Showing posts with label ballet. Show all posts
Showing posts with label ballet. Show all posts

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Beautiful, Amazing Magical Ballet by Mary Lee

Rating: WORTHY!

This is one of a really fluffy set of children's books written, I suspect, by a mom about her daughter. The books are available in a set of three which is how I got them. The drawings - presumably by the author herself, since no artist us credited, are completely charming. The book was very readable and charmed even a curmudgeon like me, so I don't doubt it will delight children. Note that this is very much a girl's book however (there's a lot of pink here, too!), and as such it's unlikely to interest many boys, especially older ones, unless they're particularly interested in what girls get up to when boys aren't around.

The pictures were colorful and sharp, and the drawing was perfect for the intended age range. The text was simple without being dumbed-down, and there was a real story going on. I read the book on my cell phone and it was perfectly clear and legible, but one thing I missed out on is that you cannot get the double-page spread when you read the book in electronic format. You get each half of the double page on a separate screen which ruins the effect. I've encountered this same problem with graphic novels when reading them on a tablet. I think publishers and writers really need to understand that you can't write a half-way book like this - it needs to be written either for e-format or for print. It can't straddle both unless you create two separate editions, one dedicated to each format.

Keeping in mind the intense discipline, pain, broken toe nails and even broken toes that are in store for anyone who truly wants to take up ballet seriously, I recommend this for a fun read. It entertained me, as Mia goes off to her first ballet lesson and makes quite an impact - literally. This story is very imaginative, taking us inside Mia's thoughts and illustrating them for us. It bothered me that there were quite literally no boys in the ballet class. Even though this is clearly aimed at girls I think it's important not to stereotype in this manner. Boys can and do enjoy dance and ballet and it seems a bit exclusive to not even depict them. We're never going to have real gender equality as long as children are routinely subjected to this kind of subtle "brain-washing" and passive exclusion/inclusion.

Other than that I found the book as charming as the first and I recommend it, with these issues in mind.

Friday, October 3, 2014

My Ballet Journal by Monica Wellington with Lydia Wellington

Title: My Ballet Journal
Author: Monica Wellington with Lydia Wellington
Publisher: Dover Publications
Rating: WORTHY!

DISCLOSURE: Unlike the majority of reviews in this blog, I've neither bought this book nor borrowed it from the library. This is a "galley" copy ebook, supplied by Net Galley. I'm not receiving (nor will I expect to receive or accept) remuneration for this review. The chance to read a new novel is reward aplenty!

This isn’t so much a story (unless it's your kids' story, of course!) as it is a ballet log-book / scrapbook / journal / notebook / coloring book/ photo-album for the young and beginning performer, and it was too cute to pass up! Yes, even for grumpy old me!

Monica Wellington is a fellow blogspotter, and was also born in England, just like me, although I don't know her (there's millions of us all over the place, you know!), and she wrote this with her daughter Lydia (a ballerina who pretty much is a clone of Monica in terms of appearance, it seems to me!). This book is a great idea. It has a lot of pages for adding your child's name, ballet class information, with spaces for names and pictures of your friends in the class. It’s also a great checklist for things to take along with you that are essential or at least might come in handy for your lessons.

The book is also a guide to etiquette and appearance, and some ballet basics, including basic positioning, stretching, common and less common steps and forms, and it comes with plenty of space to jot down your own hints, tips, reminders, and corrections, to help make sure you’re performing at peak efficiency and in conformance with what’s being taught.

There's even a page to record your most embarrassing mistakes! I'm not a ballet performer or even a real aficionado, but to my amateur eye, this seems about as complete as you can get. There are pages on clothing, on shoes, on make-up, on dancing singly or in pairs, on other dance forms, and at the back, a two page glossary of ballet terms.

I confess that it makes me cringe to imagine what young people have to go through to achieve their dance aims - the work, the dedication, the sacrifices and the hardships - to say nothing of the inevitable pain and disappointment, but it seems to me that anyone who is willing to subject themselves to that kind of intensity needs a bit of a boost here and there - comfortable clothes, really good shoes, good instruction, and a fine journal in which to detail your challenges and triumphs, and that would be this one!

