Kelly Connolly
November 22, 2015 AT 11:13 PM EST

If the American Ballet Company ever goes under, Paul Grayson can make a career out of rewriting Shakespeare for a modern audience. “Some artists are born,” Paul declares in class. “Some are made. And some emerge from an upside-down, deliciously kinky, terrifyingly mysterious forest of beauty and wonder.” Shakespeare only wishes.

Eccentric choreographer Toni Cannava, who’s been commissioned to choreograph the company’s “edgy modern” piece, is definitely one of the forest people. She breezes through the studio like it’s a college acting class, encouraging dancers who are used to timing their lives in counts of eight to “get in touch with all that is you.” She asks them to walk around the studio. She invites them, if they’re feeling really crazy, to turn and walk the other way. Some dancers pivot as soon as the offer is out there, but Claire just keeps walking in the same direction.

Claire is not one for going against the grain, and she definitely isn’t a hugger: the next item on Toni’s checklist. While some company members fall into warm hugs and others laugh their way through awkward embraces, Claire shakily permits another dancer to put his arms around her, clenching her fist behind her classmate’s back. Any physical contact that doesn’t happen during a performance is a violation, and it’s not hard to understand why. Her brother is abusive, and Paul expects her to trade sex for her shot at the spotlight. We rejoin Claire the morning after her near-rape at Brousseau’s hand; she can’t even bring herself to put on the strappy shoes long enough to walk home.

I think Paul was wrong about artists; all of them are made, even if they’re also born with talent. Claire would have to be a natural to earn a spot in a New York ballet company after three years away from the discipline, especially given that she never received the same prestigious training as some of her peers. But she’s being made now, molded by the expectation that she become the kind of person who can charm interviewers and say yes to benefactors. I’m firmly in the camp that she shouldn’t have to say yes to creeps, but a primer on how to carry on conversations wouldn’t be a bad idea.

Claire is thrown into an interview with a pretentious reporter who gives up on her as soon as she describes her neighborhood of Polish Hill as “Polish and hilly.” (I thought it was a good joke.) The more personal his questions get, the shorter her answers are. Her father doesn’t love the arts; he just loves the Steelers. Her mother is not dead but also did not raise her. When Claire’s only explanation for her dance hiatus is that there were “extenuating circumstances,” the reporter shames her with a Gertrude Stein quote and turns his attention to Kiira, who waltzes into the room with big news: She’s starring in the A Cast of Toni’s ballet.  

Whether Paul has made his official decision or Kiira is just sure of herself, the effect on Claire is the same. Rattled, she retreats back to class to be rattled even more. As the other dancers file out, Paul pulls Claire aside to yell at her about how hard he worked to start this company. Brousseau has cut off all funds after what happened last night, and Paul doesn’t care to hear her explanation. What matters is that no one gets in Paul’s way — even baby birds. When the birds on the sill start making a racket during his big emotional speech, he throws the whole nest out of the window.

NEXT: It’s just money

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