(This short piece was originally published in Zygote magazine in December, 1995.)

Good day. It must truly be a pleasure for you to be here in my lakeside home and studio today, as much a pleasure as it is for me to have you as my guests. It isn’t that often you have the delightful opportunity to visit a prima ballerina as myself. What is that? Some of you haven’t heard of me? My, my, my!

Very well, for those of you new to the world of ballet, let me introduce myself. I am Oksana Dobrekova, past prima ballerina of the Bolshoi and the Kirov. Surely you must have heard of my triumph as Giselle with the Paris Opéra Ballet. I embodied every detail, every nuance the critics had craved in an ideal Giselle--the beauty, the anguish, the rebirth. And afterwards, the ovations, the fame, the glory of it all!

Ah, poor Giselle, she but a misunderstood sylphide of the night destroyed by mortals, by men. No, Giselle’s life is not my own, despite how well I exude her soul in dance. No, men have not destroyed me. Men never will, for I am the bamboo reed--supple and pliant, but too strong to be broken. Too many grand pliés have made these thighs taut, and as my babushka used to say, "As a woman’s thighs go, so goes her will!" Back in Odessa, my babushka’s legs were always firm from years of bearing babies and toting tots; from stooping down yet buttressing her ground. She nourished us with her cabbage rolls, knitted wool and whimsy. Her warm stamina gave her a certain grace, letting her overcome the slovenliness of the men around her. So you see, she taught me a woman must work her thighs and calves throughout life to make her backbone and heart filled with aplomb. No, I am not Giselle. I have survived, even thrived, and I have many more pirouettes to turn en pointe before leaving the world’s stage.

The secret to being a prima ballerina is practice. If I can teach you anything today, it is that you must train as if Judgment Day comes tomorrow and tonight your adoring public demands one more Shéhérazade before that pas de deux with God. Practice and train, my friends. Practice and train! At my final ovations I will reflect on my days working the barre with joy. To grasp its knotty grain and extend into a graceful arabesque is a bliss more pure than---than that first touch of a gentleman’s lips to your trembling own. It is through rigorous rehearsals and run-throughs and repetitions---step, two, three; fouetté, two three; entrechat and stop---that I hone my roles into such visions sublime.

It is now that I am preparing for my most demanding role of all. Baryshnikov, himself, has begged me to be his precious Odette as a fitting finale to our careers. I know what you must be thinking! To dance Swan Lake as your swan song is a bit trite and a bit twee. But when Mikhail calls, how is one to say no? Ah, yes, the serene Odette shall be the role of my career. And to seduce Mikhail as the vile Odile is too tempting. I’ll show all the men who have spurned me how sensuous and beguiling I can be. They will leap into Odile’s incantations and then I’ll watch them crumble. Those prurient bastards! My tight thighs betray them! But first, I must rehearse!

I shall don my finest white tutu for Odette, the swan queen. As you can see as I move, this costume flows, full and refined, evenly hemmed. This white feathered hairpiece completes the gentle air of the outfit. For the dual role of Odile, I have reserved a silk tutu in the deepest black, uneven, untamed. It shall simultaneously speak evil and seduction. Its dark power shall enchant Prince Mikhail, hoping to seal Odette’s bloody fate. Ah! But I have rewritten the script, Odile! Odette shall prevail in this Swan Lake!

Come! We must hurry outside! To create the perfect Odette one must not confine one’s self only to a studio. No, only in nature can we find the true beauty of Odette. A true prima ballerina must fully live the part of her character. Come now! Come out to my gardens!

My outfit is not yet complete. No. The tutu emotes a swan’s winged grace. The hairpiece--the gentle curve of her neck. I remove my ballet shoes and quietly hang them in this red maple tree. The ground is moist and they must not be soiled. There. They are now like doves perched in the sun. I quickly slide my pointed feet into these handy black rubber flippers. Swans, you see, do not wear shoes! Everyone knows they have nice webbed feet. Now, we must run to the lakeshore over there. It is time to rehearse, to swim. Yes! I am Odette, the Swan Queen. And I am free!

© Chikara, 1995

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