Rachel Kapelke-Dale's debut novel, The Ballerinas, offers an excoriating view of ballet as an industry, an artform, a calling and a passion. It's the story of three women in the Paris Opera Ballet and how dance shapes their friendship, bodies, lives and, ultimately, understanding of themselves as women.
As the only daughter of one of the most legendary ballerinas in Paris, Delphine has lived and breathed ballet from birth: "Dance is what I do. It was as simple, and as messed up, as that." Ballet school is where she meets her childhood best friends Lindsay and Margot; the POB company is where they grow their friendship as women; and dance is what ultimately brings Delphine back to Paris after 13 years spent choreographing in Russia.
Kapelke-Dale trained in classical ballet, and her deep understanding of this world is evident in the nuanced way she captures complex tensions: between Delphine and her estranged friends, between the company and the dancers they employ, between the female ballerinas who shine and the men, as required by the artform, who "show them off," between an individual's love of dance and the sacrifice it demands. "We'd honed ourselves for so many years into something resembling perfection.... It was about taking our strength and making it pliable, supple, compliant." The Ballerinas reveals with sharp insights what happens when talented and passionate dancers like Delphine and her friends reject that compliance: the strength of the women they are and the friendships they have built, and the beauty of the dance they perform both on stage and off, and what it takes not merely to survive but to shine. --Kerry McHugh, freelance writer