Maria waits in the wings. Waiting, waiting, waiting ... When will it be her turn to go onto that stage? When will it be her turn to dance like that, to leap and spin as though nothing she has heard has disturbed her at all? She has seen her mother - she is waiting in the audience. She is not angry at her daughter, just sad that she should feel she could not confide in her. But she admits that she would have tried to stop her.
It is almost time. Soon she will be on stage. Her tutu makes her feel like a real ballerina - or a total fraud. Wearing this, she should be amazing, but she knows she isn't. She doesn't have the training, doesn't have the background, doesn't have anything that makes her worthy to do this. Only determination.
"Are you ready, Maria?" Mr Conor is at her side. He has told her to call him James. She keeps forgetting.
"I'm a little nervous," she tells him honestly, twisting her fingers together in anxiety. "But I think I can do it ... if I can do what I do in rehearsals it will be fine. I just don't know if I can."
"Just remember that the audience doesn't know your dance, so if you mess it up just make something up and keep smiling." He pats her on the shoulder and walks away; she watches him go with a look of confusion. How can he say to her that it doesn't matter? It does matter. This is her first performance. This is everything. This is the day that she proves to her mother that she really is a dancer.
A few minutes later the previous group is gone from the stage and their entrance music is playing. The other girls surround them, whispering (for of course, to talk in the wings is strictly forbidden). "Good luck, Maria! You'll do fine..." She looks at Anna, whose face is closed to her. Eleanor has already danced and is getting changed into her tracksuit, which she will wear until the finale. There is no one to help her now. Only she can do this.
And she can do it. When her cue comes, Maria runs onto the stage, surrounded by her class mates. They dance, dance in a way that they never did in the rehearsals, in perfect unison with a look of utmost joy on their face. Why? Because Maria is dancing her solo, because Maria knows what she is doing, because Maria's laugh is infectious and her smile catching.
The audience sighs when Maria's solo comes to an end, but the others are good today, better than they were before. They know what they are doing and she has given them the gift to do it ...
When they get off stage, everybody is congratulating them. "Well done, Maria!" they say, as though everything was because of her, but she is reluctant to take the praise. She tells them that the others deserve it at least as much as she does. Still they congratulate her.
"Maria?" The Director is at her side in an instant, smiling. "The audience want you to take a bow. That was ... fantastic."
A little confused, she returns to the stage, pirouettes once and curtseys to the audience. They are on their feet. A standing ovation. There are still two more groups to dance, the youngest of the students, but then there is the finale. "I think we may have to do an encore," says the Director to Maria, when she returns to the wings again. "Do you know any other solos that you could do in the finale?"
"No," she says. "But I can make one up. I've got a few minutes..." When he leaves her, she realises that she will have a lot to live up to. But it does not matter. The dance is humming through her blood, making her feel more alive than she has in a very long time ...
Maria woke up with a jolt. She was in her mother's car, and they had left the Royal Ballet School. They were going home! She suddenly felt overwhelmed at the thought that tomorrow she would not dance, tomorrow she would be at home, alone ... but soon she would be back, and that comforted her.
"You've been asleep, darling. Are you very tired?"
Her mother had no idea. She didn't know about the endless rehearsals, the dance itself. She just knew that her daughter was talented and seemed to dance very well. Maria nodded and closed her eyes again. Perhaps this time she would dream of her final solo ... her curtain calls ... the end of the show ...