grand adage - Chapter 12 - thecheeseburgercat (2024)

Chapter Text

by Volothamp Geddarm, Arts and Culture

When I took up my pen for this review, I feared I would be positively incapable of describing the fabulous feast of dance that I was privvy to on the closing night of The Royal Baldur Ballet's autumn mixed program! The stage was alight with fluttering fairies and contemptuous couples, and as the curtain opened on the second half of the evening, the unique undulating shapes of the contemporary act proved a deep delight for the senses! The pairing of the comedic The Dream, based on the classic Shakespearean tale, with the new modern Silverbough was not a couple I expected to thrive, but oh, it certainly made for an enchanting evening!

The leads of The Dream were in every way the very epitome of spellbinding Shakespearean flare. Titania, played by the ever fiery principal Lae'zel K'liir, was not simply a showcase of brilliant technique (as we have come to expect from K'liir, with her expertise from abroad!) but instead K'liir brought the character to new heights with her sensational sense of comedic timing. It was dry, it was witty, it was humourous, and it has made this esteemed author a faithful fan!

Though for all her delights, I do believe the true star of The Dreamwas undoubtedly first soloist Astarion Ancunín. My, not in all my years have I seen a dancer throw themselves with such complete fearlessness and confidence at the arduous role of Oberon! Ancunín positively owned the stage; I could not even begin to keep my dazzled eyes away from his sheer power and presence. I only question now why I have not seen this diamond of a dancer in more principal roles, as Ancunín has been with the company for a good many years. Nevertheless, this author will look forward to any beautiful ballets where he is to star!

The new Silverbough contemporary ballet was set to a stunning selection of strings, and as always principal dancer Halsin Silverbough has crafted for us an exquisite showcase of his signature style. This author is unable to choose which of the scenes was the winner; each new set of dancers showed us something new, something unique, something never seen before! Though, if I am being entirely honest, the final pas de deux between first soloists Ancunín and Ravengard was truly touching. There was magic in that pas de deux, I am convinced, for I found myself discreetly taking care of tears.

The evening was capped off with a stupendous surprise: the announcement that Silverbough shall take his final bow as principal dancer at the end of the season. But faithful fans needn't despair: Silverbough plans to stay on as choreographer in residence, and this esteemed author is glad to hear it! And my faithful readers, do remember to grab your tickets for this year's run of The Nutcracker, on stage December 1st. A timeless holiday classic for the full family to enjoy, The Nutcrackeris never one to miss!

All throughout London the trees have shed their last leaves. There's a constant chill in the air now, cold enough that every dancer bundles up in layers upon layers for daily class, reluctantly shedding them piece by piece as the day progresses onwards. The scant few days between the ending of the mixed program and the beginning of Nutcrackerrehearsals are treasured days, lazy days, and they pass far too quickly for Wyll's liking.

Because for every ballet company in the entire world, performing The Nutcrackeris an annual marathon of a show. This is the show where most companies will make the vast majority of their revenue for the year, financing all the niche classical ballets that only older folks show up to regularly. It's the one show that the general public will turn out to year after year, dragging their tiny children along for a slice of sugary holiday magic.

This year the Royal Baldur is putting on thirty-fivestraight performances. There will be a performance a day from the dawn of December until Christmas Day, and double performances on weekends so that the very young children can attend matinées.

Wyll is exhausted just thinking about it.

But because of the sheer number of performances that the company must soldier through, Nutcrackercasting works very differently than all other ballets. It's an all hands on deck situation and there's never any competition for roles, never any jealousy or catfighting, since every single principal and soloist will get the chance to dance all of the big roles. There are simply too many performances for anyone to be left out.

Thus for a change casting is released before rehearsals even begin. As expected Wyll will be doing some performances of the main male role, The Nutcracker himself, but he's also cast as the Snow King, the lead male in the Chocolate divertissem*nt, a party parent, and to his utter delight the Rat King. It's the standard assortment of roles he expected, but he is happy to be cast in Chocolate instead of some of the other sweets, since some get quite...well, silly.

