The Merry Widow

We are off to see the ballet version of The Merry Widow tonight. Over the years, as I’ve learnt more and more about history (and read ninety million historical fiction books!), I’ve come to appreciate the ballet in different ways. For example, the way the “widow” character appears in the first act entirely in black, and gradually emerges from her mourning as the story continues over three acts.

In many ways, The Merry Widow is the ultimate historical romance, with an excellent secondary romance to boot (I’ve included the synopsis below).

I first saw this ballet in the early Nineties, at the final dress rehearsal in Canberra the day before the opening night of the production’s revival. They used original costumes, and backstage I got to touch the costumes worn by Dame Margot Fonteyn (considered one of the greatest ballerinas in world history) when she played the lead role.

I’ve seen numerous casts over the years, but I’d like to share a scene from the 1990s recording. The music, the pas de deux, the costumes, the sets… it’s all so gorgeous. I don’t see the same level of passion and beauty and grace in ballet often these days; this version, starring Lisa Pavane (who was one of my favourite ballet teachers, and now runs The Australian Ballet School) and Steven Heathcote (who I worked with a number of times over the years) is just gorgeous.

Synopsis: The action takes place in Paris in the year 1905.

ACT I
Scene 1:
An ante-room in the Pontevedrian Embassy
Minor officials and the French Attaché (Camille de Rosillon) are finishing work prior to the ball to be given in the Embassy that evening. The Ambassador’s secretary (Njegus) enters with a fresh heap of bills and all lament their country’s bankruptcy.

The Ambassador (Baron Zeta) and his young French wife (Valencienne) enter with a telegram announcing that a recently widowed Pontevedrian (Hanna Glawari) is to attend the ball. She is worth 20 million francs and seeks a new husband. However, should she marry a foreigner, Pontevedro will lose the benefit of her wealth and the country will be left penniless. The First Secretary (Count Danilo) is considered a prospective suitor.

Camille and Valencienne are left alone. He is passionately in love with her, and she with him, but she clings to her marriage vows. Njegus interrupts the lovers and they leave as Danilo enters – more than a little intoxicated. Njegus informs him of the marriage plan. He is amused at the suggestion and lapses into an alcoholic slumber. The Baron returns and orders Njegus to ensure that Danilo is sober before the ball begins.

Scene 2: The ballroom in the Pontevedrian Embassy Hanna Glawari arrives and Danilo is presented to her. They are dumbfounded, having met when she was a peasant girl in Pontevedro ten years ago. Danilo had put an end to the affair at the insistence of his aristocratic parents. He is amazed at the transformation of Hanna and, in his confusion, mops his forehead with a handkerchief which Hanna recognises as a keepsake she gave him when they parted. He tells Hanna that he has always loved her, but she, thinking that he is only interested in her money, rejects him.

The Baron bids Hanna choose a partner for the dance. Hanna regrets her coldness and chooses Danilo, but he, still smarting, refuses, and waltzes with another guest.

Valencienne urges Camille to prevent a ‘situation’. Hanna accepts his arm and they dance together. In the course of changing partners, Hanna finds herself alone with Danilo. She continues to resist his attentions but cannot really disguise her love for him.

ACT II
Scene:
The garden of Hanna’s villa
Hanna is holding a Pontevedrian soiree at her villa and the guests celebrate with their national dances. As they all go into supper, Zeta, Danilo, and Njegus agree to meet at eight o’clock in the pavilion for a small diplomatic discussion on Danilo’s progress with Hanna. All is going well and they are growing closer to each other, despite a slight mutual distrust.

Valencienne and Camille sneak into the deserted garden and as she finally succumbs to his persuasive passion, they withdraw into the darkness of the pavilion – observed, however, by Njegus. As the Baron and Danilo approach, Njegus panics and locks the pavilion door. Looking through the keyhole, the Baron sees all. In the ensuing scuffle to wrest the key from Njegus, Hanna appears and realises the situation. She releases Valencienne through a side door and takes her place inside.

