December 15, 2011

More books about dance

Marie was a little known ballet dancer who was chosen to pose for Monsieur Degas. He taught her how to soar like a butterfly and made her beautiful.

The story is nicely told and the illustrations are wonderful. Sure to please ages 4 and up.

by Noel Streatfeild

Anna, Francesco and Gussie Docksay’s parents and grandparents are killed in a Turkish earthquake. With the assistance of archeologist Sir William Hoogle, they are sent to Fyton, England, to live with their Uncle Cecil and Aunt Mabel. Cecil is a humourless retired bank manager who dislikes fun and real flowers (his garden is made of plastic!). His meek wife Mabel is very “like a mouse,” as Gussie describes her, “afraid to move in case a cat is coming.” 

Cecil makes no attempt to hide his dislike of the children, and Mabel shrinks from trouble, so their home feels more like a prison. Worse of all, Cecil thinks dancing is a sin. This is a blow to Anna, who is determined to be the dancer that her grandfather wanted her to be. How the children make friends in spite of their uncle’s disapproval and earn money to pay for Anna’s dancing lessons is the focus of this unusual story.

It's unusual in that Cecil is a charities treasurer, yet he is the most uncharitable man. It is also curious that Jardek, the children’s late grandfather, did not allow Anna to dance; only to practice ballet exercises. He had said she must wait until she was older (she's eight). This means that she refuses to take a role in an upcoming dance performance. It makes ballet seem very serious and not much fun. Yet Anna stubbornly adheres to his wishes.

The strength of the novel are the well-drawn characters and the children’s charming manner of speaking. Smart, outspoken, and rebellious Gussie is particularly memorable. The story is wrapped up a little too quickly and neatly, but it is a very interesting and even thought-provoking read.

by Veronica Tennant

Nine-year-old Jennifer Allen longs to be a ballerina. After immigrating from England with her family, she’s enrolled in ballet classes in Sault Ste. Marie. But Mr. Vincent, the cigar-chomping teacher, doesn’t even show her the moves. But then she finds out about the Professional School of Ballet in Toronto. She auditions, and is accepted! Thus Jennifer embarks on real ballet training, with all its joys and difficulties. 

As realistic as the book is, ballet training is sure to have evolved quite bit since it was published (1977), which may make it a bit less relevant today. However, the characters are very relatable, except for Jennifer's much older friend, Danielle, who is seventeen. She tries to temper Jennifer's impatience to dance onstage by constantly reminding her about the less glamorous side of ballet. Considering their age differences, I think Tennant should have had Danielle speak less didactically. 

The book ends with Jennifer making her stage debut in a production of “Cinderella”. I found it baffling that Jennifer did not meet the dancer playing Cinderella until the final rehearsal. But Tennant's description of the backstage chaos is very exciting.

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