A makeshift stage was set up in the county park. It was just big enough to hold the production about to take place. The background was painted with trees that look like lollipops on a chipped blue sky. A small orchestra set up and tuned their instruments, trying to set up their sheet music on stands that fell apart at the slightest touch. Loads of children dressed in rags too big or too small from them sat on the grass in front of the stage, waiting in anticipation. Their faces were lit up with excitement. After months and months of living in shacks in the Hoovervilles while their parents tried to get jobs, they got some entertainment. They’d see beautiful ballerinas dancing across the stage. They’d turn and leap and kick! It seemed just like a dream.
And in the park lodge, the stars were preparing for the show of the lifetime. Sophie was laughing as she put on her white grandma wig. She was dressed in a yellow frock and had a long stick picked from the woods to accompany it.
“A charity show!” She exclaimed, cheerfully. “Those homeless children will be so happy!”
The ballerinas all were giggling as they put on their light brown frocks and pinned black-braids to their scalps. They did each other's makeup (which was smearing lipstick on their cheeks) and helped each other stretch on the ground. Alexandra, who was already in full costume, practiced her tendus while holding onto the edge of the table.
“My first lead role!” she squealed, raising her voice. “A chosen one! My Aunt Petra would be so proud of me! Because she was a ballerina in Russia-”
“We know, we know,” Nick groaned, pinning a little red hat to his head. “Did she make it out of Russia before the Soviets took over?”
Alexandra inhaled sharply. “I hope. So, do you think this is how pagans dressed?”
“I doubt it,” Nick responded, pulling at the floppy sleeves that were tight around
the forearms but bloomed like a flower at the wrist. Expert tailoring for a garment made out of a potato sack.
Their instructor entered the lodge and called for them to get backstage. Squealing, they made last minute adjustments to their wigs and makeup. Sophie gathered her staff, an extra brown frock, and her braids, carrying them in her arms as the dancers made their way to the stage.
“I’m an old lady in one scene, but a little girl in another,” Sophie whispered to Alexandra. “I hope I don’t mess this up.”
“You’ll do fine, I know it,” Alexandra reassured. In front of the stage, the children were nearly speechless. Their smiles spread across their dirt-smudged faces. Heck, they looked ready to burst. The dance instructor entered the stage and announced to the children, “Welcome to Page Park! Before we begin, I see some of your parents are in the back. Whose parents are out looking for jobs or at the breadline?”
Almost every child raised their hand. “Thanks, Hoover,” she uttered before asking. “Do they know when to pick you up?” Only a few children raised their hands.
“My Papa gave me two dollars and said ‘This’ll be enough to last ya.’ Then climbed into a boxcar, and drove away” one little boy answered.
The dance instructor stared at the child for a few seconds before answering, “Concerning. Boys and Girls, I present to you, Stravinsky’s Rite of Springs!”
The children applauded, and the orchestra launched into a subtle, intense overture. Then the procession of boys entered...jumping? Yes, the ballerinas jumped in small circles, sharply moving their arms as the strings let out sharp tones. The sound of their feet hitting the ground was louder than the orchestra. The children watched with their smiles still fixed on their faces.
The melody was pounding as Sophie, the old lady, chàsed onto the stage, staff in hand. She did compass turns, dragging the end of her stick on the ground. She reached out at the audience, who were watching in awe. The boys continued to dance as she hopped wildly and foretold the future.
Eventually, the tribe all jumped together facing forward, hovering around the old lady. In sharp, jumpy movements, she explained her prophecy before the procession followed her as she jumped right offstage, her back hunched. Even as she exited, she was pulling off her wig.
Finally, the young girls, Alexandra, and Sophie included, entered in a single file line, every other dancer bending their head and leg every few beats or so. They danced and skipped in a circle holding hands, performing their Khorovod. Eventually, the compacted into two, condensed lines, leaning left...the right...all in complete unison.
After the circle broke and the whole tribe was dancing together, they split into two groups. The two groups jumped towards each other, then away, then towards each other, then away, performing the ritual of rival tribes...apparently. In the audience, the few older children in the crowd were trying their hardest not to laugh.