Astarion has a very similar casting list though his sweet divertissem*nt will be Candy Canes, and Wyll could tell he wasn't particularly thrilled with the choice.

"I'm going to have to lead eight snivelling children around the stage, while jumping through a bloody hula hoop, dressed in the one of the tackiest costumes of the whole damn production," Astarion had moaned when the lists went up. "No Wyll, I am not going to be cheerful about this!"

"Pity you weren't chosen for Mother Ginger," Shadowheart had needled. "I'd have paid good money to see you in full drag this year..."

Despite his complaints, Wyll knows that Astarion isn't truly bothered about the casting. When everyone gets to be the lead for a handful of performances, your main concerns are never about whether you'll get enough stage time but instead about how in the world you're going to make it to the end of the run still breathing.

Thus Wyll has been deliberately taking it easy in rehearsals and class as of late. He's also been making sure he ups his sleep and that his nutrition is perfectly balanced, doing everything he can to ensure he's in top shape for the strenuous month ahead. And that's where his worries truly lie...because he can tell that Astarion has not been doing the same.

Wyll can see it in the plum circles beneath Astarion's eyes. He can see it in the way Astarion struggles at the end of class, whenever the ballet master or mistress pushes them in the final grand allegro. And most concerningly he can see it whenever he tries to get Astarion to eat with him, how he picks at his food or finds ways to avoid eating with Wyll altogether. But whenever Wyll gently pushes the matter, whenever he encourages Astarion to have just a bit more, Astarion is quick to snap at him and deflect. And the last thing Wyll wants is for Astarion to begin pushing him away altogether, not when the spark between them is still so new, so precious.

And it might just be Wyll being overly anxious, but he's fairly certain that once they get back into the swing of rehearsals...Astarion ispushing him away. It's a plethora of mixed signals that Wyll finds very confusing: Astarion will choose a different centre spot away from Wyll with no explanation, but then he'll shyly ask if Wyll would like to come back with him to his flat after rehearsals are done. They will have a perfectly lovely time together in the evenings, and then the very next day Astarion is back to skittering away from him in the studios.

It is worrying, and Wyll means to get to the bottom of it before it drives him mad.

"Astarion," Wyll begins, walking up to him as Gale dismisses morning class one day. "You know what would make today the best day?"

"What, some Vicodin?" Astarion answers as he continues foam rolling his muscles, and Wyll laughs.

"That would certainly help, no lie. But no, I was thinking we could go up to the rooftop together."

"Why," Astarion asks warily. "Isn't it cold?"

"It's not too bad today. Which is why we should do it, it might be the last chance before spring," Wyll coaxes. He can see Astarion struggling with an answer, and his heart clenches. It shouldn't be so hard.

Astarion's eyes flicker around the studio before he nods. "Alright. But I was planning on buying my lunch today, so I haven't brought anything."

"Oh, I packed enough for the two of us," Wyll says nonchalantly and he watches as Astarion's jaw clenches.

"Well then! Lead the way," Astarion smiles, but it doesn't quite reach his eyes.

They climb the steps to the rooftop and Wyll takes a deep breath of the refreshing crisp air, feeling the sweat from class cool down instantly. Behind him Astarion zips up his warm up puffer vest and wraps his arms around himself, bracing at the chill.

"Come here," Wyll offers, sitting down and opening up his arms in invitation. Astarion hesitates, then seemingly gives in and folds himself into Wyll's hold. They watch the Thames winding across the horizon, their breaths gradually slowing down and syncing together.

"This is nice," Astarion admits quietly and Wyll drops a quick kiss to his curls.

"I'll be very good and hold back the 'I told you so' that's just dying to get out," Wyll teases.

"Mm. How kind of you."

Wyll lets Astarion further relax until he's practically boneless, eyes closed, then he makes the move to unpack the food.

