Cordelia had yet to figure out when she realised she first hated Joseph.
Perhaps it was because of her fierce competitiveness, her need to win. And unlike others, Joseph would never yield, constantly grabbing the title of the best dancer. Or perhaps it was because he bullied her, calling her talentless and useless. As he had proved multiple times, he did not believe her worthy of being a dancer.
While she only truly despised him for his callous attitude towards her and his immaculate dance technique, Cordelia could not decipher what she felt around him. When she gazed upon his face, she didn’t understand whether she wanted to kiss him or strangle him. She considered it highly frustrating, however; she tried not to dwell too much upon it. He was a pompous, arrogant, brainless idiot who was only good at using his body to express. As if he could ever express anything with that face of his, she scoffed at her own thoughts.
Pulling herself out of her thoughts, Cordelia stretched her muscles, preparing herself for the barre. She moved her head left and right, hoping that she could get some practice done in time before the rest of the class arrived.
Pushing her shoulders back and assuming her usual posture, Cordelia began her routine.
The music started slow, a thrumming, peaceful melody that filled the air and silenced the birds from their usual morning chipper. She bent her knees into a graceful plié, quickly springing onto her toes as she positioned her arms into a graceful arch. Taking a deep breath, she began her spins. Round and round until her view turned glassy, but she made sure to never take her eye off the mirror. She needed to be perfect, needed to finally be chosen for a lead role in the next ballet.
It was normally uncommon for first-year ballerinas to get lead roles in Clarice. Somehow, though, Joseph got his role before even auditioning. The others, who had worked so desperately hard to gain a role, received nothing. Most considered it humiliating, evidence that one needed to be impossibly talented to achieve what Joseph had. Cordelia took it as a learning curve, an experience. She would beat Joseph, she was sure of it. It would just take time.
Going back into a relevé, Cordelia skirted forward, practising the routine. She had to get it right, had to get that last move on the right beat. As the music grew louder, the anticipation grew and Cordelia leapt into the air, her body twisting and turning as she landed. The music stopped, showing that the piece was over. Cordelia breathed hard, her harsh breath labouring as her heartbeat slowed. She rushed to get a sip of water, prepared to redo the whole routine, when a dark voice uttered, “You’re not on beat.”
Surprised, Cordelia whipped her head around, glaring at Joseph as he walked into the studio, his hands lazily residing in his pockets. His hair was unusually ruffled, a smirk decorating his face as he stared at her appearance in the mirror. She gasped, trying to catch her breath. Sweat dripped from her forehead, running down her face. She felt embarrassed, yet she didn’t know why.
“Let me show you how it’s done.” Languidly, Joseph wore his shoes, preparing himself. Meanwhile, Cordelia sat at the edge of the studio, staring at him in silence. While she tried to hide it, she was curious to see how he would present the routine. Snidely, she hoped he wouldn’t impress. Cursing herself for her horrid thoughts, Cordelia’s focus zeroed on Joseph.
The music began to play and Joseph started to dance like his body was nothing but an instrument that was attuned to the music. He twirled, his eyes closing as he lost himself in the music. She watched in awe, her eyes widening as he jumped into a jeté perfectly. He shot into the air, and descended onto the floor, rising again into a relevé. As the music ended, he opened his eyes and turned to her. Cordelia rose from her seat, moving towards him.
“Did I end on the beat?”, he asked softly.
Cordelia rolled her eyes, shifting back into reality. “You know you did. What’re you trying to prove?”
Joseph’s gaze hardened, clenching his fists as his knuckles turned white. “Well, now you know what to do. So get to it.”
“You don’t get to tell me what to do.”
“Don’t I? The last time I checked, I’m the chief attraction. I control everything, Lia.”
Cordelia cocked an eyebrow, her rage rising to the surface. How dare he call her that? As if she was someone he knew, someone close to her.
She moved to the barre, awaiting the other students’ arrival. An awkward silence settled in as both dancers stood in the room. Mere minutes later, the rest of the class arrived, with many of the students chatting excitedly about the other roles set up for the ballet. Madame Bangère entered soon after, her face composed into a neutral mask that simply meant business. With no greeting, she said, “I assume you have done your stretching?”
Obviously, none of the late students were going to tell her they hadn’t, and so they all nodded yes. And like every class, this one was excruciatingly painful, testing the limits of the dancers’ bodies and how far their bodies would bend. Ballerinas were musicians and their bodies were their instruments, regulated perfectly. After all, what was a ballerina if not perfect?
