Title: First Position
Author: Mellisa Brayden
Genre: Lesbian Romance
Pages: 249 Pages
Release Date: August 16, 2016
Publisher: Bold Strokes Books
Rating: 4.33 Stars (Goodreads)
Anastasia Mikhelson is the rising star of the New York City Ballet. She’s sacrificed creature comforts, a social life, as well as her own physical well-being for perfection in dance. Even her reputation as The Ice Queen doesn’t faze her. Though Ana’s at the peak of her career, competition from a new and noteworthy dancer puts all she’s worked for in jeopardy.
While Natalie Frederico has shown herself to be a prodigy when it comes to ballet, she much prefers modern dance and living on her own terms. Life is too short for anything else. However, when the opportunity to dance with the New York City Ballet is thrust upon her, it’s not like she could say no. Dealing with the company’s uptight lead is another story, however. When the two are forced to work side-by-side, sparks begin to fly onstage and off.
Anastasia Mikhelson had come to hate orange plastic chairs.
Yet here she sat in one. Again.
Alone in the hallway, studying the texture of the beveled wall, her heart thudded faster than was probably good for her, but that made sense given the nature of the afternoon. That fast and repetitive beat served as the only sound in the empty hallway, adding an ominous quality to the already nerve-wracking event.
Ana had been counting the days, and more recently, the hours until this meeting with Bill, and in less than twenty minutes, the whole thing would be over, and the fate of her career no longer a mystery. She took a slow breath in an attempt to settle her nerves, because the outcome of this conversation meant everything. She glanced down the lonely hallway in one direction and then the other before finally returning her gaze to the big brown door that marked the entry point to Bill Bradshaw’s office. She blinked twice, gave her head a firm shake, and smiled brightly as the door opened. Nope, no nervous dancer out here. Just a very grateful employee. That’s me.
“Ana? Come in,” Bill said. He’d been the Ballet Master in Chief of the New York City Ballet for going on twenty-six years now, and Ana’s boss for all of nine. He was tall, lean, and handsome for a man of sixty-one. A shock of white hair topping chiseled features made for a number of notable paintings of him around Manhattan and beyond. Bill Bradshaw was a legend in the dance world and most everyone respected him.
“Thanks, Bill. I hope your afternoon has been an easy one.” He pulled her into a one-arm embrace as she passed, and planted a kiss on her temple—his standard greeting—and followed her into his office.
“Not too bad. Not too bad at all. Busy, though.” His afternoon would have consisted of one-on-one meetings with each dancer in the company, of which there were close to ninety, for their annual evaluations. In meetings like these, dancers were promoted, counseled on progress, or worse, told their contracts would not be renewed for the following season. For Ana, this meeting was her chance for a promotion from soloist to principal dancer, the highest rank in the company. She’d been a soloist for five years now, killing herself and pushing her body past its limits to make the leap to principal, and then sitting in that orange chair at the end of each season hoping against hope.
She’d been passed over each time.
Maybe Bill believed she hadn’t been ready in the past. Or that she hadn’t put in enough time. Whatever it was, she was prepared to leave the heartbreak behind her. This upcoming season was hers, and Ana was prepared to tell Bill so herself if it came to it. She was determined not to let anything get in her way. She’d sacrificed too much.
“How’s your father?” Bill asked. “I haven’t heard from Klaus in a good six months.”
“He’s doing great,” she told him. “Still Papa. He’s the guest choreographer at Miami this season. It’s going so well, they might want him back for next season, too. Though I doubt he’ll accept. He’s had a lot of offers.”
“Oh yes. I remember hearing that. Lucky bastards to have snagged him.”
“Agreed,” Ana said, settling into her seat in anticipation for what the meeting would bring. She was, however, familiar with the obligatory small talk about her father before any major conversation about her own career. Klaus Mikhelson had achieved fame as a world-renowned Russian ballet dancer before immigrating to the United States in the late seventies and doing the same thing here. As one would imagine, he received tons of attention. Thereby, Ana had been compared to her father her entire life. The fact that she’d not seen the same success had been…hard. On both of them.
