Monthly Archives: October 2018

Crazy Rich Africans

Seems there’s a perennial hunger to explore the personal lives of the globally wealthy, evidenced by the recent blockbuster success of the novel-turned-movie, Crazy Rich Asians. Even as a returned Peace Corps Volunteer, I admit it, I’m not immune. I realized how much that was the case, sixteen years ago, when I started writing The Africa Novel.  (My regular readers have heard all about this. If you’re new, go HERE and HERE.) The writing stalled; it seemed bland, more earnest than exciting, until a character and a situation sprang to mind. How about, I mused, instead the stereotyped altruistic, liberal-minded, upper-middle-class American girl helping those less privileged, I’d make her humbler. Bumbling. And the main African character, Christophe, would be a wealthy, privileged, pampered African, far more cosmopolitan and privileged than narrator Fiona. It’s not that big of a stretch, either. Every country has its elite, and trust me, this includes African countries. Building on this, I made Fiona a cloistered Midwesterner girl from a good family, but a modest, middle-class one. A ballet dancer, at that, more “save the pointe shoes” than “save the world.” The main reason she joined the Peace Corps was to get far away from her sister’s bitter betrayal. Running from conflict, she landed with a thud in Gabon, Central Africa, where her encounters with the wealthy, charismatic (did we mention sexy and good looking?) Christophe leaves no doubt that conflict will continue in her life. Fiona, over the course of the next two years, is in for an education. Then again, so is Christophe.

Mind you, A Dancer’s Guide to Africa has more depth than “impressionable Midwesterner falls under the spell of wealthy, sexy African man.” Alongside Fiona’s desperate infatuation is the struggle to acclimate in this world so wildly different from the one she grew up in. Her American precepts of being a “fun” English teacher, and being an outspoken, assertive female, land her into trouble, time and time again. In a country where family is everything and children are wealth, the single, unattached Fiona is considered poor beyond measure. And then there’s Christophe, his family’s fortune, their mansion, their ocean-front, palm-fringed vacation villa. While he and his family are purely fabrications of my imagination, I’m certain they represent a segment of Gabon’s population. Gabon enjoys a per capita income four times that of most sub-Saharan African nations. (Think: oil, the fifth largest oil producer in Africa. And manganese and lumber and other natural resources.) But there is a high income inequality, and a large proportion of the population remains poor. And the rich—well, many of them are crazy rich.

I’ve been asked, in interviews, what I’d like readers to take away from A Dancer’s Guide to Africa. There’s the obvious: I want readers to enjoy a good yarn, with dance but not too much; with romance and conflict, but not too much. But beyond that, I wrote this story to share with armchair adventurers, incorporating the grit of Africa, the unforeseen challenges, the bafflement and reverence, in the hopes that they come to “see” the Africa I saw. In some ways I wrote this as a love letter to Africa, one that I want to share with the world. The more all people can relate to or simply learn about foreign cultures, understand them at the personal level, the better this world will be. There are rich Africans, here and abroad. There are poor, under-served, struggling communities right here in the U.S. Values can vary wildly between cultures. Life isn’t fair, for so many people. There’s so much suffering in one part of the world, so much entitlement in another part. Fortunately, the hunger to connect, find affiliation and love, seems to define us all. I hope we take that similarity, that yearning for connection, and instead of saving the world, maybe just save each other.

You can find A Dancer’s Guide to Africa HERE or through Bookshop Santa Cruz.

Smuin opens 25th season with a winner

Smuin dancers in Ben Needham-Wood’s “Echo” — photo by Keith Sutter

That Smuin Contemporary Ballet is celebrating its 25th Anniversary season is a testament to so many things. To its founder, Michael Smuin, who died suddenly in 2007 while teaching a company class, weeks before a spring performance. To the company members who decided, in the spirit of their founder, that “we’ve still got a show to put on,” and went on to do just that, and do it well. To artistic director Celia Fushille, who has worked tirelessly since then to carry on Smuin’s vision and mission, cultivating a troupe of lively, engaged, talented dancers willing to work hard, embrace a diversity of dance styles, push boundaries, explore innovation, all while honoring the roots of classicism. It’s a mix that holds great appeal to audiences, and in this era of struggling arts organizations, one thing is certain: Smuin Contemporary Ballet has only grown stronger and better through its 25 years.

