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The Stardance Trilogy
By Spider Robinson Jeanne Robinson
Baen Publishing EnterprisesCopyright © 2006 Spider Robinson & Jeanne Robinson
All right reserved.
Chapter OneI can't really say that I knew her, certainly not the way Seroff knew Isadora. All I know of her childhood and adolescence are the anecdotes she chanced to relate in my hearing-just enough to make me certain that all three of the contradictory biographies on the current best-seller list are fictional. All I know of her adult life are the relatively few hours she spent in my presence and on my monitors-more than enough to tell me that every newspaper account I've seen is fictional. Carrington probably believed he knew her better than I, and in a limited sense he was correct-but he would never have written about it, and now he is dead.
But I was her video man, since the days when you touched the camera with your hands, and I knew her backstage: a type of relationship like no other on Earth or off it. I don't believe it can be described to anyone not of the profession-you might think of it as somewhere between co-workers and combat buddies. I was with her the day she came to Skyfac, terrified and determined, to stake her life upon a dream. I watched her work and worked with her for that whole two months, through endless rehearsals, and I have saved every tape and they are not for sale.
And, of course, I saw the Stardance. Iwas there. I taped it.
I guess I can tell you some things about her.
To begin with, it was not, as Cahill's Shara and Von Derski's Dance Unbound: The Creation of New Modern suggest, a lifelong fascination with space and space travel that led her to become her race's first zero-gravity dancer. Space was a means to her, not an end, and its vast empty immensity scared her at first. Nor was it, as Melberg's hardcover tabloid The Real Shara Drummond claims, because she lacked the talent to make it as a dancer on Earth. If you think free-fall dancing is easier than conventional dance, you try it. Don't forget your dropsickness bag.
But there is a grain of truth in Melberg's slanders, as there is in all the best slanders. She could not make it on Earth-but not through lack of talent.
I first saw her in Toronto in July 1989. I headed Toronto Dance Theater's video department at that time, and I hated every minute of it. I hated everything in those days. The schedule that day called for spending the entire afternoon taping students, a waste of time and tape that I hated more than anything except the phone company. I hadn't seen the new year's crop yet, and was not eager to. I love to watch dance done well-the efforts of a tyro are usually as pleasing to me as a first-year violin student in the next apartment is to you.
My leg was bothering me more than usual as I walked into the studio. Norrey saw my face and left a group of young hopefuls to come over. "Charlie ...?"
"I know, I know. They're tender fledglings, Charlie, with egos as fragile as an Easter egg in December. Don't bite them, Charlie. Don't even bark at them if you can help it, Charlie."
She smiled. "Something like that. Leg?"
Norrey Drummond is a dancer who gets away with looking like a woman because she's small. There's about a hundred and fifteen pounds of her, and most of it is heart. She stands about five-four, and is perfectly capable of seeming to tower over the tallest student. She has more energy than the North American Grid, and uses it as efficiently as a vane pump (do you know the principle of a standard piston-type pump? Go look up the principle of a vane pump.) There's a signaturelike uniqueness to her dance, the only reason I can see why she got so few of the really juicy parts in company productions until Modern gave way to New Modern. I liked her because she didn't pity me. We lived together once, but it didn't work out.
"It's not only the leg," I admitted. "I hate to see the tender fledglings butcher your choreography."
"Then you needn't worry. The piece you're taping today is by ... one of the students."
"Oh fine. I knew I should have called in sick." She made a face. "What's the catch?"
"Why did the funny thing happen to your voice just as you got to 'one of my students'?"
She blushed. "Dammit, she's my sister."
Norrey and I go back a long way together, but I'd never met a sister-not unusual these days, I suppose. My eyebrows rose. "She must be good then."
"Why, thank you, Charlie."
"Bullshit. I give compliments right-handed or not at all-I'm not talking about heredity. I mean that you're so hopelessly ethical you'd bend over backward to avoid nepotism. For you to give your own sister a feature like that, she must be terrific."
"Charlie, she is," Norrey said simply.
"We'll see. What's her name again?"
"Shara." Norrey pointed her out, and I understood the rest of the catch. Shara Drummond was ten years younger than her sister-and a good eighteen centimeters taller, with fifteen or eighteen more kilos. I noted absently that she was stunningly beautiful, but it didn't lessen my dismay-in her best years, Sophia Loren could never have become a Modern dancer. Where Norrey was small, Shara was big, and where Norrey was big, Shara was bigger. If I'd seen her on the street I might have whistled appreciatively-but in the studio I frowned.
"My God, Norrey, she's enormous."
"Mother's second husband was a football player," she said mournfully. "She's awfully good."
"If she is good, that is awful. Poor girl. Well, what do you want me to do?"
"What makes you think I want you to do anything?"
"You're still standing here."