"Have some," he suggests. "I know you have petit adage rehearsals this afternoon." Astarion stiffens slightly, then sighs and reaches for one of the sandwiches Wyll had carefully crafted early this morning.

"You made these?" Astarion asks after he's tried a bite.

"I hope you're about to say that they're delicious, that they're the best thing you've ever tasted, because the answer is yes," Wyll jokes.

"Fishing for compliments today, I see," Astarion says. "But these are—yeah, these are really good..." Or you were just very hungry, Wyll thinks, but he does not say.

He waits until Astarion's finished half of what Wyll brought. But once the last bits of fruit have been eaten and Astarion has sighed again, once he's curled further into Wyll's hold, Wyll can't put it off any longer.

"I've noticed something as of late," he begins, and Astarion hums in response. "And...Astarion, I want you to be honest with me."

Astarion's shoulders hitch upwards and he pulls away from Wyll, defensive and cautious.

"You're purposefully staying away from me during the days," Wyll accuses, trying to keep his tone soft. "But then during the evenings we're together...it's entirely opposite. And I'm not mad at you, I promise. I'm just—I'm just confused."

"I—What a ridiculousnotion—"

"No," Wyll interrupts. "Please don't lie to me. I know I'm not making it up."

He holds Astarion's panicked gaze, waiting for the truth. Wyll knows he deserves better than falsehoods.

"Well, it's because—because I think..." Wyll reaches for Astarion's hand, trying to offer comfort, and that's when Astarion breaks.

"Because I think you shouldn't be with me," Astarion admits, and Wyll swears he can feel his soul plummet.

"What—Astarion, why on earth not?! There's no rules against it! There's nothing wrong with us being together!"

"No! No, you don't understand—"

"Then make me," Wyll demands. "Please, I cannot even begin to thinkabout making such an awful decision without knowing why I should!"

"Because I'm not who you think I am," Astarion says, his breath stuttering, and oh, Wyll's heart is breaking at the defeat in his expression, at the hopeless slump of his shoulders. "Wyll, I'm—I'm not a good person. I don't know why you think I am, but—trust me, please trust me! You...you deserve someone far better, someone just as perfect as you, and I can never be that person for you.."

"I don't want perfect," Wyll says, his pulse pounding. "God knows I don't want perfect anymore. Mizora said she was perfect. She said she was flawless and the best I could ever hope to have. That I was luckyto be with someone as beautiful, as talented as she is. But you know what?" Wyll pauses, and when Astarion doesn't respond, he soldiers on.

"She wasn't perfect at all. No, she was just a raging narcissist, that's what she was. Astarion, you are nothing like her. And I am so grateful for it, because that...thatwas the wrong relationship for me."

"You don't know everything about me," Astarion whispers. "You have no—noidea, none, no idea how wrong I really am, what awful things I've done—"

Wyll can't take it anymore, he can't. Astarion is shaking apart right in front of him and Wyll cannot just let that happen. He reaches for him, and Astarion sobs but gives in, allowing Wyll to hold him close as he buries his face in Wyll's shoulder.

"Okay, shh, you're okay," Wyll shushes, his heart racing still. This is—much more than what he was expecting. Much worse. He hugs Astarion tightly, trying to quell his shivering sobbing.

"You're not an awful person," Wyll whispers into soft curls as Astarion continues to clutch at him. "I don't know who told you that, but they're wrong, okay? I know you're not perfect, but I don't want perfect. I want you."

Astarion hiccups but he finally pulls away from Wyll's neck. "God, I'm—I'm sorry, I'm a mess..."

"Don't apologise," Wyll says firmly. Astarion nods, then he shakes his head as if to clear it and looks Wyll square in the eye.

"I want you more than I've ever wanted anything in my entire life," he says, voice raw. "And—I'm selfish, really. I don't want to let you go."

"Then don't," Wyll says. He'll leave fighting Astarion on his being selfish for another day. "I'm right here. And I'm not going anywhere."