The Baron unlocks the door and orders the guilty couple to emerge. To his amazement, Camille comes out with Hanna, who dumbfounds everyone by announcing their engagement. The astounded guests offer frigid congratulations and depart. Danilo is the last to leave and, in a frenzy, throws at her feet the handkerchief with which she had, a moment ago, retied their union. She picks it up knowing that he truly loves her.

ACT III
Scene:
Chez Maxime
The Pontevedrians have come to drown their sorrows and spend their last francs at Chez Maxime. Gaiety prevails until Camille unwisely appears – hoping, of course, to meet Valencienne. The Pontevedrians, led by Valencienne, jeer at him. Her mockery, however, is more emotional than patriotic.

Hanna suddenly appears and accepts Camille’s unwillingly offered arm. This is too much for Danilo who advances to challenge him to a duel, but Hanna and Valencienne intervene. The Baron perceives, from his wife’s protection of Camille, that his fears are not without foundation and resignedly accepts the inevitable.

All have left and Hanna stands forlornly alone. Danilo quietly returns and folds her into a loving embrace that turns into an ecstatic waltz.

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Offsetting Penalties by Ally Mathews

Offsetting Penalties by Ally Mathews

Isabelle Oster has dreamed of being a prima ballerina her entire life, so when the only male dancer backs out of the fall production, she’s devastated. Without a partner, she has no hope of earning a spot with the prestigious Ballet Americana company. Until hot jock Garret practicing stretches in one of the studios gives Izzy an idea, and she whips out her phone. But does she really want this badly enough to resort to blackmail?

All-state tight end Garret Mitchell will do anything to get a college football scholarship. Even taking ballet, which surprisingly isn’t so bad, because it means he gets to be up close and personal with the gorgeous Goth girl Izzy while learning moves to increase his flexibility. But Izzy needs him to perform with her for the Ballet Americana spot, and he draws the line at getting on stage. Especially wearing tights.

Offsetting Penalties by Ally Mathews

This young adult romance involves an aspiring football player and an aspiring ballet dancer. They’re thrown together when our hero – recovering from an injury – is encouraged to take up ballet to help with his football – his flexibility in particular.

Unlike most young adult books I’ve read recently, this one was written in the third person.

I like books where the characters have particular ambitions and talents they’re working with. I didn’t have a normal childhood or adolescence, with everyone in my family involved either in the theatre or elite sport, and I’m always going to pick up a book with these themes.

It seems the author knows a thing or two about American football, but not enough about ballet to convince me. As you would expect, I know NOTHING about American football (other than that they wear scaffolding when they play!), but it seems she did a good job with that aspect of the book.

The heroine starts off highly unlikeable, blackmailing the hero into dancing with her by filming him in the ballet studio and threatening to show it at school. Nobody who does ballet would ever do anything like this. I knew guys who kept their ballet lives a secret, and not even the meanest person at the studio would have been awful enough to do what she did.

Thankfully, the nastiness is resolved fairly fast, because I wouldn’t have been able to keep reading otherwise.

Now, I’m always going to be nitpicky with the ballet, and it’s no different here. I’ll just mention three things, though:

#1 It’s a ballet barre, not a “bar”, as it is referred to a number of times. You hold it; you don’t drink at it!

#2 I was horrified by the personal “ballet” lessons the hero received. Ballet is dance, not “stretching”. The guy walked into the studio cold, and with zero warmup was stretching beyond his (very limited) capabilities. A guy who can’t bend to touch his knees has no business throwing a leg up on a barre over a metre high.

This wasn’t ballet; it was muscle-tearing!

#3 No, people don’t wear princess costumes to ballet class. This is what ballet students look like when they’re in the studio:

Kiyanochka_02 Ballet Class Ballet Students

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Entangled’s Crush line is category romance for teens, so this is a shortish read, where the action moves along at a pretty fast pace. Offsetting Penalties is a decent little read to pass an afternoon – just don’t nitpick like me!

 

Review copy provided by NetGalley.

 

Happy St Patrick’s Day – Irish Dance and a Proper Shamrock

Here is some Irish dancing (minus todays’ bizarre fashions) for you for St Patrick’s Day. This is Reel Around the Sun from Riverdance in 1996, just after Michael Flatley left to choreograph sexist things like the “Strip Jig“.

