Monthly Archives: June 2014

BeauSoleil live: Cajun up close

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Sometimes the music-making machine in me, as an adult [still] beginner on the violin, slows down to a crawl and needs a jumpstart. A little shake up the equation. Striving less, ironically. Taking a little time off, relaxing, sitting back and observing more. So. I didn’t practice my violin the other night (okay, the whole weekend), but instead went out with Mr. Classical Girl for a night of watching live music. Not the symphony this time, though. Instead, the Cajun, zydeco, folk-but-not, touch-of-blues-and-jazz, Louisiana-based band, BeauSoleil. Up close. Very up close: second row, in an already small, intimate venue. A way cool night.

BeauSoleil (sometimes billed as “BeauSoleil avec Michael Doucet”) was formed in 1975, and the group released its first album in 1977. I learned about them after being seduced by their music in the 1987 film, The Big Easy, their “Zydeco Gris Gris” that opened the movie. The music and the movie hooked me utterly on New Orleans and its culture, which, in my Midwest youth I’d never explored.  

BeauSoleil imbues their music with flavors of their native Louisiana. There’s Cajun, Creole, Zydeco, and last night we heard Calypso and Africa-based music, as well. (Loved, loved it!) The band has garnered a dozen nominations for a Grammy Award, winning in 1997 for Best Traditional Folk Album and in 2009 in the category of Best Zydeco or Cajun Music Album.

Don Quixote’s Restaurant in Felton, CA, doubles as a bar and music hall, presenting astonishingly good live music and bands. They nabbed BeauSoleil for a night because the band was passing through the region and thought, hey, how about a night of music-making in a local venue? I don’t know if they were aware of how small the venue is, really, just a big room adjacent to the restaurant, filled with lots of folding chairs that night. But the band showed up, we all eagerly showed up, 200-ish of us crammed into the room, and they made damned fine music for us.

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The small venue brought a cozy intimacy to the show, the ability to observe the performers way up close, and chat with some of the members of the band during their break (special thanks to Mitch Reed, pictured below, for his time and enthusiasm as we violin/fiddle talked), and really, it doesn’t get much better than that for a night of listening to live music. I must say, my eye was on the *violins all night long, even as I enjoyed the whole group’s unique ensemble sound. (Fun, cool fact: one of the two violins pictured below, on the right, has been tuned a full note lower, so the A string is tuned to a G. Way cooler for Cajun harmony, huh? The secret spice to their music, so to speak.)

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I’m crazy about Cajun and zydeco music. For many years, I didn’t even know this stuff existed. I thought it was on the country end of the music equation (ick) or traditional folk (meh). Hearing it for the first time was reminiscent of trying Thai food for the first time, thinking it was just going to be like Chinese food, which I found uninteresting (hey, this was while growing up in white-bread, suburban Kansas City, okay?). Both the Thai and the zydeco proved to be an astonishing jolt to my pleasure seeking sensors. Delicious. Instantly addictive. Utterly satisfying. Where and when can I get more, please?

Watching Michael Doucet perform, I was reminded of how much fun it is to observe a musician in the throes of doing what they do best. The way you could see the art take over, pulse through him, literally a wave, the smile on his face, the way his music was rewarding him. It was like watching someone go into a trance, and they were going to tell you your fortune, a good one, so you were invested too, so enjoying the process, the end result. Pure pleasure.

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And that’s what the night gave me, most of all. The pleasure of watching gifted musicians immersed in the pleasure of making great music on their instruments. Which, doggone, has fueled me to go pick up my own violin/fiddle, and go back to making the music myself. A very good thing.

Thank you, BeauSoleil, for your inspiration and for a wonderful (and local!) night of great music!

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PS: Take a listen to The Big Easy soundtrack. The song that will forever define BeauSoleil in my mind is Zydeco Gris-Gris, the movie opener. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VORSTvVHSro (This song starts at 19m50 but I highly recommend listening to the entire 47 minutes. Really great music and soundtrack.)

