National Ballet of Canada's Martine Lamy as Dr Coppelius's doll.
Former National Ballet of Canada principle dancer Frank Augustyn and award-winning author Shelley Tanaka look at seven classic ballets and the people who have brought them to life in Footnotes: Dancing the World's Best-Loved Ballets, which takes inspiration from the television series of the same name.
Plot lines are summarized in succinct 1/2 page blocks; the real story is the history of the original productions, as well as the evolution of the art form: The chapter on La Sylphide spins into a discussion of how ballerinas came to dance en pointe, Romeo and Juliet, a look at successful partnerships, and CoppTlia, how male dancers came into prominence.
The authors seem determined to break down the myths surrounding ballet, and much space is dedicated to testimony of the discipline, hours of practice, and athleticism demanded of dancers. There is specific attention paid to the physical price of the profession, including chronic pain and pressure to fit a particular body type.
Historic and technical notes are illuminated by anecdotes about ballet's giants¨from Vaslav Nijinsky to Mikhail Baryshnikov, Margot Fonteyn to Karen Kain¨and dancers' personal accounts. Of special interest is the importance and subjective nature of the dancer's interpretation of the character they are portraying. For example, two principle dancers offer views on Count Albrecht, the love object in Giselle, who drives the title character into madness when it is revealed he is betrothed to another. "The more I analyze it, the more I start hating Albrecht," says Ivan Nagy. "He just went down to the village for a little hanky-panky and used poor Giselle to have a good time." Nikolaj Hnbbe disagrees. "He was truly in love with her from the beginning," he says. "He just didn't think for one minute what the consequences would be."
Despite all this deconstruction, the joy of dance is preserved throughout Footnotes. Indeed, young readers will likely find that their appreciation of the art form is heightened with a better understanding of dance technique and the collaborative nature of production.
Well-written and cleanly designed with full-colour archival and contemporary photographs, Footnotes is an excellent step in that direction. ˛
Hadley Dyer is the librarian at the Canadian Children's Book Centre in Toronto and ballet aficionado