The games continued as the rival...tribe leaped past each other before pairing up, the boy lifting the girls in the oddest positions. The children in the audiences began to let their fat grins calm just a bit. Some of them tilted their heads, trying to comprehend what was going on. Others flat-out focused on picking at the grass ten minutes into the show.
“Why are they dressed like that?” one seven-year-old boy asked his big brother.
“I think they’re Indians,” his brother answered.
“They’re in India?”
“Shh!” a girl behind them interjected. “They’d Pagans, dummy.”
“What does that-”
“Shh!” Soon enough, the boys had exited the stage, leaving just three groups of three girls, holding hands and tiptoeing towards each other. They moved silently, carefully...before whipping their heads around and staring right at the audience. They bent forwards and touched the ground as the rest of the tribe emerged in a slow, solemn procession. They’d twist, strike the ground, stand with their elbows up, repeat. The young girls did their own, graceful dance as the boys continued their slow parade. Around six girls in the front did their own ritual, spinning on their toes with their arms up.
Suddenly, there a crash in the music, waking up the few children who dozed off during the slow procession. Every time the music rose, a group of people rose with it, elbows tilted towards the sky. Eventually, they all spread out and started a passionate dance, their backs hunched but their feet moving quickly. The audience began slightly uncomfortable, shifting a little. The littlest ones in the front scooted backward a bit as the young girls stared right at them.
But the music calmed down, the young girls all held hands in circles. They traveled on their tiptoes, the music lit and calming. It was an awfully refreshing sight, but it didn’t last long. The music crescendoed again, making a little girl in the audience scream. The boys paired up and started to fake-punch each other as the girls scurried around.
Finally, the tribe gathered into two lines, their backs low, as a dancer with a long white dress and beard was helped onto the stage, his shocked face facing the sky. He wore the freakiest mask any of the children had ever seen. He stared at the sky as the tribe danced wildly around him, waving their arms and punching the sky. Drums sounded, and the ballerinas wildly danced around him. The boys and girls mixed until the whole stage was a loud, thumping mad scene. The kids’ eyes darted around the stage, not knowing what the focus on. The foot-thumping was so loud that no one could hear the music. The old man didn’t move a muscle until the whole tribe paused around him, the circles of boys nearest to him holding up their fists.
The dancers excited to backstage, and the dance instructor emerged and faced a sea of confused children.
“So...we’ll take a five-minute intermission. Be sure to…um...talk among yourselves,” she announced, the children completely silent. She exited the stage, constantly looking over her shoulder at the shocked faces. The crowd was silent for a full minute, staring forward at the stage, until one girl called out, “What the hell was that?!”
Backstage, the dancers were all hunched over, panting.
“My feet hurt already,” Nick breathed, his hands on his knees.
“Mine don’t!” Alexandra exclaimed, her lip quivering. “Did you hear that girl who shouted in delight!”
“You sure that was delight, Alex?”
“I know it! And your quick change was great, Sophie!”
“A little girl whispered ‘witch’ when I went on stage,” Sophie stated, blankly.
After the chugged their fair share of water, the girls were called back onto the stage. As they marched on, blank looks on their faces, one little boy whispered, “No…”
The girls all stood in a circle, their right elbow resting on their left hand, their cheeks on their right hands, and their heads all tilted. The orchestra played a quiet, string melody as the girls started to walk in circles, only their feet moving. They’d lift their left arm, right arm, then assume the same position as before. Every movement was sharp, in exact unison. Already, the children wanted to leave.
Suddenly, the girls stopped, stepped out of the circle, then started throwing their arms in the air, lightly hopping as they condensed into another circle, this time following the girl in front of them as they continued their mysterious dance. After a few seconds, they dropped their arms and began to walk calmly every few seconds, every other girl would scurry in front of the next girl. Half the girls were walking, calmly, while the other half was cutting in front every chance they got. This monotonous ritual continued until one girl fell.
