Get out your ballet shoes and dust off childhood dreams of dancing, ballet is back in fashion.
Black Swan, a psychological horror movie starring Natalie Portman as a technically talented but passionless ballet performer, is hitting the cinemas on Thursday. The movie has attracted a lot of attention, including picking up a Golden Globe for Portman’s performance and re-ignited a lot of interest in the art of dance. All things ballet are tipped to be “on trend” and “fashion forward” and a whole bunch of other terms that I am unsure of the meaning of but I suspect translate to “will look terrible on you”. So we can look forward to a year of ballet flats, overly severe buns and people who should know better insisting leotards and leg-warmers can look good in night clubs (Madonna, I’m looking at you).
I’m not anti-ballet – I’ve seen more than a few performed and, back in my pre-teen years, I had a truly impressive collection of books on the subject. I’m blaming Noel Streatfeild’s Ballet Shoes for starting my childhood mania and but I’m told that Angelina Ballerina is a more likely culprit these days for getting tomboys into tutus.
I harboured dreams that I would one day dance The Nutcracker as opposed to using one to rip the heads off my Barbies. Much like Dawn French, whose autobiography Dear Fatty has a photo of her all leotard-ed up and ready to dance despite clearly having a physique better designed for rugby, I wanted to be a ballet dancer. It took a while for me to accept the fact that they were unlikely to change Swan Lake to Rhino Pond, and that my dancing attentions were better turned to less ethereal pursuits.
(It wasn’t that bad, I also wanted to be a nun on roller skates, jockey, fighter pilot, both the princess and the knight in shining armour, a teacher, vet, writer and artist. I think I may also – after seeing The Last Unicorn – have wanted to be a unicorn as well. So, let’s face it, something had to go.)
For those of you who’d like to stay “on trend” without squeezing yourself into a pink tutu, there’s plenty of ballet reading out there. If you’re not sure you can take a whole book of pirouetting, try Bloomsbury Ballerina, the biography of Lydia Lopokova which links her dancing and wild life with war, revolution and the economic policies of the super-powers via her marriage to John Maynard Keynes. Or read about the fiery Nureyev, “ballet’s first rock star”.
Another excellent ballet biography is the justly celebrated Mao’s Last Dancer, Li Cunxin’s story of his childhood at Madame Mao’s Beijing Dance Academy, his subsequent stellar career and his defection from China. (For that additional local “you couldn’t make this up” angle, Li is now a senior manager at one of the biggest stockbroking firms in Australia and was named the 2009 Australian Father of the Year.)
Fancy reading about things further afield, or looking for a gift for someone you suspect already owns every ballet book? Cuban Ballet by Octavio Roca is due to be released later this month, and is a lushly illustrated tome exploring the unique history and spirit of Cuban ballet by focusing on the life and career of Alicia Alonso.
There’s plenty of reading for people inspired by the movie but make sure you don’t pick up the book called The Black Swan. While it is an excellent read, it’s a non-fiction tome on probability, forecasting and random real-life events, with narry a tutu – nor Natalie Portman – to be found.