that upsets her, because I do rather dread the day when she comes out on top."

Adele nodded. "And you don't honestly know which outcome you'd prefer, do you?"

Drina looked up, startled. "How do you mean?"

"I mean that so far, only two people have ever danced Josette — you and Elizabeth. Of course you're possessive about the part; I think you'd have to be entirely without feeling to avoid that. And while you don't want this to be the time that Rose, as you put it, comes out on top, you're also not keen to see your friend compared unfavourably to you."

"No. I simply hate it when reviews come in saying she's not as experienced as me, or Martha Dane, or whoever the critics have decided they'd rather see dancing that rôle. Rose is quite as good a dancer as I am, after all, and I don't see how anyone is supposed to get experience in solo rôles if they never dance any." She hesitated briefly before bringing forth her other concern. "And then there's the matter of Igor."

"Hmm." Adele looked at her thoughtfully. "What about Igor? You've always said there was nothing at all between the two of you. Has Grant got something to worry about after all?"

"Of course not! That would be too ridiculous." Drina got up from the armchair and went into the kitchen, taking down the little kettle and filling it with water. "No," she said when the water was shut off again, "There's nothing between me and Igor — except when we're dancing."

"Then what's the problem?"

"It's that there's so much between us when we're dancing. And Igor knows it, too, though I wish he didn't. But he's never danced with Rose before, and I'm afraid —"

"That he'll notice a difference?"

"Or that the critics will. Imagine if they say Igor and Rose are lacking in chemistry, compared to Igor and me!"

"I can see why you might worry, but I think you may be borrowing trouble, at least on that account. Surely there must be something between them after all this time. They may say that Igor has better chemistry with Rose than with you — but that won't make any difference, either. He'll still have to dance with whomever is cast opposite him, whether it's you, Rose, or someone else entirely." Adele joined Drina in the kitchen, reaching for the bar of soap she kept next to the sink and beginning to lather her hands. "Turn the water on for me, please, dear."

Drina did as she was asked, and then went back to arranging biscuits on a plate. "Anyway, I feel just silly about the whole thing. Silly for minding in the first place, and because I know I'm borrowing trouble. It's only that I hate to be at odds with anyone, and with Rose most of all."

"I told you before," Adele said, very firmly, "you're not silly for minding that Josette can no longer be the special rôle you shared exclusively with your mother. But you're worrying entirely too much about how all this may affect Rose, and you need to stop. Let Rose worry about Igor and the critics. You should worry about being a good, supportive friend to her, whether the ballet comes off well or badly."

"But what if it goes badly and she blames me for it?"

"She won't. Or at least not for long, once the initial hurt wears off. Rose is sensible and she knows that you're her friend." The kettle whistled behind them, and Adele picked it up and poured the tea. "Now. Stop fussing over what you can't prevent, and come tell me what else is going on in your life."

*****

Bolstered by her talk with Miss Whiteway and a quiet evening at home with Grant, Drina arrived early at the Dominick the next morning. Rose was early, too, and they met on the steps outside the building, smiling rather hesitantly at each other. Then both began talking at once:

"Oh, Drina, are you terribly upset?"

"Oh, Rose, you deserve it and I am happy for you!"

They burst out laughing, more from relief than anything else, and went up the steps into the school together.

"Look," Rose suggested, "let's get a cup of coffee and take it into the park. We've got time before our class starts."

"Yes, let's," Drina agreed, and by mutual accord they walked in silence until they were sitting on their accustomed bench in Regent's Park.

Rose was the first to break the silence. "Does it bother you, Drina? Be honest."

"Well, yes," Drina admitted. "It does, a bit, but I understand why Mr. Dominick wants to do it. If other companies will start putting The Breton Wedding into their repertoires, that would earn some money for the Dominick, you see. And we do need it, after building the new school and all that."

"But it ought to be your rôle."

"Part of me would like for it to be. But it can't be, if other companies put it on, and — honestly, Rose, if it can't be me, I'd rather it was you than anyone else in the world."

"Oh, Drina!" Rose gave her friend a rather shaky smile. "I will try and do it justice, you know."

"Of course you'll do it justice! Don't be ridiculous. You'll be wonderful. And meanwhile I've been wanting to try my hand at choreography again. With you dancing Josette, I'll have a lighter schedule for the next month or two and that will give me more time to work."

"What sort of ballet will you make this time? Do you know yet?"

"We-ell..." Drina hesitated, not entirely sure how her idea would be received. "I want to do something for our group. You, me, Ilonka, and Queenie. It was something Miss Whiteway said yesterday, about how with all of us good dancers and the same age, we were bound to compete whether we like it or not. And so I thought, perhaps I could make a ballet where we didn't have to. One where we could all have principal rôles."

"You mean like your Twentieth Century Serenade?"

"Yes, rather like that, though I'd like to have more of a story to it. Only, once I've shown it to Mr. Dominick he may want to use other people."

"So what if he does?" Rose got to her feet and held out a hand to pull Drina up after her. "You'll still have made it. It will be there when we're ready for it. We'd better start back, though, or we'll be late for class."

And Drina, trotting next to Rose back toward Euston Road, was suddenly light with happiness. They were still friends after all, and whatever might come next for them, surely they would be able to weather it.