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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Books:Ballerina


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Yes, thanks for posting the link. Some very interesting points. I just hope that the conversation gets picked up and these women eventually get the recognition and respect they truly deserve and have worked so hard for.

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Hmm. Wonder if these stories are too dark and discouraging to make the book a good idea for a Christmas gift?

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Here's hoping the first BT4D member to read the book will post and tell us what he or she thinks of it.

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I downloaded the preview to my kindle last night and so- far enjoyed the beginning. A lot of ballet history- like Apollo's Angels. But, I'd love to read a full review before purchasing the whole thing. Who knows, I may just buy it.

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glissade_jete

I actually just read it today. It's VERY heavy in the historical area but, despite being a much lengthier version of one of my university theses, actually provided some new historical information that I hadn't read about to such an extent before.

 

It begins, of course, in the French courts. However, rather than being the general Mme. LaFontaine " was the first" to Marie Camargo "shortened her skirts" and then Taglioni "rose onto pointe" approach, the author added the whole new element of the behind-the-scenes lifestyle of the dancers, regarding the fact that pretty much all of the women were courtesans in order to afford their necessary lifestyle and luxuries, with strings of high-ranking lovers in order to gain status and receive monetary compensation for being mistresses. This element was discussed in great detail, and while I was actually shocked (although I probably shouldn't have been) to the extent to which the promiscuity (mothers even pimping their ballerina daughters) went on during pre-Revolution France, I found it greatly fascinating. However, because of this aspect, I'd say this is definitely a read for mature audiences. This section ended with the death of Emma Livery, before moving onto a very dark redaction of post-Revolution France, and the petits-rats of the Paris Opera.

 

The author spent a great deal of time on this period and comparatively skimmed through the Petipa/Fokine period in Russia before moving onto Diaghilev's Ballets Russes which, of course, led her to Balanchine.

 

The Balanchine section was, expectedly, about how he created the new standard of the physical ideal for a ballerina body, how this brought forth eating disorders, drug use, and perhaps a skewed perception of happiness vs. misery, and how Balanchine's influence was so great that his dancers (referred to in her book as "zealots") ended up teaching and directing around the globe, thus spreading the ideal of the super skinny, long-legged dancer who shouldn't think and should only do. There were quotations throughout of the usual Balanchine candidates; Gelsey Kirkland, Toni Bentley, Suki Schorer---probably all things read before by those interested in ballet history. While I found this section rather stale (IMO "done to death" already by other authors), she did end up moving onto the topic of the ballet scene in Canada.

 

With this section, there was much talk about pay (we are still grossly underpaid, just as the ballerina-courtesans were of the 18th century), the fact that dancers still have little voice (leaving them to the whims of the artistic directors), ageism, and the fact that the average age of retirement is somewhere around 29, often leaving dancers lost and with nothing. A great deal of examples came from Canada (especially the National Ballet of Canada), but, naturally, the ABT lockout was mentioned.

 

The author did attempt to brighten things up toward the end, saying that bodies have gotten healthier (there was a nice glimpe to Misty Copeland, as well as Sara Mearns and Jennifer Ringer), some companies are beginning to provide emotional and physical support (kudos to the Australian Ballet here), and throwing a nod toward the Gelsey Kirkland Academy's method of training, but had no problem reminding us that the dance world still has a long way to go to becoming one which properly appreciates and supports its dancers ("one step forward, two steps back," she says).

 

All in all, it's a very matter of fact telling of the ways in which ballerinas have been seen and epitomized since the beginning. In some ways, it makes you feel as though we haven't come very far at all. As a professional ballet dancer myself, I can surely relate to the many described truths. In the end, though, I suppose it's what makes us a very different breed indeed.

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Yes, thanks so much for posting such a detailed and informative review so quickly.

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