If I have a complaint (or two, and if you follow my reviews you know I always do!), then it would be about exclusiveness. This book is fine, and I do recommend it, but it is, be warned, heavily biased towards young white girls. There are precious few images of boys, and while I admit that it's harder to convey race with simple line drawings, most of the girls appear to be white, too. I'd have much preferred it if there had been more color in these B&W drawings. We whites are in the tiny minority on this planet after all, and we need to recognize this in all that we do! But we writers tend to be very insular, and I'm sure we've all made that pas de un (if I can paraphrase a ballet term!).

Lydia Wellington is a dancer with New York City Ballet. You can see her on youtube here. As I said, I'm far from an expert, but she certainly seems like she's got moves to me. Also check out the amazing image on the opening screen for the NYC ballet. Hopefully they won't change it for a while, so you can see what I saw. The first image of the ballerinas and the snow is stunning.

So very little to complain about (and hopefully a second edition will take care of that), and lots to love, lots to explore, lots to use, and lots of helpful information. I think I can recommend this one for your youthful ballerina (or ballerino if they're none too picky!).

Friday, September 13, 2013

Dance of Shadows by Yelena Black


Title: Dance of Shadows
Author: Yelena Black
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Rating: WARTY!

I have to announce up front that I rated this novel as 'warty'. It was a really great plot idea which was tragically let down by really lousy execution.

There's a Dance of Shadows book trailer here which is quite frankly so pathetic that it ought to be titled Dance of Sad-sack. It's largely in B&W and tells us nothing but how desperately publishers are these days to get attention! Books are not movies and this business of desperately trying to mash-up the two is doomed to failure! Unless someone comes up with something really cool...something out there...something truly adventurous.

Slightly more entertaining is that the hardback edition of this (and perhaps the paperback too, if there is one) has a "BB Live" function attached to it. You can download an app, point your phone at the book's cover, tap the screen, and see a representation of the cover come alive on your device. It's cute, and better than the book trailer, but it's not really that impressive. I have to wonder where they think they can go with this!

Anyway, let's get to the real thing here - the printed word! Red haired Vanessa Adler is a ballet dancing wannabe who has just arrived at the the New York Ballet Academy. It's her first year there, but for Vanessa this is a bittersweet venue. Her sister Margaret, a remarkable ballerina who attended this same school, disappeared without a trace several years before. I skipped the prologue as usual and went right to the first chapter which tells the story of Vanessa's arrival. Her mom is introduced as Mrs Adler, her father is introduced (if you can call it that) as "her father", and soon they're gone. That tales care of the first criterion for YA supernatural trope!

One interesting snippet that sneaks in is that Vanessa is tall like her dad, but this begs the question: tall and in ballet? Anastasia Volochkova can probably relate to that: she has not only actually danced in The Firebird, she has been fired - for heinous crime of being 169cm (5'7") tall, and weighing 50kg (110lbs)! This is yet another example of the brutal standards we set for women, and it's all-too-often criminally different than it is for men. Do men have to wear tutus? Do they have to obsess about weight and height? Do they have to be tossed around like rag dolls? Quite the contrary: ballerinos like Carlos Acosta (who is over six feet tall), and Benjamin Millepied (who is five-ten) seem to have no problem: I don't hear that they were kicked out for being too large.

I guess it's not too much of a stretch to figure out from this that I am not an aficionado of ballet, nor much of a dancing or musical fan in general for that matter. I do like a good story about such artists, however, as other reviews in this blog, such as In Mozart's Shadow, Dramarama, and Sister Mischief will demonstrate. Not that In Mozart's Shadow scored too well, but the other two did.

