The man on the stage is big. He’s not so much poured into the dinner jacket as it’s built around him, emphasising his powerful shoulders and neck. He’s top heavy, the sort of top heavy you get from extended periods of training. He should lumber, thudding across the stage like a large, angry, tuxedoed wall but instead he moves fast and light, feet and hands always in motion. He waves to the crowd, capers, dances. He’s the centre of attention and he’s arrogant certainly but he has reason to be. His latest film is a success, he’s handsome, rich, successful and has a spectacular dog. Life couldn’t be better.
He’s not alone up there either. His wife pirouettes in from one side of the stage, a little resentful, a little bored, but she’s smiling and he’s clearly delighted to see her. From the other side of the stage, the owner of the studio strides into view, waving and smiling and counting the empty seats, the sad faces. His smile is a little more fixed, a little more hungry. Behind him comes our hero’s chauffeur, a tall, older man with a severe look but kind eyes. He takes up position the same place he always does; to the right of our hero, standing at attention, ready. They’re joined in turn by a leading lady, a gaggle of extras and a dog. Always the dog. Mimicking our hero exactly, keeping pace with him, a silent partner, the other, arguably more important part of the double act.
Our hero is turned, walking backwards, waving and playing with the dog when a woman steps out of the audience. He cannons into her and down they go, a tangle of limbs and excellent hats, elegance and glamour dropped on top of each other from a great height. The theatre falls silent as our hero helps the woman to her feet, everyone waiting for him to berate her for breaking the routine. Instead he looks her up and down, laughs and applauds her. She starts dancing. He applauds more and laughing, she dances in place as the entire theatre turns to face her. She stumbles a little and our hero jumps in next to her, their feet sympatico, the smiles on their faces the same. He can’t stop looking at her and as a result doesn’t see the things starting to happen behind him. The leading lady talking to the movie mogul, the increasingly angry look on his wife’s face. There’s just her and the music and him and-
Our hero stumbles.
The audience’s attention shifts.
Our hero dances a little faster, smiles a little wider and the audience’s attention shifts back to him. Not completely though, the sound echoing around the theatre and settling in particular around the head of the girl from the audience. The audience’s attention follows it and our hero dances a little faster, smiles a little wider as he realises that fewer and fewer people are looking at him.
Clearly he must work harder. He breaks out every single move in his arsenal, every slide, every jump, every acrobatic trick, throwing his big frame around the stage with grace and speed and just a little desperation now. He hits all the right spots, makes all the right choices and lands, centre stage, waiting for applause.
The theatre is empty. From next door, he hears the leading lady speak and the audience applaud. He hears the girl from the audience speak, and his heart breaks. The lights go out and, even then, he stays on his stage, alone apart from the chauffeur, and, of course, the dog.
There are things our hero doesn’t see, and those things start the moment his reflection ends. He’s a good man, a great man in many ways, but he’s completely convinced of his own greatness. That sort of self confidence can take you to incredible places but it will never, ever drive you home from them again and as our hero finds himself forced to let his chauffeur go, he shrinks even further into his own private universe.. He used to be great. He used to be successful. He used to be somebody. He used to dance. His life is two dimensional now, rendered down to a strip of film, a perfect, lush, black and white image packed with glamour and charm but an image nonetheless. Something which will only keep you warm at night if you burn it. As the flames rise, our hero finds himself faced with one last choice, one so elemental that it’s completely eluded him; who’s music is he dancing to? His own? Or the audience’s? And why is he dancing alone?
The man on the stage is big. His dinner jacket is tattered now, scorched and covered in soot but it still emphasises his powerful shoulders and neck. He’s top heavy, the sort of top heavy you get from extended periods of training. He should lumber, but instead he smiles, stands, takes the hand offered to him and begins to dance a very different number. One where you can hear his shoes against the floor, where he’s part of the film instead of the thing that stands in front of it. He’s still the centre of attention but he still has reason to be and this time he’s not alone. The girl from the audience dances next to him, the studio head applauds from behind the camera and as the music he’s never heard before swells, he smiles and lets go. Sound isn’t for him, even now, but that doesn’t matter. What matters is he’s still elegant, still dancing. And now he’s dancing in company. And, of course, the dog is still spectacular.