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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Books: Where Snowflakes Dance and Swear - Stephen Manes

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I got it for my nook. It's about 1,300 pages long and is very detailed and insightful. The author knew nothing about ballet other than what he saw onstage and received permission from Peter Boal to basically shadow him at PNB for an entire season. Many dancers have whole sections to themselves outlining their childhood and training and CPYB has a whole section. The orchestra is given a a large portion so the readers can learn how they work, rehearse, and cast musicians, and the tech crew is given a similarly large portion to explain how ballets are lit and rigged. The PNB pianists have a whole section to explain their backgrounds and how they learned to become class accompanists. The author also explains very well how the school and Professional Division work, as well as the quasi bridge between PNB and NYCB because of Boal's ties and how this allows for NYCB dancers to "defect" to the other company. All of the stagers for the season (except for Twyla Tharp, I believe) allowed the author to sit in on all their rehearsals so he could learn how ballets are cast, taught, and staged. Peter Boal was also very open about allowing the author to literally sit in on his discussions regarding casting, allowing the readers to find out why certain dancers are cast in certain roles and not others. There's also a good portion allotted to contracts and budgets. I ended up glazing over those bits slightly because there would be whole paragraphs about x-million dollars here and x-million dollars there, and cut x-thousand from here to allow for a raise for y and z. There's also much time spent explaining union rules and regulations and it's interesting to see the extent to which union guidelines dictate how the entire company is run.


It's very interesting though. In the afterword, the author says he'd love to do another book outlining the things he missed, like costuming and how pointe shoes are made and fitted. He interviews the dancers and staff, and also quotes verbatim what comes out of dancers' mouths in rehearsals and class so keep the four-letter words in mind if you're planning on buying the book for a young dancer. Definintely very insightful though!

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I was in the PNB school when Stephen Manes came to observe. Apparently I'm mentioned :) Just ordered it off Amazon a couple of days ago, can't wait until it arrives!


Also, the first couple of chapters are available online if you would like a preview. http://wheresnowflakesdanceandswear.com/what-is-ballet/read-the-beginning

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My daughter is currently in the Professional Division at PNB. Just finished the book and have to say found it beyond intriguing. Would have loved it if she were not at PNB but because she currently is even more so. Speaks very highly of Peter Boal and PNB and from what I have observed and my daughter has experienced, I have to say the praise is well deserved.

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  • 2 months later...

My son gave me a Kindle Fire for Christmas (such a nice son), and I purchased this book for my Kindle.  I'm in the middle of reading it, but have to say, I think one of the best features of this book is how the author incorporated all of the aspects of the dance world.  I would love to hear the opinions of those that have finished this book, anyone? Anyone?

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My dd is a PD at PNB and told me about the book so I bought it for her for Christmas. I started reading it cause she was in the middle of another book. This book is so interesting I couldn't give it back to her. I just put her on a plane and told her I will mail the book when I finish it. The author did a wonderful job giving background and details on all aspects of PNB. Like others have mentioned it would be an interesting book even if I didn't have any connections.

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I think it's a fascinating book. I did have two problems with it: first, that the descriptions of rehearsals become tedious after a while, and second, that the book's strength (the total lack of a knowledgeable, critical eye) became a weakness when Manes started to talk about training as well as about the world of ballet outside Seattle. If you want to learn about PNB, it's an ideal book, but take his broader statements with a grain of salt.


I particularly enjoyed learning more about what the stage crew does both during and in preparation for performances, finding out more about an artistic director's role, and getting some of the inside story on Noelani Pantastico's heroic performances of Romeo and Juliet.

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The book was interesting but I agree with Hans that the descriptions of the rehearsals became monotonous after a while. What was interesting to me was when a choreographer came in, sometimes he/she differed in his choice of dancers from Boal's choices. At times you can understand why the choreographer chose those particular dancers and sometimes not.Also, what was amusing to me was Boal's comment that he needed to get used to being hated because of casting...that someone was always going to be unhappy as they felt that they should have been casted in a particular role and it didn't happen. Hello? Why was Boal surprised? Wan't he a dancer once? lol. Overall, this 910 page book definitely held my interest as I was interested in the business behind the business, especially the frequent updates on money spent, money lost/gained through the performances, the reasoning for where Boal and his administration spent the money, how to further fund raise etc. I am not a technical minded person, but it was interesting to read about the interaction between the different departments regarding sets, lighting, music and costuming. I now have a better idea on how a ballet company operates, or at least how PNB operates. I also loved choreographers Brian Reeder and Jean-Christophe Maillot's thought processes. My daughter actually had Brian Reeder choreograph for her class at an ABT summer intensive and also a production done for the studio company at her pre-pro school. I mentioned to her about the bios of some of the dancers and she would tell me even more about these dancers as she actually met them at some of her summer intensives. I was fascinated with Noe and was glad to hear her thoughts regarding her move to Ballet Monte-Carlo. Good book, I would definitely recommend it to any ballet parent, student or teacher.

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  • 4 years later...

Where Snowflakes Dance and Swear is a very dense book, lots and lots of wonderful description (the author is a journalist). I found the book's details fascinating, and my older daughter did too. Basically, the book is a year as a fly on the wall at PNB. Nothing gossipy, just journalistic. For example, the chapter titled Music Makers has an interview with the ballet orchestra's percussionist : " Nothing against the dancers, but they have a much shorter career span, and we're there for our whole careers. So we consider ourselves one of their major partners. And we really want to do everything we can to help the Ballet succeed and grow..." Every page has an interesting insight like that about the greater PNB family, from the Board meetings to the school outreach programs. And of course page after page about the dancers and choreographers. Keep in mind it was written around 2008, but the level of detail is unparalleled for those of us not actually in a professional ballet company.

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I read the first few chapters on Kindle preview. It was very dense and descriptive--too much so in my opinion. It's very interesting but seems like it could have used better editing.

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I read this a couple of years ago. It was especially interesting to learn about the 'behind the scenes" intricacies of the ballet world. I have a background in an area of this (not ballet or dance) and found it mostly fascinating. The open access the writer was given to the realities of company management and finances was amazing.

It is certainly well-researched and, I think, is fair in its presentation of situations, decisions and characters. And while it is a year in the life, so to speak, it could have been thinned in some areas. I found the sections about the rehearsal pianists and the orchestra particularly engaging, as well as the technical crews and costumers.

I would recommend it to any parent whose child is thinking about heading this direction.

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