The entire group stopped and stared at her, their elbows out and their hands under their chins. A few children yelped. The girl hastily ran back into the circle and the procession went on. The audience was now on edge, watching intently and praying that another mistake wasn’t made. Some of the younger kids started dwindling with their thumbs, biting their lips. A few glanced over their shoulder at their parents. Sadly, the adults were just as confused.
Out of nowhere, Alexandra fell to the ground, and the rest of the girls did the exact same thing. She was yanked off the ground and thrown into the middle of the circle, where she got pushed around again and again until she found herself right in the center. She stood up straight, her tilted up, looking left. Her wide eyes were full of silent terror.
Half the audience had the same expression. The rest of the girls danced around her as she stood completely still. They jumped towards her and threw their hands up and down. They’d punch the air and spin in a circle. Though the dancing was chaotic, most of the children were intent on staring at The Chosen One, just to see if she would budge. Even after the girls finished thumping and punching for what felt like an eternity, Alexandra didn’t move. It was like being frozen in fear.
When the young girls fell forwards on their stomachs around her, causing the adults in the back to gasp. But they rose and did it again, as if they’d practiced it for a while. A few of the boys entered with using fur blankets with teddy bears stitched to top as capes. It could have possibly been imitating a fur coat, but instead of laughing, the children just thought about the poor toys that got wasted.
The boys in the coats danced closest to the chosen one, followed by the rest of the boys and the young girls. They solemnly marched until everyone without a coat marched off, leaving just the girl to her fate. When the crowd backed away from her, only then did she begin to dance.
Firstly, she jumped high with her fist in the air, as if grabbing something. She then held up her left arm and hopped twice, once with her right arm facing in, and once facing out. She’d then sway her arms and lean back, then repeat. The children in the audience leaned back, their eyebrows raised. The two brother who had previously been arguing were holding hands. The kids closest to the back looked over their shoulders at the adults, but even the grown-ups were perplexed.
The chosen one ran right, then left, but couldn’t escape the circle. As the boys in the coats started to slowly march around her, she continued her same routine, patting her thighs every time she couldn’t escape. The horns blasted each time she tried to flee. She did it again and again until she dropped to her knees. She moved her straight arms up and down with the intense music, her facial expression changing from one of terror, to one of seriousness. And the look was enough to make the toddlers in the front want to cry.
She began the sacrificial dance, repeating the same, odd dance she did before. The youngest children burst into tears, quietly crying as the music got more and more intense. They started to mutter among themselves, “What’s going on? What’s she doing’?”
As the boys slowly marched out, a new addition was added to the terrifying dance. Alexandra would kick her leg, then try to lift it up without bending it. She’d fall to the ground, passionately punch the ground, and repeat. Every child in the audience was watching in horror. The crying got even louder.
The Chosen One continued her sharp, mysterious dance as the children became even more restless. One little boy even called out, “Mommy! Can we go back to the shack!? This is scary!”
But Alexandra kept spinning and jumping and falling, the music crescendoing. A girl sitting at the end of the crowd roll onto her feet and started speed-walking away.
The more intense and stone-cold serious, the more restless the audience got. A good half of them had streaks of tears on their cheeks washing away the dirt. A few of them covered up their ears and closed their eyes. Some were too stunned to even move. The parents became to think that employing their child in a factory would be a better decision.
Finally, Alexandra dropped to the floor, lying on her back and playing dead. Three boys sharply lifted her up to the Gods, the music pumping out one last bolt of lightning. Right on cue, the children screamed. The crying was so loud that you could hear it throughout the park. The parents with children in the audience dashed to pick them up and carry them away. A good dozen children were running off on their own. By the time the dancer and the instructor and lined up on the stage to take a final bow, most of the children were gone. To throw some gasoline on that garbage fire, a few more strong-willed parents were approaching the stage, hands clenched into fists.
The dancers were perplexed. They tried to plaster on a smile, but it was nearly impossible. Alexandra looked the most disappointed out of all of them! Nick leaned over, and whispered into her ear, “You think Aunt Petra would be proud of that?”