The Last Emperors.
Chapter Three: Beam me up.
By Jolie Adam
Sometimes success has a ripple effect. Especially at times like these, when three of the nation’s biggest papers are hoisting you up on a pedestal full of promises. By mid-afternoon on Monday, Dawn had already received three calls from their agent. Two were requests for an interview, one asking for them to unveil their identity and the last was an audition for a Japanese singer named Rank who liked their catchy group name. He’d also texted Lorra about a battle the night of their audition right around the corner from their house in Pantin at the Juste Debout Dance School. Lorra was more excited about stepping foot into the reputed dance academy where most of her French dance inspirations had attended than for the lucrative opportunity to work with Japan’s hottest export.
“Wanna have a quick practice session?” Dawn asked, sorting through the mail while dressed casually in sweatpants and an AC/DC shirt.
Lorra laughed buoyantly, “I’m feeling hype today, going to free style it.”
“I’m hype as shit too,” Julia interjected, eating her banana. She was always munching on something yet managed to stay slim at a petite 5’3”.
“When are you NOT hyped up? Should’ve chosen Energizer as your name instead Meow,” Lorra continued giggling with Dawn.
“Well, can’t say the same for you. Are you sure you’re going to feel this way tomorrow?”
“Have I ever let you down?” Lorra retorted, to which Julia shook her head in accordance before addressing Dawn.
“This Japanese gig. How much we talking? I need some motivation.”
“4000 Euros each. One week, two shows, one live performance on a TV network and countless pictures. Accommodation and flight included.”
Julia exhaled, “Wow. That’s a good deal. 4000 is more than enough for all the sushi I could ever want,” She said in a dreamy voice, then rising up to go to her room. Lorra also got up with Dawn’s eyes darting between the two in confusion.
“Um, where are you guys going?”
“To look up Japanese restaurants. I’m about that life,” Julia almost hollered.
“To look up our Japanese competition. I’m about that paycheck!”
Dawn stood alone in the living room, looking around like someone who’s just been unceremoniously dumped and dismissed. She figured she might as well review the audition guidelines since everyone else was suddenly so “preoccupied.” At the bottom of the mail pile was a personal letter addressed to her. The envelope was worn out and dirty from various transportation methods and exchanges from office to office. It had a stamp from Texas and her name hand-written in italics, sent to the address she held in University. She knew who it was from however it didn’t make it any less surprising once she carefully removed the content from the envelope. Unfolding the cream paper, she sat down before reading.
It’s me, Jaiden. Do you still remember me? It’s been so long since I last seaw you that sometimes I’m gripped with fear that our love was just an illusion. Something I dreamed up to make life more bearable, to make days meaningful and life complete. Like one of those great stories you used to love reading so much. Then I remember things about you that I could never make up. Like how your caramel skin would glow under the soft gleaming candle lights and you’d brush your hair back with your fingers, afraid that a strand would accidentally fall in the flame and catch fire. Fire…like the fire in your eyes whenever we made love, burning on for hours afterwards, tempting me to make love to you again. I still remember what it feels like to make love to you. And that’s how I know you’re real. That you were here. That I loved you. That I still love you. Yet I write letters to an address that may not exist, to a woman that may no longer be, in hopes that they’ll find you –wherever you may be, just like a message in a bottle floating to a destined shore. No matter how long it’s lost for, it always finds a shore to land on. A curious mind to open it and a kind heart to address it to whomever it was written for. So I’ll keep writing these letters in hopes that you may read them one day. In hopes that you will remember me. In hopes that you’ll come back.
I will always love you,
Dawn gripped her heart, trying hard to catch her breath so that she wouldn’t let her emotions take over despite the tears forming in her eyes. She traced the letters on the page before ripping them into tiny little pieces. The past always floats back to us when we keep trying to shove the sand into the water. She wiped her tears and looked around to make sure none of the girls had caught her in the moment. She rushed to her computer to review the submission guidelines for the audition their agent had sent earlier. Anything to get her mind off Jaiden.
Larry and Laurent had been in Japan for 24 hours but looking at how settled they were, one could easily assume they’d been living there for a month. The practicality of every item in their individual condos made moving in a breeze. Laurent’s jewellery, beads and necklaces were all compartmentalized on the tall, white 6-boxed shelf, along with his hats and earrings. Everything else was neatly stored in the contrasting dark oak dresser, with a built-in sizable mirror. The condo was impressive in size and design. The simplicity contributed to the creative aura of the room with white walls and black ceilings. It was like living in a box – albeit a very Zen, well-arranged box. The bamboo door separating his room from the washroom added a very nice and authentic touch to the otherwise modern condominium. They had a very busy agenda for their first week. Meetings with the studio this evening, dance rehearsal tomorrow for a TV appearance on a Japanese game show the same night, brainstorming with the Swarovski team Thursday to design the limited LT beads, a workshop Friday afternoon followed by another TV appearance during the night. And lastly the Shamasaki Dance Battle on Saturday to cap off their week. The Shamasaki Dance Battle was to Japan was Juste Debout was to France, except with the chance to win prizes and sponsors. Last year’s winners were everywhere in the city with their Nike Campaign. Looking at the performers, they only really had one group to be slightly worried about. The other participants were more fillers than actual competition. People that needed to be eliminated to advance the competition. With such a busy schedule, Lau was really glad to not have another thing to worry about, now that his unpacking was completely done. It was only Tuesday and he needed to prioritize his to-do list to ensure he wasn’t completely burnt-out by the end of the week.