My first big problem with this novel was when the male lead grand plié'd his way directly into center stage. His name is Zeppelin Gray. I am not making this up; Yelena Black is! The hypocritical part of this is that we're told that he's "too tall to be a dancer" - but tall Vanessa isn’t!? IMO height has nothing to do with it, nor should it, so why mention it? We learn, inevitably, that his body is a chiseled sculpture which leaves Vanessa's lips trembling! Which lips this refers to isn't specified, so I guess Black doesn't have even Carey's embarrassed bravado in this regard, but at least Vanessa's lips aren't "heart-shaped" unlike the lips of another character in this novel. Shortly after this we meet bad boy Justin, the third apex of this infernal triangle, he of the delineated muscles and inevitable hair-in-face. I'm so nauseated by this Trope-l'œil that I wanted to toss this novel on the fire of the firebird at that point

Vanessa learns that the ballet the school will perform this year, quite coincidentally (not!) is Жарптица better known in the west as The Firebird, written by Igor Stravinsky, and curiously the story of a guy who wins a princess, the love of his life, helped by the firebird he's captured in exchange for letting L'Oiseau de Feu go free. The Firebird was Stravinsky's first project for the Ballet Russes, written when he was an unknown.

My prediction by then was easy: we know that Zeppelin will be playing the male lead in the ballet, Vanessa will be picked for the female lead (red hair - firebird, get it?!) and this will create huge resentment amongst her fellow ballerinas, the greatest nemesis of which is undoubtedly Zep's girlfriend, Anna Franko, evidently the progeny of a startling line of prima donnas, but there's far more to it than this. Vanessa's sister Margaret was picked to play the firebird rôle and she disappeared. My WAG was that Margaret quite literally became the firebird and that's how she disappeared. Consequently, the only way in which Vanessa will find out what happened to her sister is if she inhabits the same rôle herself.

This novel does have a few amusing quirks. These people are all fit young ballerinas/os in training, and yet they ride the elevator up to their floor?! The more senior students force the freshmen/women into a rather scary and then rather sick initiation, but this is nothing compared with the Nazi-like ballet classes. We do learn, from one of these, however, that Vanessa gets truly in the zone during a pirouette exercise in one of her classes. This is what sets her up for a freshman entirely predictably taking the female lead in the school's production of The Firebird.

Of course, there's always room for gross error in my predictions, but it seemed obvious that Zeppelin would really be the bad guy, that Justin is going to win fair Vanessa's hand, that Justin is there because he was Margaret's boyfriend, and that he's back for the same reason Vanessa is: to find out what happened to Margaret. This would explain his long absence from the school, and the reason he's now forced to take classes with the freshmen. But Vanessa thinks he's evil, and she goes on a date with Zep, of course. Next in tropeville comes the appallingly clunky but tropely inevitable instance of them being quite literally thrown together. This happens on a subway when the train takes a curve, and Vanessa, supposedly a brilliant ballerina, can’t keep her balance? Honestly? The plot sickens.

Zep takes her to a pizza place in the Village, and "The warmth of his fingers closing around hers made her legs go weak." Oh, and let it not be forgotten that she "melts" beneath his touch. Barf. Okay so the comment Zep makes regarding soda while they’re eating the pizza is really funny, but that was the only interesting thing about him in the entire novel. And how can we have a female lead who is so unheroic? How can we respect an invertebrate girl like Vanessa? Why do female authors so consistently trash their female main characters in this way? Does Black hate young girls, or just Vanessa? Does she have so little respect for her that she creates this girl in this way?

On page 145, Black has Vanessa saying to Zeppelin, "So now that you have me alone, what do you want to do with me? This is such an echo of Kitai's line to Tavi in Jim Butcher's Academ's Fury:

"Well," she murmured after another moment. "You have me, Aleran. Either do something with me or let me up." (p296)
I had to wonder if she had read that novel, but it's a pathetic echo compared with that entire scene in Butcher's novel. You can find the page in Google Books here.

Zep tells Vanessa that she's different from all the other girls he's taken out. What, the others had two heads? Six legs? No arms? I'm sorry but this is thoroughly flatulent. Zep is quite obviously an imbecile who ultimately treats her like dirt, and Vanessa is equally an imbecile if she swallows all this crap he's telling her, especially when he tells her that most girls wouldn’t be OK with going out for pizza? What planet is Black from? Every girl of the same personified Jell-O® hue as is Vanessa with him, would crawl through sewerage for the trope guy. I call bullshit on this whole thing. Through a megaphone. But guess what, Justin is no better. In fact, he's worse because he's supposed to be the good guy yet he flatly refuses to tell Vanessa-Sue a single thing that will help her. He's reduced to absurdly cryptic hints throughout the entire novel. What a complete and utter time-wasting loser.

