Katza and the Devil

Alla Osipenko and John Markovsky (Алла Осипенко и Джон Марковский)

Alla Osipenko and John Markovsky (Алла Осипенко и Джон Марковский)

From the start she is known as the Platonova girl, but she is only one in a long line of such girls. She sticks to Magda's rules: keep head down, make no fuss, tie up hair. The first time her roommates catch her fresh from bed with undone corona of corkscrew curls, they stare and stare and stare at her over breakfast--boiled egg and sausage—and say nothing. 

"Is this the Leningrad style?" one of them finally comments with a smirk.

"No, it's the Traktor style," the other grins back.

Katza keeps her head down, blunts her curls into deadening chignons, but her curls won't lay down quietly, expire against her scalp. Tendrils spiral off her temples, by the end of rehearsal a helmet of fuzz like a gauzy atmosphere rings her head. A few days into the first week, Pyotr Martini brushes past her, then retraces his steps, reaches for one of the tendrils floating off her face. He pulls at it, let's it bounce back. She has heard of him, of course, long before she was given the spot in the company. Arrogant, moody, flawless, if and when he deigns to, charms the socks off the apparatchiks. But the smile he gives her is genuine, implying solidarity of some kind. Mostly, the smile is hypnotic.

"Just dance, Platonova girl. Just dance."

She dances. A small solo role in a trifle of a ballet, a patriotic confection called A Russian boat coming to port. The dancers among themselves talk about the Russian boat coming to fart and do diagonals of pas de chats, landing in butt-in-the-air position, making tremendous farting noises. It is light-years from the pin drop reverence of Katza's classes at the Academy. Her solo doesn't go unnoticed, she is called in to see the Director, a balding roll of fat, former star dancer turned droning mouthpiece for the Kultur Direktorat. He has never spoken directly to her before, or even acknowledged her presence, but she has seen the outline of his pork pie hat at the back of the theatre, seen him wobble down a corridor, advancing with groans of effort. The former dancer's grace erased.

"Show me your hair," he says when she enters.

"Excuse me?"

He doesn't repeat the request, his small eyes, pink like ballet, warn her not make him say anything twice. She removes that day's army of hair pins, the hair elastic. The hair net. The director watches in silence, exuding an ominous patience. Somewhere in that well-fed flesh is a lost dancer. What can possess a soul to betray its body so grotesquely?

Katza's curls have burst free and the director's pink eyes blink approval.

"Good, good. Very good. Wear it like this."

"On stage?"

He clicks his tongue. "Never on stage. At the reception Saturday night."

He doesn't elaborate, just squints up at her from his desk.

"I'm sorry," she says, "I wasn't told of any reception?"

He keeps up the patronizing squint. Katza, unsure what to do, finally grabs her handful of hair pins and moves toward the door.

"Katza," the director calls behind her, "you have something to wear?"

She shakes her head, he nods: "Talk to Ludmila. The costume designer. Nothing too flashy. And Katza?"

"Yes?"

"Your dancing, it's good, it's nice, but it's too...unpretentious. We like big. More sweeping, more feelings. This is not the classroom, this is the theatre, try to act more theatrical. And Katza?"

"Yes?"

He squints at her undone hair. "Put it back in order."