“OK, WHO’S GOING UP NEXT? LOOKS LIKE SHAO MEIN IS STEPPING UP. DEEJAY, WIND THE RECORD BACK – LET’S DO THIS!”
“Beam me up!” Shao Mein shouted at Meow before moving into the limelight. It had been a long day. Filming their audition tape had taken longer than expected, once they fully read the guidelines through. This Rank artist was a real stickler for method and orderly precision. Or maybe that was just Japanese people in general. Nicki Minaj’s Roman Revenge started again from the top, blasting loudly from the speakers. They all froze, lifeless and stiff, all unfreezing at the same time the second the lyrics started.
“I AM NOT JASMINE, I AM ALADDIN. I’M STARTING TO FEEL LIKE A DUNGEON DRAGON.” Luluxe and Meow parted to let Shao Mein come forth and battle their opponent. Two Polish giants who were incredible at locking and not much else. She adjusted her hoodie, it was Sha-o’clock!
The red hoodie indicated which member of the masked group would be performing. That was the only way for the public to differentiate them at first however now they all have trademark moves. And also with experience came comfort. They never held back on letting their personalities shine through during a performance. Shao Mein was known in dance circles for her incredible body fluidity. Just like the Chinese dish Chow Mein made of noodles that came in numerous varieties, Shao was able to switch it up within a bass. Her specialty was New Style Hip Hop which hadn’t been launched but heavily promoted by Les Twins, so they were her idols and battling in a school they’d practically been raised in was an honour. It’d been a year and a half of hard, tiring work and ceaseless practices to make The Last Emperors the group it was today. Six months in, they’d caught the eye of a notorious scout who specialized in modeling but was blown away by their street performance that he signed them to the agency’s most ruthless agent. Thanks to them, Heat Agency now had a small and selective division for dancers. Even if the commission amount charged was blasphemous, The Last Emperors signed regardless due to many beneficial factors. Heat Agency was highly reputable, had a rolodex thicker than the Yellow Pages filled with industry contacts, hosted a lot of elite parties and managed to book them dancing gigs back-to-back within two weeks of signing the contract, despite the fact that they were solely a modeling agency back then. Thanks to them, The Last Emperors had traveled all over Europe with the exception of Russia, Los Angeles, New York City, Atlanta, Chicago and Miami. Lorra was originally from Paris so she felt at ease with the agency’s placement there. Dawn was from Dallas and was in Paris two summers ago for a university seasonal transfer program. By the end of the semester, she’d befriended Lorra who was constantly missing class because she’d spend her nights going to dance parties. Dawn helped her pass the course and in return Lorra acted as her translator and tour guide. Eventually, she agreed to attend the infamous dance parties Lorra wouldn’t stop raving about and fell in love instantly. With the crowd, the art, the dance, the freedom of expression through movements. Dawn deferred going back to the states, choosing to apply for a work visa instead and moving in with Lorra so they could be partners in crime and dance.
Julia came later. She had to earn her stripes as the youngest of the group at the tender age of 20 – 18 when they’d first met. Dawn and Julia were on a trip to Terrasini for Uragano Duemil Festival. A small city next to the Mediterranean sea in the south of Italy, better known as City of the Sea that hosted a dance festival yearly. It was their first artistic expedition and the duo had been anxious to be surrounded by like-minded individuals who simply enjoyed the art of dance. After a long day filled with group activities, there was a brief moment of rest granted which inspired individuals to start a circle of freestyle. Julia came in, shy at first, tan and petite, and wowed the crowd. The duo named her Meow because of her cat eyes and feline movements. She was also cute and clingy like most cats. They told her about The Last Emperors which was called ShaoLuxe back then and Julia practically begged to be involved. On the last day of the festival, she showed up with a medium duffel bag dragging down her shoulder, packed to its full capacity along with a backpack and a one-way ticket to France. She was coming with them whether they wanted her or not. The girls later found out that Julia was a nomadic orphan, on the bus ride back to Paris and offered her a place at their shared apartment. With a dead Italian mother and a dad of African ancestry who disappeared before her birth, Julia had acquired many life skills that preceded her young years. She may have come off as timid on the dance floor, letting all of her vulnerabilities show as she took the stage, but she could hustle you out of your last dime without blinking. Luckily, they all had great personal and artistic chemistry – thus the group was formed.
By the end of the chorus, right before Eminem began his verse on the song, Shao closed off with a false dip, one where the rest of the group catch her and throw her back and she jumps into the other group’s territory as if being propelled. The small crowd of attendants and spectators clap in appreciation and Shao shimmies back to the rest of The Last Emperors, smiling beneath her mask.