This trope triangle was one of two real problems with this novel and it's not even the most important one. As I mentioned, the basic plot is great, but the biggest problem is how the story is being told. It started out as a story about Margaret Adler going missing, and Vanessa Adler's plan to try to discover the truth about her sister's disappearance, but it rapidly dissolved into a sad, boring love-triangle with two farcically cardboard guys, and a wet rag of a girl, and who cares about missing Margaret? For that matter, who cares about the dance when we can obsess on Zeppelin, the most worthless character ever created in the history of worthless characters?! I got this book because I was misled into believing it was about dancing, and about overcoming obstacles, and about the mystery, and I warmed to it when I thought there was a supernatural element being added to the mixture, but I've really been let down. I did read to the end of this novel, but I skimmed it for the last hundred pages, only truly stopping to read when it got interesting, which unfortunately wasn't often enough!

And what's with Messiah Anna Franko and her twelve princesses? They follow her around like ducklings, and it's truly pathetic. At least there is some sort of explanation put up for this, but I found it inadequate to explain all of their behavior all of the time. I cannot honestly believe that not a single one of them would harbor any regard for Vanessa and her skill. This was such a heavy-handed high-school cliché that it was to pathetic to tolerate and it was entirely without merit. Yes, I don't doubt that dancers, like anyone, can be childish and peevish at times. I don't doubt they have flaws. I do seriously doubt that they would all behave en bloc like this. This story had it within itself to be so much better.

Here's a word about the novel you write being inescapably yours: no matter how many beta readers you have, no matter who your editor is, it's all on you, and you need to factor that by a magnitude of ten if you self-publish. If we don't take this responsibility, we get lines like this on p296: "Joseph lashed at out at Zep...". No spell-checker is going to get that. Microsoft's sad sack of a grammar checker will not catch that. No last minute skim-read is going to find an error like that. It's all on you, the author.

Having said that this novel becomes less and less about the dance, to be fair I have to add that at least Black didn't completely forget that "It's the dance, stupid!". Most of the action, when it's not "Oh Zeppelin, where-the-hell art thou, Zeppelin?" is about a dance that Black invented for this novel: la danse du feu - 'the dance of fire' which is supposed to be a particularly difficult routine, but it's not part of The Firebird. Don't confuse this with the Infernal Dance as I initially did. Black's invention was added purely for the supernatural portion of this tale. As you can see, it sure doesn't look like this ballerina is having any trouble, nor this one with the actual firebird ballet! Note that I am not a ballerino, nor a musician, so this is only my amateur opinion, and this certainly isn't to belittle those who perform (either the music, or the dance, in) these pieces. None of it is "so easy anyone could do it".

On a lighter note, don't confuse feu with fou! There's this old joke about a guy who is learning French and he's staying in a cabin one cold night with a couple of acquaintances. One of them has to leave for a time, and she tells the man not to let the fire go out, but he thinks she said "Don't let the fool go out" and spends his time watching the other guy and ignoring the sputtering fire! But I digress!

So, once again when Zep abandons her, Vanessa goes to practice in the room where there is ash on the walls outlining the pale shapes of ballerinas in various poses from the dance of fire. Vanessa copies these poses one after another, and she sees the shapes come alive and start dancing with her. In time, they slowly disappear except for one, which she assumes is Margaret, and which continues to dance with her until Vanessa collapses. She finds herself, wilting willow that she is, carried back to the NYBA building by Zep, and she tells him what happened, but then get this: when she considers telling him her suspicions about ballerinas disappearing, she baulks at that in case he would think she's crazy! So telling him about live, dancing, wall shapes - absolutely fine; telling him about demonstrable ballerina disappearances - absolutely crazy. Okay! Got it!

I won't go into any more in order not to completely spoil it for anyone who is interested in reading this, but the ending is simply not good enough and is merely the introduction to volume two in what is destined, apparently, to be a series. If Black had ditched the instadore, that alone might have persuaded me to relent on the tedium and lack of dancing detail and perhaps rate this as a worthy read, but as it is, it's never going to get there for me. Definitely a warty read.