Authors: Nicole Hurley-Moore
Dancing On Air
Dancing On Air
Cinderella meets Swan Lake in this Victorian-era set story about a ballet dancer, an aristocrat, and their class-crossing romance...
Lisette yearns for freedom, security and love, but none are offered on the run-down stage of
The Imperial Theatre
. Instead she has hard work, a tyrannical aunt, and the hope of one day becoming a prima ballerina. Dancing on the stage she catches the attention of two powerful men: Lord Gainsworth and Lord De Vale.
Lord Evander Gainswith never expected to fall in love, let alone with a woman so wholly unacceptable to his family and his peers. The sinister Lord De Vale covets Lisette’s youth and strength, and is willing to pay well for it. Lisette may dance roles in fairy tales and fantasies, but the real world is about to intrude, bringing with it the harsh realities of life for a young girl with dreams of rising above the demimonde.
Nicole has always been a lover of fairy tales, history and romance. She grew up in Melbourne and has travelled extensively, whilst living her life through the romance of books. Her first passion in life has always been her family, but after studying and achieving her BA Honours in Medieval Literature, she devoted her time to writing historic romance. She is a full time writer who lives in the Central Highlands of Victoria with her family, where they live in the peaceful surrounds of a semi-rural town.
Special thanks to my family – Christopher, Ciandra, Conor and Alannah for their love and support.
For my mother – who once danced on air.
Lisette was weightless as she leapt into a
across the stage. She was free and in that moment her heart soared past the walls of the Imperial Theatre. She landed lightly and began the
fouetté en tournant
, whipping her leg from fourth position to behind her knee; she created impetus to spin on pointe. After the eight revolutions, she planted her feet and lifted her hand in the air, stopping in front of her aunt. There was a slight wobble in her legs and she tried not to wince. Fixing a smile on her face, she prayed that her aunt had not noticed. Lisette had wanted perfection but had fallen short. A trickle of sweat slid its way down the middle of her back. Her heart beat rapidly and she tried to catch her breath as her aunt stepped forward.
Marie Devoré regarded her niece for a second. Her eyes bore into Lisette’s before she raised her hand and slapped her across the face.
Lisette’s head jerked to the side as the burning sting radiated over her cheek.
‘What was that? A farce...? A comedy, perhaps?’
‘No, Aunt Marie, I am sorry that I wobbled,’ she said as she looked at the well-worn wooden floor and resisted the urge to cradle her cheek.
‘When you finish, the movement must be sleek, clean and set in stone, without any trace of a tremble.’
‘Go, out of my sight. Prepare the costumes for tonight’s performance,’ Marie said with a wave of her thin hand. ‘You will practice again tomorrow. Without the
Lisette bowed her head before running off into the wings of the stage. She ran as fast as she could past the burgundy velvet curtains, beneath the scenery fly and the rigging, down the narrow flight of stairs that ran beneath the stage, until she was in the cool and narrow corridor, which led deeper into the bowels of the theatre. Her cheek burned but it was the sting of failure that hurt all the more.
Some of the company called the backstage the rabbit warren but Lisette always thought of it as a maze. It seemed a jumble of doors, stairs and walkways. She stepped into the large dressing room, the one she shared with the rest of the chorus. There were several rooms beneath the stage: one that housed the wardrobe from past productions, one for the musicians, and several just for storage, but the chorus room, also known as the girl’s room, was by far the biggest.
She made her way to the very back and past the rack full of assorted costumes. Lisette ducked behind a large screen and sat down on a rickety wooden chair. She winced, leaned forward and stared at her reflection in the long mirror that ran along the wall. She turned her head slightly and saw that her cheek was still red from her aunt’s slap. She placed the cool back of her hand against her cheek and hoped that it would take away a little of the heat. With luck, it would disappear before anyone could see it. Her cheek hurt and so did her head.
Deftly, she withdrew the pins from her tight bun and let her long, wavy brown hair fall. She leant her elbows on the table and placed her head in her hands. She rubbed her fingertips through her hair and across her stinging scalp. Her headache eased, as did the
sting. She sat up and saw that, with her hair down, the redness of her cheek was less noticeable.
Lisette bent over and untied the satin ribbons of her pointe shoes and slipped them off. She took off the wadding and, unbinding her toes, wiggled them and felt a mixture of pain and relief. She removed her pale dancing skirt and slipped into her day dress. It was plain, grey and reminded her of a stormy sky.
‘Lisette? Lisette, are you here?’
With a sigh, Lisette briefly closed her eyes as she heard the voice of her dearest friend in the corridor.
‘I’m in here, Sally,’ she called as she peeped around the rose-painted screen. She watched as the striking redhead made her way through the long dressing room. Sally was dressed in a dull green dress. The colour seemed to emphasise the girl’s pale skin and the fiery copper of her hair.