"Oh. I guess I am. Well ... have lunch with us, Charlie?"
"Why?" I knew perfectly well why, but I expected a polite lie.
Not from Norrey Drummond. "Because you two have something in common, I think."
I paid her honesty the compliment of not wincing. "I suppose we do."
"Then you will?"
"Right after the session."
She twinkled and was gone. In a remarkably short time she had organized the studio full of wandering, chattering young people into something that resembled a dance ensemble if you squinted. They warmed up during the twenty minutes it took me to set up and check out my equipment. I positioned one camera in front of them, one behind, and kept one in my hands for walk-around closeup work. I never triggered it.
There's a game that you play in your mind. Every time someone catches or is brought to your attention, you begin making guesses about them. You try to extrapolate their character and habits from their appearance. Him? Surly, disorganized-leaves the cap off the toothpaste and drinks boilermakers. Her? Art-student type, probably uses a diaphragm and writes letters in a stylized calligraphy of her own invention. Them? They look like schoolteachers from Miami, probably here to see what snow looks like, attend a convention. Sometimes I come pretty close. I don't know how I typecast Shara Drummond, in those first twenty minutes. The moment she began to dance, all preconceptions left my mind. She became something elemental, something unknowable, a living bridge between our world and the one the Muses live in.
I know, on an intellectual and academic level, just about all there is to know about dance, and I could not categorize or classify or even really comprehend the dance she danced that afternoon. I saw it, I even appreciated it, but I was not equipped to understand it. My camera dangled from the end of my arm, next to my jaw. Dancers speak of their "center," the place their motion centers around, often quite near the physical center of gravity. You strive to "dance from your center," and the "contraction-and-release" idea which underlies so much of Modern dance depends on the center for its focus of energy. Shara's center seemed to move about the room under its own power, trailing limbs that attached to it by choice rather than necessity. What's the word for the outermost part of the sun, the part that still shows in an eclipse? Corona? That's what her limbs were: four lengthy tongues of flame that followed the center in its eccentric, whirling orbit, writhing fluidly around its surface. That the lower two frequently contacted the floor seemed coincidental-indeed the other two touched the floor nearly as regularly.
There were other students dancing. I know this because the two automatic videocameras, unlike me, did their job and recorded the piece as a whole. It was called Birthing, and depicted the formation of a galaxy that ended up resembling Andromeda. It was not an accurate literal portrayal, but it wasn't intended to be. Symbolically, it felt like the birth of a galaxy.
In retrospect. At the time I was aware only of the galaxy's heart: Shara. Students occluded her from time to time, and I simply never noticed. It hurt to watch her.
If you know anything about dance, this must all sound horrid to you. A dance about a nebula? I know, I know. It's a ridiculous notion. And it worked. In the most gut-level, cellular way it worked-save only that Shara was too good for those around her. She did not belong in that eager crew of awkward, half-trained apprentices. It was like listening to the late Steveland Wonder trying to work with a pickup band in a Montreal bar.
But that wasn't what hurt.
Le Maintenant was Shabby, but the food was good and the house brand of grass was excellent. Show a Diner's Club card in there and Fat Humphrey'd show you a galley full of dirty dishes. It's gone now. Norrey and Shara declined a toke, but in my line of work it helps. Besides, I needed a few hits. How to tell a lovely lady her dearest dream is hopeless?
I didn't need to ask Shara to know that her dearest dream was to dance. More: to dance professionally. I have often speculated on the motives of the professional artist. Some seek the narcissistic assurance that others will actually pay cash to watch or hear them. Some are so incompetent or disorganized that they can support themselves in no other way. Some have a message which they feel needs expressing. I suppose most artists combine aspects of all three. This is not complaint-what they do for us is necessary. We should be grateful that there are motives.
But Shara was one of the rare ones. She danced because she simply needed to. She needed to say things which could be said in no other way, and she needed to take her meaning and her living from the saying of them. Anything else would have demeaned and devalued the essential statement of her dance. I knew this, from watching that one dance.
Between toking up and keeping my mouth full and then toking again (a mild amount to offset the slight down that eating brings), it was over half an hour before I was required to say anything beyond an occasional grunted response to the luncheon chatter of the ladies. As the coffee arrived, Shara looked me square in the eye and said, "Do you talk, Charlie?"
She was Norrey's sister, all right.
"No such thing. Inane people, maybe."
"Do you enjoy dancing, Ms. Drummond?"
She answered seriously. "Define enjoy."
I opened my mouth and closed it, perhaps three times. You try it.
"And for God's sake tell me why you're so intent on not talking to me. You've got me worried."
"Shara!" Norrey looked dismayed.
"Hush. I want to know."