PPS: And check out BeauSoleil’s most recent CD, From Bamako to Carencro. I’m listening to it as we speak. It so very much jams. And, because I love links so much, here’s a great review of the CD from Dan Willging at offbeat.com that says it all so much better than I can. As a classical music fan who also loves world music, it was good fun to read: http://www.offbeat.com/2013/04/01/beausoleil-avec-michael-doucet-from-bamako-carencro-compass-records/

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A PPPS but not: *For the record—a violin is a fiddle and a fiddle is a violin, with some exceptions. Mostly the instrument is named, and set up, in the way the musician prefers. I am a violin student who likes to incorporate fiddle tunes into my repertoire, my lessons. I use the instrument terms interchangeably. Fiddle players are less inclined to say “my violin” and they might tune their instruments differently, or have more fine-tuners on the tail, but again, it’s the same instrument. Another interesting aside: when I bought my violin (at Gryphon Music in Palo Alto, and it turned out to be a wonderful place to buy a violin even though it’s mostly guitars there), the luthier who sold it to me said “is this for fiddle or classical?” and I asked why and he said, “fiddlers tend to want fine tuners for all four strings, whereas classical violinists prefer just one fine tuner on the E string.” When I asked if it made any big difference in sound or aesthetics, he gave a little noncommittal shrug and said, “it’s sort of an image thing.” He didn’t say a “snob” thing, but, I have to say, I think that’s some of it. Some classical violinists in training don’t want to be seen as “needing” those four fine-tuners. That’s what’s on starter violins, after all. Student violins. One fine tuner shows you’re good enough to tune the rest with pegs. But hey. I’m not knocking this philosophy. I myself anguished over the choice, the decision in front of me, on which way to go. In the end I put ego aside and went “fiddler” style, with four fine tuners, and am so grateful that I did (way easier to micro-tune). And this is likely way more than you wanted to know about fine tuners and violins and fiddles and what is the difference between a violin and a fiddle, and there you have it, yet another Classical Girl ramble. So happy you read to the end, though!

Alban Berg’s palindrome genius

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Palindrome: noun, Greek origin. A word or sentence that reads the same forward as it does backward.

One of the things I’ve come to appreciate about my subscription to the San Francisco Symphony is the opportunity it provides me to sit and thoughtfully consider music I might never have chosen to listen to on my own. Case in point, a few years back, in 2010: Alban Berg’s Lulu Suite. Back in 1934, Berg had been working on his opera, Lulu, when the untimely death of Manon Gropius, daughter of Alma Mahler, prompted him to stop and write a violin concerto in her memory. Returning to his opera, he was unable to complete it before his own death in 1935, but he managed to extract excerpts to form Lulu Suite.

Atonal, or 12-tone music, is not my favorite. I tend to like the traditional fodder, the comforting hierarchy of pitches that focus on a single, central tone. It exhausts me, listening to all those notes on the chromatic scale, functioning independently of one another. It makes me think of a dozen toddlers in a too-small playroom: entertaining in small doses but ultimately disorienting.

An atonal opera, therefore, is not something that would normally have me hurrying to the ticket office. But the San Francisco Symphony programs their concerts cleverly. The lure of James Ehnes playing the Beethoven Violin Concerto in the second half was enough to fill Davies Symphony Hall that Saturday evening of the 2010 season. Further, four of the five movements of Lulu Suite are instrumental, and the story within the opera is dramatically delicious in a way only opera can be. Lulu is an ambitious femme fatale, her sexual allure the downfall of many a man even as she herself makes a determined rise up the ladder of fortune. Later, however, her fortunes reverse and from there it is a free-fall of misfortune, sending her tumbling right back down that ladder.

There exists, midway in the opera, as well as in Lulu Suite, a deciding moment. A pause. An instant of silence from the orchestra, like a drawn breath, and then we hear a trio of notes from the piano. A silent exhale, and we hear the three notes in reverse.

Lulu’s rising fortunes are all about to mutiny.

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And here comes the fascinating part. The score to the second movement, the “Ostinato,” is a palindrome. From this moment on, note for note will played out in reverse, just as Lulu’s loss of fortune brings her right back to where she came from, amid the dregs of society, living as a prostitute in London’s East End. And, more fascinating, musically, it all works. Beautifully so.

