Deirdre Kelly

New book exposes ballet’s white swans and ugly ducklings

Dance critic authors new book about Ballerinas and their deep dark past.

THE BLUE MOUNTAINS – A new book about ballerinas reveals a schizophrenic history of ethereal beauties floating from gas light to red light.
It is a behind-the-scenes history of the poised, pirouetting prima ballerinas, graceful, lean and powerful; rising again and again from ashes, filth, pain and oppression.
“The image of the ballerina as clean and perfect belies a complicated, complex and dark reality,” said Deirdre Kelly. “In history, there’s never been such a thing as a safe ballerina.”
Indeed, even the prologue of Kelly’s book, Ballerina, is a tragic tale of a 1960s dancer who catches fire during a rehearsal when her airy skirt passes by an open flame.
In her earliest history, the ballerina was a courtesan, always ruled by the whims of directors, even succumbing to impossible standards in body shape through starvation.
“Ballerinas not only sacrificed a lot of themselves,” said Kelly. “In their history they have had to leap over many obstacles that stood in their way. I hope to show she is an extraordinary being. She is deserving of greater attention by the public.”
A book about dance was a natural progression for Deirdre Kelly – Canada’s consummate dance critic. Since childhood, Kelly has looked up to the ballerina coupling the poised, pirouetting prima ballerinas with flying fish and galloping horses in her imagination. When it came to a book about dance, ballet was her first choice.
In fact, it was a choice made on the road to Collingwood from Blue Mountain.
An author was being interviewed on the radio about a book they had written about salt.
“I thought, ‘that’s so basic,'” said Kelly. “So what’s simple about dance? The Ballerina … I could see it immediately.”
Kelly took an unconventional approach in her research, combining history with pop culture and media references. What she discovered was at times shocking, and always complex.
Ballet, Kelly discovered, is a masquerade, as schizophrenic as the black and white swan in it’s own infamous Swan Lake.
Kelly takes her readers from Ballet’s earliest history and feminization – ballet was initially a dance by men- to the George Balanchine ideal for dancers more like greyhounds, lean and fast with long legs and small heads, to the dancers of today.
“It was exhilarating to read about this era where the female artist was so dominant in creating her own destiny,” she said. “I walked away from my research in awe.”
Kelly writes about ballerinas in an effort to revive works long forgotten, resurrecting names and reputations of dancers through the ages.
“[The ballerina] deserves even more credit, because in spite of all these obstacles, she still sparkles on the tiny tips of pointe shoes on stage,” said Kelly. “For me they are a feminist aspiration … They embody a full potential of feminine strength, control and determination.”
Deirdre Kelly will be at the L.E. Shore memorial library on Sunday, October 28 at 1 p.m. for a book talk, signing, and question and answer. Her books, Ballerina and Paris Times Eight are available for purchase at Jessica’s Book Nook downtown Thornbury.

Reprinted from

 Oct 23, 2012 – 10:31

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