I took a crack at it. "Shara, before he died I had the privilege of meeting Bertram Ross. I had just seen him dance. A producer who knew and liked me took me backstage, the way you take a kid to see Santa Claus. I had expected him to look older offstage, at rest. He looked younger, as if that incredible motion of his was barely in check. He talked to me. After a while I stopped opening my mouth, because nothing ever came out."
She waited, expecting more. Only gradually did she comprehend the compliment and its dimension. I had assumed it would be obvious. Most artists expect to be complimented. When she did twig, she did not blush or simper. She did not cock her head and say, "Oh, come on." She did not say, "You flatter me." She did not look away.
She nodded slowly and said, "Thank you, Charlie. That's worth a lot more than idle chatter." There was a suggestion of sadness in her smile, as if we shared a bitter joke.
"For heaven's sake, Norrey, what are you looking so upset about?"
The cat now had Norrey's tongue.
"She's disappointed in me," I said. "I said the wrong thing."
"That was the wrong thing?"
"It should have been 'Ms. Drummond, I think you ought to give up dancing.'"
"It should have been 'Shara, I think you ought' ... what?"
"Charlie-" Norrey began.
"I was supposed to tell you that we can't all be professional dancers, that they also surf who only sand and wade. Shara, I was supposed to tell you to dump the dance-before it dumps you."
In my need to be honest with her, I had been more brutal than was necessary, I thought. I was to learn that bluntness never dismayed Shara Drummond. She demanded it.
"Why you?" was all she said.
"We're inhabiting the same vessel, you and I. We've both got an itch that our bodies just won't let us scratch."
Her eyes softened. "What's your itch?"
"The same as yours."
"The man was supposed to come and fix the phone on Thursday. My roommate Karen and I had an all-day rehearsal. We left a note. Mister telephone man, we had to go out, and we sure couldn't call you, heh heh. Please get the key from the concierge and come on in; the phone's in the bedroom. The phone man never showed up. They never do." My hands seemed to be shaking. "We came up the back stairs from the alley. The phone was still dead, but I never thought to take down the note on the front door. I got sick the next morning. Cramps. Vomiting. Karen and I were just friends, but she stayed home to take care of me. I suppose on a Friday night the note seemed even more plausible. He slipped the lock with a piece of plastic, and Karen came out of the kitchen as he was unplugging the stereo. He was so indignant he shot her. Twice. The noise scared him; by the time I got there he was halfway out the door. He just had time to put a slug though my hip joint, and then he was gone. They never got him. They never even came to fix the phone." My hands were under control now. "Karen was a damned good dancer, but I was better. In my head I still am."
Her eyes were round. "You're not Charlie ... Charles Armstead."
"Oh my God. So that's where you went."
I was shocked by how shocked she looked. It brought me back from the cold and windy border of self-pity. I began a little to pity her again. I should have guessed the depth of her empathy. And in the way that really mattered, we were too damned alike-we did share the same bitter joke. I wondered why I had wanted to shock her.
"They couldn't repair the joint?" she asked softly.
"I can walk splendidly if asymmetrically. Given a strong enough motivation, I can even run short distances. I can't dance worth a damn."
"So you became a video man."
"Three years ago. People who know both video and dance are about as common as hen's teeth these days. Oh, they've been taping dance since the 70s-usually with the imagination of a network news cameraman. If you film a stage play with two cameras in the orchestra pit, is it a movie?"
"You try to do for dance what the movie camera did for drama?"
"It's a pretty fair analogy. Where it breaks down is that dance is more analogous to music than to drama. You can't stop and start it easily, or go back and retake a scene that didn't go in the can right, or reverse the chronology to get a tidy shooting schedule. The event happens and you record it. What I am is what the record industry pays top dollar for: a mixman with savvy enough to know which ax is wailing at the moment and mike it high-and the sense to have given the heaviest dudes the best mikes. There are few others like me. I'm the best."
She took it the way she had the compliment to herself-at face value. Usually when I say things like that, I don't give a damn what reaction I get, or I'm being salty and hoping for outrage. But I was pleased at her acceptance, pleased enough to bother me. A faint irritation made me go brutal again, knowing it wouldn't work. "So what all this leads to is that Norrey was hoping I'd suggest some similar form of sublimation for you. Because I'll make it in dance before you will."
She stubborned up. "I don't buy that, Charlie. I know what you're talking about, I'm not a fool, but I think I can beat it."
"Sure you will. You're too damned big, lady. You've got tits like both halves of a prize honeydew melon and an ass that any actress in Hollywood would sell her parents for and in Modern dance that makes you d-e-d dead, you haven't got a chance. Beat it? You'll beat your head in first, how'm I doing, Norrey?"
"For Christ's sake, Charlie!"
Excerpted from The Stardance Trilogy by Spider Robinson Jeanne Robinson Copyright © 2006 by Spider Robinson & Jeanne Robinson . Excerpted by permission.
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