This, I have since discovered, is a trademark of Berg’s work, an unwavering commitment to musicality, form and symmetry in equal parts. It astounds me that the work can be crafted in such a calculated, intellectual fashion and yet still manage to sound lyrical, passionate, deeply affecting. And to do that through a palindrome? Whoa.

In the concert’s second half, James Ehnes’s performance of the Beethoven Violin Concerto was all that I’d hoped it would be. Here there was nothing to decipher, no thinking required. I could simply sit back and allow myself to be transported by the genius and artistry of both composer and soloist. My high expectations were all met.

And yet now, even years later, darned if it isn’t scandalous, abrasive Lulu and Berg’s palindrome genius that’s got me thinking, thinking…

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PS: For your brain-teasing pleasure, here are a few better-known palindromes. Feel free to contribute your own. I myself couldn’t come up with a single one.

  • A man, a plan, a canal: Panama.
  • Evil did I dwell; lewd I did live.
  • Are we not drawn onward, we few, drawn onward to new era?
  • Draw, O coward!
  • Lived on decaf; faced no devil.
  • Rise to vote, sir.
  • Was it a car or a cat I saw?

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Retreat to Esalen

Photo courtesy of a wonderful Esalen friend, Sept 2016

Photo courtesy of a wonderful Esalen friend, Sept 2016

Today I go to Esalen. I say this in the way a kid repeats to himself in a dazed, reverent tone, tomorrow is my birthday, or today is the last day of school. Ironically, my son was reciting the latter just yesterday. We both were, repeating it to each other in incredulous tones, as if afraid that someone or something was going to snatch this delicious, too-good-to-be true reality from us. But no one did. He woke up this morning to the first day of summer. And today I go to Esalen. And we are both basking in our respective glows.

Before I went for the first time, 12 years ago, someone in my yoga class, upon hearing I was going, nodded wisely and said, “you’ll love it. And you’ll never be the same again.”

She was right.

The Esalen Institute is located in Big Sur, high atop the steep cliffs and bluffs that dominate the region. They annually offer hundreds of classes and workshops, most of which are weekend-length or five-day, but there are month-long ones, even longer ones available. They are holistic-oriented workshops. Meditation, yoga, alternative thinking, healing, living. Buildings are located on miraculously flat land (for this region) that was once cultivated by the Esselen Indians; carbon dating of excavated sites show their presence since 2630 BCE. Amid natural geothermic hot springs, Esalen sprawls out on 120 acres, smack up against breathtaking Pacific coastline. The Institute offers its workshoppers fabulously good, fresh food (with produce from their garden), served cafeteria style, catering to vegans and omnivores alike.

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An article about Esalen in Travel and Leisure caught my eye, written by Dani Shapiro, author of the delicious Still Writing: the Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life. I love this bit:

Ask anyone who has ever been to the Esalen Institute—even those who haven’t—and there is always a story. The Big Sur retreat center 45 miles south of Monterey epitomizes a kind of 1960’s California spiritual bohemianism, and has been a lightning rod for controversy and drama since its founding early in that decade. A few days before my visit, when I mentioned to my dentist—a mild-mannered, rural Connecticut fellow—that I was heading there, he became more animated than I’d ever seen him. “Esalen!” A dreamy look crossed his face. “Esalen! I didn’t know the place still existed.” He shook his head. “Do they still have the naked baths?”

Oh, crack me up. She nailed it. The article is so great; she took me right there, step for step (by the time you’ve been there a half-dozen times, this is not difficult to do—your mind/body/spirit has memorized the geography of the place). You can check out the rest of the article HERE.