“Well, tell that old fellow I said hello and that I owe him a drink,” Bill said, sitting.
“Will do.” Ana smiled good-naturedly and wondered about that moment. Would she also be informing her father of her promotion? Or rather, trying to explain to him that she was once again passed over for principal?
Ana glanced around Bill’s neatly organized workspace and waited as he settled in for the meeting. She caught sight of a folder open on his desk, her own headshot visible on top of the stack of papers inside. “So, you’ve been with the company for nine years now,” he said, and glanced up at her.
“That’s right.” She kept her voice even, professional. “And I want to thank you for the opportunities that have been afforded me, Bill. I feel I’ve grown immensely as a dancer since coming here as an apprentice.”
“Six injuries in that time,” he said, looking up from his notes. “How’s your ankle doing? Any pain?”
“Stronger than ever.” And it was. Two surgeries and months of physical therapy had her back at work and pushing past the pain of what had been a crushing injury two years prior—not that injuries were anything new.
He nodded and bowed his head again. “Glad to hear that. I have to tell you, Ana, that Roger and the other choreographers all feel that you really came into your own last fall in Orpheus. That was a good part for you. A step forward in your dancing.”
“I’m thrilled you thought so. I loved the work we did on that ballet but, Bill, I’m ready for more. I put two years in as a member of the corps, and six as a soloist. That’s not even counting my apprenticeship.”
“And you feel this is the year you want to emerge as a principal dancer in the company? Is that it?”
He looked skeptical, but she couldn’t let that deter her.
This was the moment she’d waited for. She sat forward in her seat and met his gaze head-on. “I do. No one can match my technique, and my commitment is unwavering.”
“I don’t know that technique is enough, Ana. You have to want it from here,” he said, a hand to his gut. “Dancing can’t just be precision. It has to come with an element of fire. Do you understand? Passion.”
“I have it. Dancing is my oxygen, Bill, and I will leave every part of me on that stage. You know that. I’m the first soloist in the door each morning and the last one out after a performance. I’ve worked my whole life for this opportunity, and if you give it to me, you won’t be sorry. I’ll work day and night for you.”
He reclined in his chair and regarded her as she organized her second-tier argument. “Okay,” he said simply.
What did that mean?
“Okay?” Her hands went instantly numb, and a warm shiver moved up her spine. Was this the moment she’d been waiting for since she was six years old and watching The Nutcracker from the third gallery at Lincoln Center? Was she actually a principal dancer with the New York City Ballet?
“That’s what I said. It’s your year, Ana. I have a feeling.” He leaned across the desk as if he had very important words to impart. “But you can’t let up. Do you hear me?”
“The second you do, it’s over. The competition these days is like none other I’ve seen. The ability and technique is unrivaled, thereby your commitment has to be that much more to stay ahead.” She nodded, knowing how true his words were. The competition among company members was, in fact, ferocious. And while most of the dancers were friends just as much as they were rivals, Ana kept to herself, never taking her eye off the goal: to be the best. “You’re one of the most gifted dancers I’ve ever worked with, but you know what your dancing lacks, Ana?”
“A heartbeat. I need you to breathe life into your performance. You’re all technique. Gorgeous technique, I’ll give you that, but it’s sterile. Clinical. If dancing is your oxygen, I need to see that on onstage. Put that passion into your movement. It doesn’t matter how beautiful your extensions are if you don’t move your audience. Do you understand?”
“I can do that. Thank you, Bill.” It was the automatic answer, as it was the same note she’d received throughout most of her career. The words stung acutely, but she’d find a way to improve, because it was too important not to.
When she arrived back at her apartment two hours later after a barre workout, she wanted nothing more than to celebrate—maybe indulge in a rare glass of bubbly for the momentous occasion. She’d purchased a bottle just in case. It had been undoubtedly the most important day of her life thus far, and she should take a moment to commemorate it. As she moved to the refrigerator, she stopped cold at the handwritten note she’d placed there as a daily reminder.
Better is always possible. Good is not enough.