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WHITE SWAN, BLACK SWAN by Adrienne Sharp

This is a loosely connected series of short stories revolving around professional ballet. While each story is self-contained, some characters make encore appearances and over the course of the book a chaotic meta-narrative emerges.

These are stories of broken romances, broken dancers, broken hearts, broken dreams. And yet each story captures and reflects the beauty, elegance and sheer passion of ballet.

While the stories themselves are fictional (though famous dancers like Balanchine, Nureyev, Fonteyn, Farrell, Godunov and Baryshnikov appear as characters), they glitter with an intimate authenticity that renders them deeply compelling and unforgettable. Although they reveal the tarnished edges of the gilded ballet ideal and crumble the illusions of perfection, what remains at the end is the pure heart of the dance. Despite the bleak tone, the bitterness and regret and despair that plagues some of the characters throughout the stories, their dedication to dance fills the pages with a core of beauty and hope.

Sharp's writing is beautiful and her sense of timing is quite clever ~ she lends an appropriate rhythm to every story; whether it's the speed and staccato of a grand allegro or the lilting grace of an adagio, every story feels like a dance.


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Several years ago I wrote a short story about a ballerina driven to make a deal with a demon in order to dance a coveted role. When she breaks the bargain, he pursues her to a small town and she's forced into a confrontation. The story won honorable mention in an international contest, but all the editorial comments mentioned the scope of the story and said, "There's too much here for a short story."

So I set it aside, thinking I might explore it as a novel at some point.

I've worked on other projects in the meantime, but this story remains close to my heart. A few months ago I wrote an outline and began doing research.

When I saw previews for The Black Swan, I knew I had to see it. It touches on all the themes central to my own story: ageism within professional companies, competition, perfection and obsession... and how far a dancer will go for her chance to shine.

I finally had the chance to watch the DVD last night. First of all, the relationship between Nina (Natalie Portman) and her mother is creepy on its own. Her mother, a former corps de ballet member, clearly has issues of her own and has pushed Nina to a point of obsession. Her control leaves Nina unbalanced and ill-equipped to deal with the pressures of the spotlight. Nina's psychological collapse occurs when the artistic director (Vincent Cassel) urges her to find her passion in order to dance the role of the wickedly seductive Black Swan. Shadowed by the easy sensuality of rival Lily (Mila Kunis), Nina's grip on reality begins to fracture.

The visual imagery of this movie is incredibly beautiful and I loved the smooth incorporation of thematic elements. When the director tells the dancers his version of Swan Lake will require one dancer to perform both the part of the White Swan and the Black Swan, he is standing before the seam of a mirror and his reflection is split in two, a clever foreshadowing. The use of light and dark, timing, and score evokes tension and suspense. And I loved the way the core story of Swan Lake is threaded through Nina's experiences.

This movie highlights the duality inherent in the world of ballet by contrasting the ethereal perfection of performance with the brutal reality backstage, the virgin purity of a young girl with the sensual passion of dance, the line between dedication and obsession.

It is disturbing, provocative, and visually stunning. I loved it, even as I cringed in discomfort.

Incredible movie.

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jenschmitadam

May 2011

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