Some people refer to Esalen as “that naked hot tub place.” There’s so much more to the place, such a sense of healing and renewal that you feel the moment you drive up and park. You go there for the workshops. For the airy, peaceful ground. But, yes, the hot tub experience needs to be mentioned. Yes, it does sort of define the place. Yes, the first time you go there to them, if you’re not a nudie, it’s a jolt. I’m remembering my first visit, 12 years ago. The tubs were in a different place, higher up, as the fancy new baths were being built below. I trudged up the little dirt footpath and caught my first glimpse of a big cedar hot tub filled with 6 to 8 naked men, laughing and lounging in and around the tub in various states of carefree abandon. I stopped in my tracks and whispered to myself, Oh, God. I can’t do this. But I’d paid for a $120 massage and you were expected to disrobe and wait in the tubs for your massage, and really, it’s a luxury, a privilege, to soak in a mineral hot tub prior to a massage. It would be like not accepting the free champagne you’re being offered before and during a fancy dinner you’d paid for. And just a note here, if you’re shaking your head now, saying no way, never, nope, well, know this. You can wear a swimsuit. You can go during quiet hours when it might be one person per tub.  (And a little secret: there’s a more private tub on the second level that sits by itself, next to the massage rooms, and rarely gets used/noticed.) You can avoid the tubs entirely. But you’d be surprised, once you get past the initial unclothed moment, just how unthreatening it becomes. How oddly pedestrian. Everyone’s naked; no one cares. By the time you take your last tub soak before departing, it couldn’t feel more natural. Seriously. And in regards to my own nerve-laced first experience, I was able to disrobe in anonymity, slip into the nearest tub in anonymity. The two older women there, basking in the warm water, didn’t look twice. They were too busy being relaxed. (The extraverted nudies in the far tub remained just that: both extraverted and far away, enjoying themselves and their own experience.)

 

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The workshops I’ve taken there include mindfulness meditation (highly recommended; I returned the next year for the very same workshop). Drumming. Accessing your creative/inner/higher/deeper power. In truth, I can’t remember the name of each one specifically, but you get the idea, right? Lots of sharing, emoting, inner-searching, cathartic release. Very Esalen. I’ve always signed up for the weekend version, from Friday evening through Sunday morning, which has always seemed way too short, but when you’re a mom, certain things come first. Until, that is, the children become teenagers and stress you out so much that you storm out of the house after one such argument/encounter, pacing your property, fuming, drawing in ragged breaths, muttering I’m going to lose my mind, I already am losing my mind, I gotta get out of here, I gotta get out of here for more than just a weekend and so you walk back into the house and make a beeline for your laptop where you Google “Esalen” and look for a workshop that begins the day your kid’s school year ends, and with a cackle of glee, you press “book,” for not just the meditation weekend retreat but the five-day Yoga Festival that follows, and it’s not cheap, in fact it’s gasp-gasp expensive, but sometimes when you’re a mom, you gotta do what you gotta do and so I did. [Wait… I mean to say, in this hypothetical situation, this is what a stressed out mom might say and do. Yeah. That’s what I meant.]

A few more details. Esalen allows no visitors, no site visits. Sleeping is shared accommodations, either in bunk-bed rooms for four, or ridiculously expensive shared hotel-sized rooms, or shockingly, absurdly expensive single rooms for those people who are resisting accepting that Esalen is, at its best, a communal experience, and hopefully you’re here to work on that issue of yours. (And hey, I get it, I’m a privacy and solitude freak, but trust me, the bunk room setup works surprisingly well.) The hot tubs and baths are like nothing you’ve ever experienced, located on a deck smack up against the cliffs, below which the Pacific Ocean crashes or murmurs, depending on the tides. The adjacent indoor showers are equally spectacular, with one entire wall composed of sliding glass panels, premiering the Pacific Ocean below.

Massages are out of this world. Again, I hear the words of my yogi friend echoing in my mind. “You will never be the same again.” And again, I concur. It’s a little like Paris, my favorite city in the whole world. And when I’m traveling, but not there, it all gets separated into two distinct mind-sets (or heart-sets). There’s Paris, and there’s not-Paris. Everything else takes a distinct back seat. And so, that’s how it goes, once you’ve had an Esalen massage at Esalen. There’s Esalen and there’s not-Esalen. You’re going to ask me what makes it so different, and I’m not sure I know how to answer that. It’s like watching a ballet student of seven years dance alongside a ballet professional. Same steps, maybe even same gestures and nuances. But the training, a life dedicated to the craft, the highest of education and commitment, all shows up in small ways. The massage therapists’ hands, the assurance of the trademark long, flowing strokes. The caring, almost spiritual nature of the experience. The marvelous interaction of masseur/masseuse to massage-ee. The healing nature of it all. (And, in case you’re taking notes, my go-to masseur there is Thomas Attila Vaas. See if he’s available. He rocks.)