Five new dancers, two visiting artists and an apprentice have brought the company’s roster to nineteen dancers, and what is notable is how well they all blend as a company. Over and over I marveled at the pleasing synchronicity, not just in the steps but in the dancers’ intention. They looked polished and well-rehearsed on Saturday’s matinee performance. In a poignant touch, the program opened with Michael Smuin’s 2007 Schubert Scherzo, the ballet that premiered just weeks after his unexpected death. It’s a lovely neoclassical affair set to the third movement of Schubert’s Symphony No. 9 in C major. Nicole Haskins and Max van der Sterre were Saturday afternoon’s lead couple, back by an ensemble of 8 dancers. It was here the cohesive element charmed me: five couples executing partnered pirouettes in perfect unison, no small feat. Later, too, the five male dancers jumped and leapt as one. As the lead couple, Haskins and van der Sterre delivered strong dancing with an easy grace. Maggie Carey, dancing later with Robert Kretz, had impressively soft, silent landings to her leaps and jumps. All five females offered  photo-perfect unison attitude turns. Smuin’s 1969 The Eternal Idol followed, a tribute to Rodin, a romantic pas de deux bathed in golden lighting. Set to the “Larghetto” movement of Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 2, it was sensitively executed by Terez Dean and Ben Needham-Wood, who arose as if from a sculpture, in skin-toned unitards, to intertwine and spin and stretch into languorous poses.

Peter Kurta, Erica Felsch, “The Eternal Idol” – photo, Keith Sutter

Fostering new choreographic talent from within the company was important to Michael Smuin, and Celia Fushille has carried on the legacy. The Choreography Showcase, first presented in 2008, allows aspiring choreographers among the dancers to explore and set their work on their fellow dancers. Featured in Saturday’s program were three such works, developed in 2016’s Choreography Showcase, by Rex Wheeler, Ben Needham-Wood and Nicole Haskins, respectively. Wheeler (since retired from Smuin) offered Sinfonietta, an engaging neoclassic work set to the music of Boris Tchaikovsky (no relation to the master). Susan Roemer’s costumes of white chiffon skirts and bodices with swaths of pale yellow-meets-green (men in similarly colored unitards) brought the “lovely” factor up even higher, emphasizing the expansive, flowing movements from the ten dancers, Wheeler’s efficient use of the stage space, too, added to the work’s artfulness. Notably good were Mengjun Chen (through the entire program), and lead couple Lauren Pschirrer and Max van der Sterre.

Tess Lane and Mattia Pallozzi in “Sinfonietta” – photo by Keith Sutter

In Echo (formerly titled Reflection), Ben Needham-Wood offered narrative invention, as the ballet opened with its spotlight on a bare-chested dancer in white slacks (Peter Kurta), representing Narcissus, of the Echo and Narcissus myth. A turntable beneath him was slowly rotated by five dancers in indigo blue (think: the sea). Valerie Harmon, as Echo, joined him on the turntable in what surely was a tricky balancing act of a pas de deux. Set to music by Nicholas Britell, this ballet brought movement, emotion and lyrical dancing from lead couple and ensemble alike, its ending repeating the beginning, like, fittingly, an echo.

Nicole Haskins’ Merely Players offered more contemporary fare with a jolt of indie-pop music, selections by Vampire Weekend, Fleet Foxes and Bon Iver. Reminiscent of the choreography of Amy Seiwert and Twyla Tharp, the dancing from the ten-dancer cast was joyous, playful, quick-moving.

The program concluded superbly with Trey McIntyre’s Blue Till June, his fourth work for the company since 2010. Watching the vivid, endlessly inventive, entertaining choreography served to remind me what a master he is. The opener is dramatic: smoke, red overhead lighting, a dancer (Nicole Haskins) seemingly hewn from rock, cactus arms pointing up, looking like a Polynesian goddess. Rocks surround her as the music swells. Then, in the blink of an eye, she steps forward, and the rocks—dancers hidden beneath rock-colored cloth—roll away swiftly. It was so not what I expected to see, executed so efficiently, that I knew right away I was in for a rollicking good ride with McIntyre’s Blue Till June, created in 2000 for the Washington Ballet.

Haskins in her solo dancing was fierce, angular, proudly defiant. Smuin would have loved McIntyre’s choreography, the way it showed Smuin dancers at their finest, all high energy, high level of artistry, mixed with a certain rebel nature that seemed to define Michael Smuin as well. The soulful, power-infused ballads of Etta James provided the music. Her laments about love and life were an apt counterbalance to the humor and irony McIntyre injected into his work. One movement flowed into the next, like life, from high to low, despondent to energetic, casual to sharply precise, often with a whimsical or comic flair, even as the dancer maintained a serious expression. Erica Felsch was laugh-out-loud entertaining as a dancer rigidly opposing the intents of an amorous Robert Kretz. Their pas de deux, and its ending, was sublime. An ensemble of five delivered their number with slumped shoulders, a zombie demeanor, with an energetic counterattack. Ben Needham-Wood’s “One for my Baby” all but stole the show. Ian Buchanan and Peter Kurta offered an affecting, unconventional pas de deux, and Terez Dean and Ben Needham-Wood brought the ballet to a satisfying close.

