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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Books: White Swan, Black Swan

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Guest hesterlover1

Hi! I recently saw a book called 'White Swan, Black Swan'. I think it was a fiction book about the lives of many different dancers. I was wondering if anyone knows if this is a good book, and where to find it. Thank you!

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A couple of reviews were posted on our Links board -- they were not too enthusiastic. I've seen the book in stores and it's also available via Amazon and other online booksellers. Unfortunately, the author's name has slipped my mind.

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Katie -- I read the book. It is structured as a series of loosely related short stories in which the author treats some real, some fictional subjects in dance. In the case of the real people, she imagines their thoughts during important moments and relationships. Being a person who enjoys reading biographies of dancers, I recognized a great many of the events and conflicts that the author based her imaginings on. My feeling is that you would be better served in going to the library and checking out biographies and autobiographies of dancers. The book was a superficial summer read, full of a lot of empty calories. Why not get the real meat and potatoes?

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I read this book as well. It reads like bad fan fiction. First, I can "see" the research in the stories -- here Dance Magazine, there the book Ballerina (which we're discussing elsewhere on the board) etc... I'm not saying she plagiarized, but it does read rather clumsily if you had read the source material she used.


In addition, the author is just wrong in many cases. I think the Washington Post review pointed out that she refers to Nilas Martins as "tall and elegant," which is not really true. While "elegant" is somewhat subjective, the author has him performing Bugaku, which I don't think he ever has and probably won't. There are other instances of misinformation as well. Add in her purple prose and it's a strange book.

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I am in the process of reading this book. I am not highly motivated to finish it essentially labeling as ballet soap opera. It has not turned out to be a page turner! I have had a very hard time with the author placing actual people into fictional situations. I found the chapter on Balanchine and Suzanne Farrell quite offensive. In spite of what one might have imagined could have taken place, if you have a true reverence for the art and these artists contribution it seems out of place and disrespeptful to superimpose such a negative take on it. It really bothered me!!!!

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Books are not like the Clean Plate Club: you don't have to finish them!


If it is banal, go on to a good dance history or bigraphy--there are plenty out there which are just as spicy, scholarly, funny, or whatever your current taste happens to be.


Life is too short to read bad books.

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  • 1 month later...
Guest BryMar1995

I have been enjoying so much the series of interelated short stories "White Swan, Black Swan" by Adrienne Sharp (Random House). Set firmly in the world of American ballet, musical theater and modern dance, Ms. Sharp weaves connecting threads throughout the stories. She touches several different issues dancers face and tells stories that bring to life familiar figures and personalities known and loved by all of us who love dance. Fact, fiction, and speculation are combined to tell stories that those of us who dance find all too real. Stories and films about dance all too often strike me as superficial and trite, but "White Swan, Balck Swan" is a read I found to be honest, mature, and compelling. Has anyone else read this yet?

Rick McCullough

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  • 9 months later...



I guess I was less enthused by White Swan, Black Swan; the ballet anecdotes on which some of the stories were built are *so* familiar; I guess I expected more depth. Still, I did appreciate the author's subtlety and terseness.


By the way, are you the Rick McCullough whom I worked with at Pittsburgh Ballet oh so many years ago?


Ray Ricketts

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  • 3 years later...

It's a collection of ballet short stories for adults by Adrienne Sharp. She focuses more on the people than the dance. The stories are titled as follows:


Don Quixote



The Immortals: Margot& Rudolf 4 ever

Prince of Desire

The Brahmins

A Short Season

In the Kingdom of the Shades

White Swan, Black Swan

In the Wake

A Midsummer Night's Dream

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On page 15 or 16 of this thread, you will find this:


White Swan, Black Swan


I read it and found the author's bitterness to seep through every word of the text. Not a great book in my opinion.

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