‘I tried the stage first. I thought you might still be practicing, but...’ Sally’s voice trailed off when she saw Lisette’s red cheek. ‘She struck you again?’
‘I had a clumsy finish,’ Lisette said. Her lips twitched into an embarrassed smile.
‘There is no excuse. Dear God in heaven, one day you will be free of her,’ Sally said as she leant down and hugged Lisette.
‘It’s nothing.’ Lisette said quietly. She lingered in her friend’s embrace for a moment before pulling away. ‘We should prepare for tonight’s performance.’
Sally straightened up and looked at Lisette. ‘It’s not right. She should not treat you this way.’
‘I know and I find it hard to forgive her. My aunt is a hard woman — brittle as ice — but for all her faults she has my best interests at heart.’
‘Lisette, your aunt does not have a heart,’ Sally said with a shake of her head.
‘She trains me to be a great dancer. It requires discipline.’
a great dancer and she has beaten you ever since she took you in. She is a brute and one day you must stand up to her and hold her accountable for her actions.’
Lisette starred at their reflections in the large mirror. Two best friends. No, the bond was even stronger. They were sisters in everything but blood. Lisette reached up and took Sally’s hand and gave it a little squeeze. ‘You are right, but for now we should check the costumes.’
‘Very well,’ Sally said as she took off her hat and placed it and her reticule on the table. ‘I shall help you with the costumes and then we will have something to eat.’
‘Before the performance? I mean I usually eat after. Besides, I’m not sure there is enough time,’ Lisette answered.
‘Have you eaten today?’
Sally cut off her friend. ‘That’s what I thought. How do you expect to dance, if you do not eat?’ She took Lisette’s hand and pulled her up from her chair. Sally then snatched up her reticule. ‘I’ve changed my mind. Put on your shawl, we will eat first and then attend to the costumes.’
Knowing that it was futile to resist, Lisette draped her tatty woollen shawl around her shoulders and followed Sally. Besides, now that she remembered she hadn’t eaten, her stomach growled and she realised just how hungry she was. Catching up with Sally, she linked her arm through hers as they made their way through the labyrinth.
‘Where shall we eat?’ Lisette said as she reached into the pocket of her gown and withdrew a penny.
Sally looked down at Lisette’s penny. ‘Hmm, the Hearth Fire. Where else?’
‘Madame Devoré, were you not too harsh on poor little Lisette?’ a disembodied voice called out in the half dark theatre.
Marie’s spine stiffened at the words but she stifled her first response as she recognised the voice belonged to Tinder Michaels, the new owner of the Imperial Theatre.
‘No, Mister Michaels. Lisette must learn.’ She watched as he walked down the aisle towards her. He was of average height, pleasant face and light brown hair. Marie arched an eyebrow. He looked too young to own the theatre.
‘Lisette was...sublime. I saw no mistake,’ he said as he looked up at her from the edge of the stage.
‘You are not a ballet mistress,’ she answered with a twitch of a smile. ‘I am hard on the girl because one day, very soon, she will be a great ballerina. However this will not be achieved without discipline.’
‘Discipline without cruelty.’
Marie’s eyes narrowed as her hand flexed over the silver ball on top of the black walking cane she always carried with her. ‘You think me cruel. Well, perhaps I am. But what I do is for her own good. Lisette has great talent and will be a prima ballerina.’
‘I do not doubt, Madame, but I daresay Florentia will not be so pleased.’
‘Florentia is a good dancer but a demanding one. She nears the end of her career and will be toppled from her pinnacle soon enough.’
She could see that Tinder was taken aback by her words and a tiny seed of worry was planted in his mind. He had just sunk every penny he owned into the slightly shabby Imperial Theatre. He needed the place to be packed to bursting and Florentia was the draw card. For almost a decade she had been the prima ballerina and her talent was unsurpassed.
‘What do you mean?’ Tinder asked as his eyebrows drew together.
‘A dancer cannot dance forever, no matter how much she wishes it. Florentia is at the height of her career but soon another will take her place,’ she said with a shrug.
‘Oh, I do not know, maybe six months; a year. Possibly two. Soon age or injury takes us all. That, of course, does not mean Florentia will be destitute. She is a great dancer, so there will be a chance she could make a fine ballet mistress’.
‘Hmm, I see,’ Tinder said as his hand rubbed his chin. ‘Thank you, Madam Devoré, you have given me much to think about.’
Marie inclined her head and watched Tinder walk up the aisle and disappear into the front of house. She bit back a smile as she started to walk off the stage. How dare he try and undermine her authority. He may own the theatre but there would be no ballet without her.