He then takes Astarion's hands in his own, gives them a gentle squeeze. "You've been keeping this inside for a while, haven't you? Since the end of the mixed program?"

"You pay too much attention," Astarion admits reluctantly.

"That's because you're my favourite thing to pay attention to," Wyll says, and Astarion finally smiles, though it is a bit wobbly. "May I ask something of you?"

"...I suppose."

"Please talk to me," Wyll pleads. "It's so much harder if you keep things bottled up like this. I want...I want to help you, I want to give you what you need, but I can't if you don't tell me what's wrong."

Astarion is quiet for a beat, but then he nods, and the clenching in Wyll's chest relaxes a bit. "I'll try," Astarion promises, and that's really all Wyll wanted to hear.

"Could I also ask something of you," Astarion says, biting his lower lip.

"Anything."

"Could—Is it okay if we don't kiss or hug in the theatre? Where others might see? It's just—Well. It's not very professional of us, is it?"

Something in Wyll flinches at the demand. The most radiantly happy he'd ever seen Astarion was when he flew into Wyll's arms after the curtain fell on his Oberon debut.

"Of course," Wyll says. "If you're not comfortable with it anymore, of course we can stop. I suppose you're right, on the whole professional front."

"Okay," Astarion exhales, and Wyll can tell that something in him is very relieved at Wyll's ease of acceptance.

"But...can the dressing room be just for us," Wyll suggests, and Astarion smiles fully now.

"You know, I was so put out when Jaheira forced me to room with you! And it turned out to be one of the best things she's ever done for me," Astarion chuckles. "Yes. Let's keep it just for us." And with that he shifts around so that Wyll can wrap an arm around him again.

There, he did it. Hard conversation over, and now Wyll can relax and just keep Astarion warm until they have to head back inside.

"Wyll," Astarion says softly, and Wyll makes a sound to show he's still listening. "What did you say your ex's name was again?"

Oh sh*t.

"Right," Wyll stalls. "I haven't mentioned it before, have I?"

"No, but it sounded vaguely familiar."

"Um. Her name's Mizora."

Astarion frowns, clearly trying to recall where he's heard the name before. "Mizora Alighieri? The prima who used to dance at the Elturel Ballet?"

"...Yes."

"But she must have retired...what, over ten years ago now?"

Wyll winces. "She stuck around as a ballet mistress for the company." And taught in the associated school, of course.

Astarion stiffens and slides out of Wyll's hold, turning to look at him in shocked confusion.

"I know it looks bad," Wyll allows. "Believe me, you don't have to tell me that getting into that relationship was a stupid idea. It was a bloody awful experience that's somehow still dragging on..."

"No," Astarion says softly, his expression still revealing his surprise. "I just—didn't expect her to have been your ballet mistress."

"I was young, dumb, and lonely," Wyll scowls, and Astarion's brow softens in sympathy. "And she saw that and knew that she could mould me into whatever shape she liked. As I said, the best decision I ever made was to leave that company, and to leave her."

"Thank god you were still young enough to do so easily," Astarion murmurs.

"Joining the Royal Baldur was the right choice," Wyll says firmly. "God, just to be away from her constant criticism, her twisted compliments...I was really losing it, near the end."

"I get the feeling you don't want to talk about her," Astarion starts, and Wyll nods. That's an understatement. "But...well, you did just tell me to be more open and honest with you. Please, what do you mean that it's still dragging on?"

f*ck. He's just been letting everything slip, hasn't he?!

But he does owe it to Astarion, to be transparent and not to keep things bottled up. It's not right for Wyll to ask that of him and then not do the same in return.

"Let's just say...she wasn't happy I broke up with her," Wyll says and Astarion scoffs, as if to say 'Well, of course!'

Wyll takes a deep breath. "She's very clever at getting around me blocking her number."

"What," Astarion hisses sharply in surprise. "You mean she's still trying to talk to you?!"