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This year I’ll be doing a “yoga festival” for the five-day portion. I’m a longtime yogi, as devoted to my yoga practice as I am my ballet. I’m one of those annoying people who, when on vacation, need to go exercise, get in a class or pump some iron. Esalen offers free movement classes for all workshoppers, and in the past, I’ve always made sure to take in the morning yoga class before the day’s workshop. I’ve never done a yoga workshop, though. Yoga, atop yoga, for five days. Wow. Odd. Something new.

So there is that, too. Trying something new, stepping out of my comfort zone, that groove of mine which is both safely familiar and currently uncomfortable. Funny, that. You know you need to break up the equation, jar it a little, as you’re showing all the classic signs of burnout. And yet, even the most comfortable of getaways for me contains within it a level of discomfort. I’m a solitary, habitual creature. This will be neither a solitary nor habitual week. Far from it. But it will be Esalen. The place where people bare their hearts, their dreams, aspirations, thorny issues, as easily as their bare their bodies. In fact, I’m convinced the two are related. Make yourself vulnerable by shedding your clothes, exposing all of yourself to others, the psychological equivalent happens. Some of the most profound, insightful conversations of my life have come from chatting with fellow attendees while in the hot tubs. Particularly in the dark of night, the murmur of the Pacific Ocean below you, all the time in the world.

And on this note, dear reader, I’ll leave you. It’s time for me to drive to Esalen. But do yourself a favor: click on the link below and check out Esalen for yourself. It might be calling your name…

http://www.esalen.org

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Maggie Shipstead’s astonishing ballet novel, Astonish Me

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The choreography is old-fashioned, but as Rusakov circles the stage doing high, perfect coupés jetés en tournant, his technique is not fusty but pure. His movements are quick but unhurried, impossible in their clarity and difficulty and extraordinary in how they seem to burst from nowhere, without any apparent effort or preparation. But the beauty of Arslan’s dancing is not what moves Joan to cry in her red velvet aerie: it is a dream of perfection blowing through the theater. She has been dancing since before her fifth birthday, and she realizes that the beauty radiating from him is what she has been chasing all along, what she has been trying to wring out of her own inadequate body. Forgetting herself, she leans out over the railing, wanting to get closer. Etonnez-moi, Diaghilev had once said to his dancers in the Ballets Russes. Astonish me. 

Finally, someone has given me the ballet novel I’ve been waiting for. Finally, it’s not just young adult fodder, challenges facing budding ballerinas, nor is it the heavy, brooding, darker-side-of-ballet material (Black Swan, anyone?) showing up. Instead, it’s an engrossing yarn, spanning thirty years, flitting in and out of the world of ballet in the most delicious manner. Most surprisingly, it’s written by someone who’s not involved in the dance world in any capacity. She’s just an incredibly good writer. Astonish Me is the name of Maggie Shipstead’s new novel, following the success of her first novel, Seating Arrangements, a New York Times bestseller, the winner of the Dylan Thomas Prize and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for First Fiction. And astonish me, Shipstead did.

The story in a nutshell: Joan is a professional ballet dancer, painfully aware that her level of talent dooms her to mediocrity, whose biggest claim to fame is that she helped a Soviet ballet star, the prodigiously talented Arslan Rusakov, defect in 1975. A torrid but too-brief love affair with the charismatic, narcissistic Arslan only serves to emphasize her limitations, and finally she bows out, quits dance, returns home to  Jacob, the besotted boy-next-door from her past. She marries him, they move to California, where she assumes a staid, stable life while raising their son, Harry. But as the years pass, Joan comes to understand that ballet isn’t finished with her yet, mostly in the form of her own son’s possibly prodigious talent in ballet. Through Harry, and Joan’s connection with her old ballet friend Elaine, a compatriot  who made it all the way up the ranks to principal, she is pulled back into the world she thought she’d left behind, back into dangerous secrets, and back, inevitably, to Arslan.

