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Ballerina: Sex, Scandal, and Suffering Behind the Symbol of Perfection
Synopses & Reviews
Throughout her history, the ballerina has been perceived as the embodiment of beauty and perfectionand#151; the feminine ideal. But the reality is another story. From the earliest ballerinas in the 17th century, who often led double lives as concubines, through the poverty of the corps de ballet dancers in the 1800and#8217;s and the anorexic and bulimic ballerinas of George Balanchine, starvation and exploitation have plagued ballerinas throughout history.
Using the stories of great dancers such as Anna Pavlova, Isadora Duncan, Suzanne Farrell, Gelsey Kirkland, and Evelyn Hart, Deirdre Kelly exposes the true rigors for women in ballet. She rounds her critique with examples of how the world of ballet is slowly evolving for the better. But to ensure that this most graceful of dance forms survives into the future, she says that the time has come to rethink ballet, to position the ballerina at its center and accord her the respect she deserves.
"Former Globe and Mail dance critic Kelly (Paris Times Eight) traces a history of ballet's hidden dangers, a stunning array of afflictions that have lurked amid an ideal of transcendent beauty. In the 19th century, not only did chronic poverty force many of the Paris OpÃ©ra's corps de ballet to become prostitutes of wealthy patrons, but frequently ballerinas became human torches when their flimsy tutus caught fire. Notable among the latter were two half-sisters of Oscar Wilde; seven young ballerinas who combusted together in a Philadelphia theater; and celebrated French Romantic ballerina Emma Livry, who died eight agonizing months after colliding with an open flame at the Paris OpÃ©ra. Russian great Anna Pavlova contracted pneumonia on tour yet insisted on dancing her signature role, the Dying Swan, in January 1931, dying of double pleurisy three days later. Kelly castigates the 20th century's most celebrated ballet choreographer, George Balanchine, for creating a plague of eating disorders (she's not the first to make this charge) and for having a 'tyrannical hold' over his ballerinas. Kelly also condemns Baryshnikov, as director of American Ballet Theatre in the 1980s, for firing ballerinas for not being young or thin enough. Though Kelly stumbles as an analyst of 21st-century ballet, she's fresh and adept when summoning the art's spellbinding yet harrowing earlier centuries. Illus. Agent: Hilary McMahon, Westwood Creative Artists. (Oct.)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
About the Author
Deirdre Kelly is a writer with the Globe and Mail and was the paper's dance critic for fifteen years. Her articles on dance have appeared in Dance Magazine, Vogue, Elle, and The International Dictionary of Ballet, and she is currently the Canadian correspondent for the Dance Gazette. She is the author of Paris Times Eight: Finding Myself in the City of Dreams. She lives in Toronto with her family.
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