Deirdre Kelly

Australian Blog Review of Ballerina: Sex, Scandal and Suffering Behind the Symbol of Perfection

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Ballerina – a review

Deirdre Kelly has written a compelling and insightful history of the ethereal creature that is the Ballerina herself. It is an intelligent glimpse into the world of ballet, but more precisely an examination of the creation and ongoing evolution of the Ballerina. Whilst you are given an understanding of how ballet was first created  in the grand courts of France’s King Louis XIV, Kelly’s main point of focus – her protagonist, is the woman behind what she has highlighted to be a world full of pain and suffering, behind the red velvet curtain.
Ballerina is not a light-hearted read. Nor is it something I would be slipping into your child’s Christmas stocking as a surprise from Santa. Not to be misunderstood – this is an excellent book and worth the read, however the realities that Kelly highlights are brutal and often harsh. In some respects I feel that she has delved too deeply into the darker side of classical ballet – often dwelling on the tragedies that befall some dancers as they pursue their ultimate goal of perfection. Yes, it is important to be aware of the pitfalls, trials and tribulations that dancers have faced throughout the centuries but is it not important to also understand the light that ballet brings to dancers and the reason why ballerinas love their art so unconditionally?
Kelly’s tone throughout her book almost reigns resentment, this undertone of inner-hatred for the torments that ballerina’s once had to endure to survive. It’s like the first five chapters of this book (where there are a total of six chapters) are dedicated to making point the negatives behind this profession. She does offer a silver lining in the end, denoting that ballet is changing for the better, but I feel this glimmer of optimism comes too late.
Nevertheless, I thoroughly enjoyed this book and I recommend anyone (ballet lover or not) to read it because there are some valid historical facts that are both insightful and incredibly fascinating. Occupational hazards that involved one literally going up in flames, as Kelly outlines frequently happened in the 19th Century French theater, where one notable Paris Opera ballerina Mademoiselle Emma Livry’s tutu caught on fire and consumed her entire body, were incidents not so far and few between. Livry survived the flames but later succumbed to her burns. Tales of such dramatic ends to young ballet dancers made one aware that a life in the theater was fraught with danger. This I found fascinating….but also heartbreaking.
This book is not one for the faint-hearted, but it is a compelling portrait of the ultimate slave to her art – the Ballerina. The symbol of utmost purity and the symbol for perfection.
by Jacquelyne.

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