Shipstead hits the sweet spot in the literary-meets-commercial subgenre, with writing that is, at its core, solid, intelligent, finely crafted. Iowa Workshop graduates seem to have this way of writing that I’m utterly besotted with. Deliciously engrossing story that never develops an affected, overly self-conscious style. I call it old fashioned kind of storytelling. You know those books you loved so much as a kid, hurrying home from school and losing yourself in it, utterly swept up in this other life? Oh, the satisfaction. (Did anyone read Noel Streatfeld’s Ballet Shoes when they were young? Oh, how delicious.) From the Iowa Writers’ Workshop have come several lifelong favorite books of mine: John Dalton’s Heaven Lake, Curtis Sittenfeld’s Prep, Ann Patchett’s Bel Canto. I recognize we’re talking four very different novels here, but the thing that links them is that they are delicious stories, well-written, well-crafted, ones you escape into, savoring every chapter, every line. The kind of book where you slow down to enjoy even more rather than finish it too fast. But no, wait. I was rushing through Astonish Me. It was too interesting and compelling not to.

The story covers the years from 1973 to 2002. Its chronology is mixed around and that’s not going to appeal to all readers. I myself had no problem with it. I enjoyed the pacing, the way the story divulged its answers and mysteries, although the most relevant “secret” doesn’t take shuffling of the story around to figure out. The average reader will figure it out quite early, but the way it’s presented makes for a smoother read, giving it importance at the right point of the story.

Astonish Me has a familiar story base, sort of literature’s follow-up to the 1977 film The Turning Point, starring Anne Bancroft, Shirley MacLaine and Mikhail Baryshnikov. In fact, there are a lot of parallels, but fortunately none that too closely resemble the story so as to make it seem derivative.  Whereas Turning Point seemed to follow more closely an American Ballet Theatre kind of company, this story’s company closely resembles Balanchine’s New York City Ballet of the 1970’s. There’s enough to make us feel like we know Mr. K, the Russian-born artistic director. Like Balanchine, there are the female muses he uses to power his work, the signature perfume he bestows on each of these chosen female dancers. And Arslan Rusakov is clearly created in the likeness of Mikhail Baryshnikov. but hey, I loved it. I was so enamored of him when he burst onto U.S. stages and I just loved him in The Turning Point. This book was like a dear old friend, returned from the past to further entertain me.

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Shipstead writes with authority and all the right detail. After a while, I stopped caring that she didn’t have any sort of dance background to reference, and simply relaxed into the wonderful prose. Here are a few excerpts:

Elaine has grown harder. Her voice, her eyes, her bones. Her sternum is like a turtle shell with skin stretched over it. They are all thin, dancers, but Joan can discern infinitesimal variations in thinness, and Elaine’s is the minimalist body of the survivor. She has reduced herself to the most essential pistons and gears. Nothing extra can be allowed to create strain or cause wear.

And here’s Joan, mulling over the choice she made years back, to leave ballet and settle down with a family.  

She doesn’t miss the feeling of living at an accelerated pace, each year counting for more than an ordinary fraction of life, like dog years. Her childhood was dominated by discipline, fear, repetition—her small self in an endless, tearful hurry to get better, to get good in time to have a career. Her childhood bled seamlessly into her adulthood, each contaminated by the other.

Boy. Great stuff.

And here’s narration through the voice of Elaine, her ballet friend who took her career all the way to the top, to principal with the company and, after Mr. K’s death, assuming the artistic director’s position. Here, she’s observing Harry dance: 

As he whirls through the slave boy variation, he surprises even her. He is a gravity-defying dervish, full of bravura and brio, all the things male dancers need to be full of. He does the horribly difficult pirouettes where he pliés on his supporting leg without losing momentum. He does the turning jumps cleanly and with good height. His takeoff is naturally quick; he doesn’t need a low plié to get off the ground, even in fifth position. And there is a welcome hint of interpretation beyond the technique, a hint of defiance from the slave. Even before she’d seen Harry dance, years ago, when Joan had pulled that gap-toothed school picture from her wallet, Elaine had recognized him as a potential asset for the company. Now is the right time to secure him. When he is still young and his technique still pliable.

You can likely guess where the story goes from there. Harry’s prodigious talent takes him from the safety of California (Joan’s feelings, not his), right into the New York world Elaine and Arslan Rusakov inhabit, and there you have it, all coming full circle for Joan, and not in a good way.