"I block all her new numbers immediately, of course, but...she is persistent."

"Show me," Astarion demands, and Wyll refuses, shaking his head. "Please! I want to help, maybe—maybe I can tell her you've moved on, and she'll stop?"

Wyll laughs at the futility of the suggestion. "God, no! That would do nothing but anger her more. I know you want to help, but there's really nothing to do. I just block and try to move on."

"No wonder she scared you so at the café," Astarion realises. "Oh Wyll, I had no idea!"

"I didn't want to get into it and ruin our lovely date," Wyll admits.

"You wouldn't have," Astarion says. "I promise. But—I am glad you've told me now."

Wyll nods, swallowing around the lump in his throat. He reaches for his phone, wanting to check the time—god knows they've been out here long enough—but of course, of course, there is an unread text waiting for him.

+44 07973 5264817

I saw you yesterday at the stage door, pup. Don't think you can hide from me forever, or hide your new beau. I still miss you, despite your wandering ways...

"—Wyll? Are you listening?" Astarion's been talking to him, and Wyll hasn't even realised. "God, don't tell me you just got one?!" And then Astarion snatches Wyll's phone out of his hand before Wyll can protest, before he can say that it's nothing, just block her, block her and erase her and try to forget her...

Astarion's eyes widen as he reads. He looks up at Wyll in sheer disbelief.

"What the f*ck," he says, and Wyll grimaces. "This is...she's threateningyou! This is an actual threat, you have to do something!"

"Oh, like what," Wyll snaps.

"I don't know! Go to the bloody police?!"

"Right, because that would go so well for me," Wyll scoffs, and Astarion flushes.

"I know it's not that easy for you, I'm not stupid, but—I mean, your father is literally a ranked superintendent! Surely they would do something!"

"Astarion. Please drop it."

"No! I shan't!" Astarion's opened the text now, fuming, and Wyll can just tell he will do something rash if Wyll doesn't stop him.

He plucks his phone back out of Astarion's grasp, ignoring the exasperated huff that follows. Wyll swipes quickly, blocking the new unknown number, then moves to delete the message from existence.

"Wait," Astarion interrupts. "At least don't delete it. Can you keep it as evidence?"

Wyll pauses. "But whatever for?"

"Oh come on! So we can build up a case, so we can show someonehow bonkers she is?!"

Wyll can't help it, he laughs. "Bonkersis putting it so mildly...okay, you win. I'll keep track of them from now on."

"Thank you," Astarion sighs. "I'm still not happy with this. But I suppose it's a start." Then he flops back onto Wyll, his head finding Wyll's shoulder. "God, I'm so tired. I'm so tired and we haven't even begun the damn performances."

"I know," Wyll soothes. "And I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but I'm pretty sure rehearsals started like fifteen minutes ago."

"sh*t. You're right. Oh no, Jaheira's going to kill me..."

~*~

The other standard of Nutcracker season is just how short the rehearsal period is. Because it is the one ballet that the company performs year after year, Nutcrackernever needs a long and involved rehearsal process. The choreography never has enough time to leave your body before December rolls around once more and you're back to being a snowflake, or a candy cane, or in Wyll's case today, the Rat King.

Gale is overseeing today's rehearsal of the battle scene, which is really the only part of the whole ballet that has some serious plot. The story can vary a bit from company to company, but the basic plot of The Nutcrackeris quite simple.

It is Christmas Eve somewhere in 19th century Germany and young Clara's family are hosting a glorious holiday party. Her beloved godfather Uncle Drosselmeyer arrives with an array of dazzling toys to delight Clara, her brother Fritz, and the rest of the children. Clara is taken by her godfather's final creation, a plain and rather ugly wooden Nutcracker, which all the other children ignore. In a fit of jealousy Fritz fights with Clara over the doll and breaks it, though a weeping Clara is soon comforted by Drosselmeyer who repairs the doll like new. Once the party has concluded and all have gone off to bed, Clara sneaks out to the parlour to check on the Nutcracker. But just as the clock strikes midnight there is a sudden burst of magic and the Christmas Tree grows to an exponential size, just as a group of terrifyingly huge rats leap into the parlour. Horrified, Clara watches as the rats, led by their King, fight with the animated toy soldiers, led by her very own Nutcracker who has also come to life. The Rat King only falls when Clara throws her shoe at the monster's head, distracting him long enough for the Nutcracker to stab him fatally.

