“There is a little girl dancing on the stairs,” Benton says. Something is hiding in his voice. Something undulates behind the words.
Photographers of the derelict, our work takes us to the underbelly of this city. Trapped under decades of dust and fallen columns and cracked floors and broken skylights waits a crumbled history. Like beacons, the histories of the places call out. And we come.
A story drew us here. To this theatre. A tale of a mother and her daughter. Who danced together on the stage. Who belonged to the theatre itself. To the audience. The mother, a sensation from childhood. Her daughter, reared in a world where each other star orbited both her and her mother. And they, both, were blazing suns. A partnership. No sooner could the child walk, she was taught to dance. Before her first words were sculpted, she had mastered ten melodies.
And she grew into a starlet, just like her dear mother. All glitz and celluloid-grace. The young girl’s light grew and her energy sizzled and fizzed. And her mother watched on and danced on. And aged on. Until, soon enough, her own light faded. And she became yet another star, orbiting her own child. And pride gave way to disdain and love parted for envy. Her own stage time began to vanish and her role was now that of a coach and onlooker to that which she had created. And she wept. And cursed in secret. And her daughter’s stardom grew more still.
And there was a fire. A great fire in the great building.
And the child, sent to the stairwell by her mother to rehearse her art, was trapped between two locked doors. Two doors that were never locked. And the smoke began to fill the space. It crept through the cracks and gaps in each frame. And the child did not stop her practice. Even when the thick smog began to pour into her small lungs, she persevered. Coughing but not faltering; a beautiful, tragic death dance. The little dancing girl, ignorant of the chaotic evacuation on the other side of the doors.
Only minutes later, she could dance no more. Nor move. Nor breathe. Nor live.
And on the street stood the company and the audience. Safe and startled. And her mother’s cheek, stained with strange tears, asking each person “Have you seen her? Have you seen her?”. And deep inside her pocket, a key, a box of matches.
And the flames and the heat and the smoke swelled on.
This story drew us here, to this theatre. And here we stand, my partner and I, ready to begin work. Lenses cleaned and cameras poised.
“There is a little girl dancing on the stairs,” Benton says as he re-enters the charred auditorium. There’s something hiding in his voice. Something undulates behind the words.
“She says she died here.”