My lone gripe is that I didn’t particularly like the way the story ended. [Note: spoiler alert, further down – I’ll let you know when to shut your eyes.] Chloe, the girl living next door to Joan and family in California, turns out to have talent as a ballet dancer, initially more so than Harry, even. As  Joan’s protégée, she thrives, but, sadly, lacks the proper body type to be a successful professional ballet dancer, a difficult but true fate for many a dancer. And yet [okay, shut your eyes if you don’t want to know too much], invitations to ballet summer intensives come her way, as do top notch apprenticeships, and further opportunities, in spite of her wrong body type, her slightly unorthodox energy within her classical ballet dancing. I’d been set up to think she would be the girl who wanted ballet to be her world, but it wasn’t, another painful fact of life that many a young dancer needs to make peace with.  But, nope, and perhaps as a result, I found the final section of the story, the final dance performance and its set-up to be almost too much to swallow. Or maybe I was simply frustrated that this wonderful surprise of a book was coming to an end, and I simply didn’t want it to.

Small detail. Point remains, I loved this book, and I’m on my feet applauding for this wonderful ballet story and writing that will remain in my mind for some time to come.

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PS: You know how I love Paris and Palais Garnier, right? (http://www.theclassicalgirl.com/502/ I had so much fun reading the following. Boy, talk about a novel tailored to my personal tastes.. 

Joan kneels in a dark box in the third loge of the Palais Garnier, the Opéra, peeping over the red velvet railing. Six rickety chairs stand close around her, but she knows they creak and is careful not to disturb them. The houselights are down, but the glow from the stage picks out a profusion of gilded plasterwork: serene deities, trumpeting angels, lyres, garlands, flowers, oak leaves, masks, Corinthian columns, all deeply shadowed, piling up around the proscenium and among the boxes like the walls of a craggy gold cave, climbing to Chagall’s painted round ceiling of naked angels and voluptuous ballerinas and goats and chickens and lovers and blue Eiffel Tower and red-splotched rendering of the Palais itself. From the center of this hangs the great sleeping chandelier: an enormous gold and glass thistle hung upside down to dry, darkly gleaming.

Knopf will let me go on with the excerpt, right? You don’t mind, do you, reader? It’s just so delicious.

For Joan, Paris has the feeling of waiting. All the elegance, the light and water and stone and refined bits of greenery, must be for something, something more than simple habitation and aggressive driving of Renaults and exuberant besmearing with dog shit. The city seems like an offering that has not been claimed. Its beauty is suspenseful. Joan has walked the boulevards and bridges and embankments, sat in the uncomfortable green metal chairs in the Tuileries, puttered down the Seine on a tourist barge, been to the top of the Eiffel Tower, stared politely at countless paintings, been leered at and kissed at by so many men, stood in patches of harlequin light in a dozen chilly naves, bought a scarf she couldn’t afford, surreptitiously stroked the neatly stacked skulls in the catacombs, listened to jazz, gotten drunk on wine, ridden on the back of scooters, done everything she thinks she should in Paris, and still there has always been the feeling of something still to come, a purpose as yet unmet, an expectation.

But, now, in the dark, on the red velvet couch where fashionable Parisian ladies used to retire from the scrutiny of the opera house, Joan finds herself unexpectedly atop a moment that feels significant. Her life, unbeknownst to her, was narrowing around this point, funneling her toward it. The city was never waiting. She was waiting. For Arslan. Already she has started to think of him by his first name. If the beauty of Paris is suspenseful, the beauty of his dancing is almost terrible. It harrows her. Her throat is tight with fear. She is afraid of how this man, this stranger, has already changed the sensation of being alive. She is afraid he will slip away. All the things she has felt for months—the mundane loneliness, the frustration with language, the nagging anxiety, the gratitude for the opportunity to dance—all that is gone, replaced with brutal need. She should leave. She should go home and then to class tomorrow and the next day and the day after that. But her need is too powerful to ignore. She must see it through.

And this, dear reader, is what you now need to do, as well. Get this book.

It’ll astonish you.