The class went on as they practised their barre, robotically moving their bodies as the music played on and on. After nearly an hour, they stepped away from the barre, readying themselves for the most important part of their semester: the auditions. Thus started the choosing of the lead roles, a dire process that required the strictest protocols. Each dancer stepped up to the centre, where they would do their assigned piece and, in the end, the dancers would be chosen. Unexpected by none, Joseph had already bagged one of the lead roles, so he didn’t need to dance, anyway. Still, he stood in the studio's corner, resting his body against the wall. His eyes seemed to follow Cordelia, and although Cordelia forced herself to feel uncomfortable, anything other than the electricity that was sizzling under her skin right now, she couldn’t.
Many dancers stepped forward, dancing the same piece over and over until Madame Bangère would force them to go back in line. Cordelia felt nervous, scared that she might not get the lead role, scared that all her efforts would go to waste. She patiently waited for her turn.
“Cordelia Singe”, called out Bangère, her eyebrows raising in question. Gulping, Cordelia walked to the front of the studio, standing in position as the music played. And she began dancing, twirling into the air like a spinner, her hair falling out of its rigid bun and flowing freely, almost as if it were dancing to the tune with her. Joseph watched, mesmerised, as she matched every beat with her moves. Glancing at Madame Bangère, he realised perhaps she was impressed, too. As the music came to a stop, she plunged into an extra plié, one no one had predicted. She slowly arched her back, her head nearly touching the pristine floor. She had ended the dance completely in character, and after a few seconds, rose meekly.
In an instant, she could hear loud clapping from around the studio, along with a few hoots and cheers. Even Madame joined the applause, a rare smile gracing her face. As the applause died, she said, “Perfect, you will dance alongside Joseph as the prima ballerina in the play. I hope you will not disappoint me.” Cordelia nodded, unable to speak. She was too busy trying to comprehend while she felt excited, rather than being consumed by a numbing fear.
After a few minutes, the room emptied until only Joseph and Cordelia remained. Curtly, Joseph mumbled a quiet ‘see you later’ and practically ran out of the room, but not before Cordelia glimpsed him blushing. It was strange, she thought, how quickly his mood changed.
That night when she slept, she was bombarded with all sorts of abnormal dreams, yet nearly every single one revolved around the same person: Joseph. It was astonishing how much she thought about him, and while she hoped her hate for him would be the only force of her actions, she could tell it was not.
One dream, in particular, played out rather differently than the rest. It was during the Death of Juliet, a notable play revolving around the murder of Juliet, by Romeo. Everyone claimed it to be suicide, yet many knew it was not so. Cordelia played Juliet this time, with Joseph being Romeo. He approached her with a knife in his hand, his beautiful face hidden by a disfigured mask. Cordelia tried to run, fearful of her life. Joseph moved faster, coming closer to Cordelia until she could not run anymore, and he pushed her into a corner. She stood still, her eyes widened with fear as Joseph traced the knife around her face, outlining the sharp angles of her jaw. He moved the knife lower and lower until it reached her stomach. Without a moment of hesitation, he plunged the knife into her body, catching her by the head so he could gently lay her down. He stabbed her repetitively, over and over, until blood covered nearly every inch of her body. Darkness exploded under Cordelia’s eyelids, and she went limp.
Cordelia awoke, sweat decorating her body and face as she rose from her bed, her hands shaking. The cruel malice in his eyes that she had seen had terrified her. Glancing at the alarm, she realised she was late. Hurriedly, she dressed and rushed to the studio, where Joseph sat, fiddling with his hands.
Nervously, she asked, “So, should we begin?”
Without answering, he grabbed her by the waist and helped her into position as he played the music. With her back to his front, the story began. Holding her by the waist with one hand, he pushed the other across her chest, until he tucked neatly her under his chin. He played the seductress and Cordelia was to play the victim. She pushed herself away from him, but he caught her by the arms, turning her towards him. He pulled her close to him and used his one hand to gently caress her face. She tried to resist, aiming to push him away, and he let her. She rose into a relevé, turning on her toes gracefully as Joseph followed her. Cordelia jumped into a jeté, hoping to escape, yet Joseph was already on the other side, waiting to catch her. He caught her in his arms once again, and this time Cordelia gave in, moving closer until her breath mixed with his, their lips nearly touching.
Instead of kissing her, however, as he should have, he dropped her. She landed with a thud on the floor and glared up at him, her nostrils flaring. Not meeting her eyes, he moved away from the mirror and walked towards his bag. Standing quickly, Cordelia sprinted behind him, clutching his arm. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?”, she asked, her grip on his arm tightening.
“I- I don’t know”, stammered Joseph, as he wriggled his arm out her clutch and strode towards the door.
Neither of them had noticed Madame Bangère, who watched the entire account with a smirk sitting on her lips.