Heart pounding, Clara greets her saviour and the magic of the night transforms the ugly Nutcracker into a handsome prince. Clara too is transformed into a beautiful grown woman and the two dance together in a stunning petit adage, set in a snowy pine forest. Snowflakes waltz around them and they make their way to the glittering Land of Sweets, where they are greeted by an array of sweets from around the world who dance for their amusem*nt. Flowers waltz and the entire sugary act concludes with a grand pas de deux where Clara, now the Sugarplum Fairy, and her Prince dance together. As the sweets dance in one last waltz of merriment, Clara wakes from the magic and realises that the night was all but a dream.

Wyll has danced this ballet so many times that he could hum the entire score, note for note, from memory. He's danced just about every major role there is. And yet...and yet, he never truly tires of it. It really is just perfect holiday magic.

Though he could do without the London department stores blasting the same four pieces of the score over and over again. Sometimes there issuch a thing as too much holiday magic.

"Okay rats, line up in your ranks! Proper formations please, masks down so we can practise with the visibility," Gale calls, and the rats reluctantly all pop on their rat heads. Wyll won't lie, he does always find it hilarious how Nutcrackerseason means a bunch of grown men have to pretend to be rodents, rolling around on the floor and wiggling their hands like whiskers.

Wyll stands off to the sidelines as the rats rehearse their entrance. But when he notices that the little girl from the Royal Baldur School who is playing young Clara looks too overwhelmed at the chaos, he slides his own scary rat mask off and squeezes around the soldiers to offer her some comfort.

"Hi there," he says warmly. "I'm Wyll. I don't think we've been properly introduced!"

"My name is Yenna," the young dancer whispers.

"It's lovely to meet you, Yenna. Are you excited to be dancing Clara this year?"

"...Yes. At least, I ought to be," Yenna says nervously. She can't be more than ten or eleven, Wyll guesses.

"But it's weird being in a big studio like this, isn't it?"

"Exactly," Yenna says, lighting up just a bit. "Normally the rats and soldiers are my friends from class! This is...somuch bigger than what I'm used to."

"Well, I'll tell you that sometimes this still feels like a very big studio for me too. But Gale's a good teacher, isn't he?"

"He talks a lot," Yenna says, and Wyll snorts.

"That he does, but at least we're all forced to learn something new. You'll get to dance soon. And you'll make sure to clock me real good with that shoe, right?" Wyll teases.

Yenna's expression finally breaks into a full mischievous smile. "I'm gonna get you so good you won't know what hit you!"

"Wyll, Yenna! Find your places please, we're going to run the whole battle from the top," Gale calls. Wyll gives Yenna an encouraging smile before he pulls on the Rat King head, then he dramatically swooshes his cape and finds his mark.

The battle begins and it is organised chaos as the ranks of toy soldiers and rats clash to the piano score. Wyll eggs his army on, even pulling out some cartwheels and some strange, quasi-rat like jumps. He duels with Dammon in the bulky Nutcracker head, then pauses and turns so that Yenna can get a clear shot at his face.

The little girl launchesthat shoe with so much force, Wyll wonders if her parents ought to have put her in baseball instead of ballet. It ricochets off his rat mask and Wyll knows that without it he would absolutely be sporting a nice shiny new bruise.

"Jesus," he laughs as Gale calls for the piano to stop. "You were not kidding!"

"I told you so," Yenna smirks, and Wyll can't help but smile.

grand adage - Chapter 12 - thecheeseburgercat (2024)
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