These dancers are powerhouses. Not once did I ever see a sign of fatigue, although they had to have been damned exhausted by the end of the program. Not the audience. We left, happy and energized by yet another successful Smuin program. I think it’s safe to say the company’s 25thanniversary season is off to a fine start, indeed.

 

A DANCER’S GUIDE TO AFRICA is born!

Classical Girl Press is proud to announce the release of A Dancer’s Guide to Africa — recently named a quarter-finalist for the 2018 BookLife Prize! You can find it in print and electronic formats HERE or distributed through Ingram Book Company and Bookshop Santa Cruz. As a special in conjunction with World Dance Day 2018, enjoy A Dancer’s Guide to Africa at the discount price of $2.99 all month long!  After that it returns to its regular price of $4.99.

WHAT IT’S ABOUT

Fiona Garvey, ballet dancer and new college graduate, is desperate to escape her sister’s betrayal and a failed relationship. Vowing to restart as far from home as possible, she accepts a two-year teaching position with the Peace Corps in Africa. It’s a role she’s sure she can perform. But in no time, Fiona realizes she’s traded her problems in Omaha for bigger ones in Gabon, a country as beautiful as it is filled with contradictions. 

Emotionally derailed by Christophe, a charismatic and privileged Gabonese man who can teach her to let go of her inhibitions but can’t commit to anything more, threatened by an overly familiar student with a menacing fixation on her, and drawn into the compelling but potentially dangerous local dance ceremonies, Fiona finds herself at increasing risk. And when matters come to a shocking head, she must reach inside herself, find her dancer’s power, and fight back.

Blending humor and pathos, A DANCER’S GUIDE TO AFRICA takes the reader along on a suspense-laden, sensual journey through Africa’s complex beauty, mystery and mysticism.

I wrote a bit about the story’s inception HERE.

HERE’S WHAT PEOPLE ARE SAYING…

“Vivid prose and rapt evocations of the African surroundings make the story come alive.”
Kirkus Reviews

“Hilarious and poignant, with a frank, observant narrator who seems forever on the outside looking in, and all the more lovable and relatable for that.”
— Sarah Bird, bestselling author of The Yokota Officers Club and Daughter of a Daughter of a Queen

“Terez Mertes Rose knows dancing. She can make us feel its soulful allure. And in A Dancer’s Guide To Africa she captures the wonder, the culture divide, the longing and loneliness of being an outsider in the nation of Gabon. Better still, she delivers a cast of characters and a story that holds our attention from beginning to end. With this novel, Terez Mertes Rose, a savvy, insightful and entertaining writer, has come into her own.”
— John Dalton, award-winning author of Heaven Lake

“Rich with the smells, sounds, sights and culture of Africa, this novel takes us on an exquisite journey, through the eyes of a ballet dancer turned Peace Corps volunteer. A Dancer’s Guide to Africa is at once funny and dark, and superbly nuanced.”
— Marika Brussel, choreographer and former dancer

“A textured, sensuous, coming-of-age story that had me turning pages until the very end. I could almost hear the drums and see the firelight as I followed these believably drawn characters through their cultural and romantic escapades in this wonderful novel.”
— Anne Clermont, author of Learning to Fall

“Terez Mertes Rose has drawn on her considerable passions—dance, music, and storytelling—to take readers on a sometimes mystical and often suspenseful journey. The spiritual, visceral, and sensory-laden beauty of Gabon was a believable and riveting backdrop for this touching story of a women discovering her truth and power. A Dancer’s Guide to Africacommanded my attention from the first page to the last sentence.”
-– Jennifer Haupt, author of In the Shadow of 10,000 Hills and curator of the Psychology Today blog, One True Thing

Join me on my blog tour this week, hosted by Sage’s Blog Tours! Here are my stops:

October 2nd Corinne Rodrigues ~ BOOK SPOTLIGHT
October 4th Viviana MacKade ~ AUTHOR INTERVIEW
October 6th Reecaspieces ~ AUTHOR INTERVIEW
October 7th Jessica Rachow ~ BOOK REVIEW
​October 8th  The Book Adventures of Emily ~ BOOK REVIEW