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First in Half the World

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No one – perhaps not even Masha Repin herself – ever quite knew what it was that led her to call on Galina Simonova the morning after the prima ballerina's return to the Maryinsky and congratulate her on her triumph. Simonova was surprised, but disposed to be gracious. She had forgiven Russia; why should she not, therefore, forgive Masha Repin?

'So,' Simonova said, 'what will you do now?' She could afford to be magnanimous. Her own future was assured. The Dubrov company would remain in Russia, and it would look very different now. For one thing, Masha Repin would not be a part of it.

'You will recall that Dubrov spoke of a tour to Caracas and Lima?'

'I do.' Simonova did not need to say that Dubrov had abandoned the idea when the Maryinsky saw the error of its ways.

'Well,' said Masha Repin, leaning forward a little, 'Grisha finds that he was most disappointed when the plans were altered. He proposes forming his own ballet company and returning to South America.'

'Grisha! Well, perhaps he might do it. But my dear,' Simonova pointed out, 'I recall that you did not like Manaus at all.'

Masha said, simply, 'But I would be prima ballerina in Brazil. I would be prima ballerina in Peru, Venezuela... Chile, Argentina, Surinam – think of it! A whole continent, ready for the taking. No doubt you will call me an ambitious bitch,' she added as an afterthought.

'To be ambitious, to be a woman, is to be called a bitch. The only answer – that I know of, at least,' said Simonova, 'is to get to the top and outlast the rest of them.'

'You think I could do that?'

'I was speaking,' Galina Simonova said with perfect self-centredness, 'of myself. But since you ask – yes, I think perhaps you might.'

It was a compliment, and Masha Repin took it as such. 'You do me an honour,' she remarked, with only a tiny trace of irony.

Simonova laughed. 'We are rivals, you and I: because we have one love between us, and neither likes sharing. And for that, my dear, I can respect you: you have principles, at least. Look at the corps de ballet! Half of those girls have deserted the stage for men.'

'It's a pity,' Masha agreed, insincerely. 'Some of them might have done well, in time. That little English one you liked so much, for example.'

'Harriet Morton. Natasha Alexandrovna,' Simonova said, reflectively. 'Yes, she had something... but not, perhaps, enough.'

'She lacked experience,' Masha said.

Simonova smiled. 'That isn't exactly what I meant. Or, at least, not that sort of experience, and even then... could little Harriet Morton ever have been Odile? Could she have been Myrtha? She would not know where to begin. No, Masha, it is absolutely necessary to be a bitch sometimes.'

'I'm grateful for your permission.' She smiled, cattily.

Simonova matched her. 'If I might make one observation? You must cease trying to please others, if you wish to become truly great. You need not smile so much. Please only yourself.' She rose, bringing the audience to a close. 'I wish you the very best of luck in South America.' She was perfectly sincere. Half the world was enough even for Galina Simonova, so it ought to be more than sufficient for Masha Repin; besides, in Manaus at least, Simonova must remain the standard by which all others were judged. And neither of them would forget that.