In this video Michael – I danced at Trump’s inauguration because nobody else would – Flatley has been replaced by the fantastic, nine-time World Champion Colin Dunne (to Flatley’s one title!). He comes onstage at about 2:25. Just watch his feet…

Before everyone gets drunk (the pub we’re planning to go to starts celebrations at **8am**!!), I’d like to remind people this is a shamrock:

lighter green shamrock

The three leaves have symbolism connected to the Holy Trinity and Saint Patrick.

And this thing with four leaves so many think is a shamrock is, in fact, not:

four-leaf clover-2075860__340

 

Also, happy birthday to my uncle, whose middle name just happens to be Patrick. I wonder why that is!

On this day: a Ballet Premiere

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Source

The romantic ballet La Sylphide premiered in Paris on the 12th of March, 1832. The ballet was created by Italian choreographer Filippo Taglioni as a showcase for his ballerina daughter Marie, the dancer generally credited with being the first to ever dance en pointe.

As the original production was lost, French choreographer Pierre Lacotte used old records and images to recreate a new production for the Paris Opera in the 1970s.

This promotional photograph by Francette Levieux is from the revival. It features Michaël Denard as James and Ghislaine Thesmar in the title role. Thesmar is the wife of Lacotte.

The Ballerina’s Stand (A Chair at the Hawkins Table #4) by Angel Smits

The Ballerina's Stand (A Chair at the Hawkins Table #4) by Angel Smits

Love reaches far beyond words 

When she was growing up, a deaf child in foster care, dancing gave Lauren Ramsey a sense of belonging. Now she’s a prima ballerina with her own dance studio; everything’s finally going right. And then lawyer Jason Hawkins turns up and drops a bombshell: Lauren’s unknown father has left her a fortune. Well, Jason can take that money and shove it. Except…he can’t. Once he sees Lauren dancing, he can’t stay away…

The Ballerina’s Stand (A Chair at the Hawkins Table #4) by Angel Smits

If this had been a book about a former dancer-turned social worker, I think this would be close to a five-star read. The author clearly knows social work, and has clearly done a HUGE amount of research into sign language and the day-to-day issues a deaf person faces. I didn’t know how she was going to have a hearing hero who doesn’t know how to sign with a deaf heroine, but she pulled it off.

However, the book shows a lack of understanding of the sacrifice, dedication, and time it takes to be a professional dancer or athlete, which ultimately meant I could not love it.

The good? Heaps of it, if you forget the heroine is supposed to be an international ballet star.

The author finds a perfect balance in the communication. She creates a hero who cares enough to enrol in sign language lessons. He considers the obstacles, is frustrated by them, but is determined. It really makes you think, and makes you aware of all the different little ways a deaf person lives on a day to day basis.

She then adds layer upon layer of complications, giving the heroine an injury that totally takes away her ability to communicate, which terrifies her. She raises the stakes so well, and throws so many obstacles in her characters’ paths, but it never feels melodramatic. (Though sex straight out of the emergency room seems a little unlikely.)

She also makes use of so many different kinds of people, adding all sorts of diversity without making it preachy.

And it is always really nice to come across a hero who is a genuinely decent guy. He has fallen into this serious relationship before he even realises what has happened.

My problem with the book is this: the alleged world famous ballerina heroine NEVER trains!

Ballet is more than a full-time job. You dance from 10:30am to 10:30pm SIX DAYS A WEEK. And you do not do it on your own. You go to work the way other people go to the office (but put in double or triple the hours). You sign in at your “office”. You take company class in the mornings, rehearse with the company through to the evening, and then dance onstage with the company at night. You have teachers and coaches, whether you’re five or fifty-five.

And in between those dozens and dozens of hours of hard work there are costume fittings and photo shoots and media calls to attend, Pilates classes to take, physiotherapy appointments.

The hero  of this book was always working, but the heroine never did a thing. She spends the entire book meeting people for lunches, and hanging out with foster kids, and teaching children, and running her own business. Not once does she have anything to do with the ballet company she allegedly dances for.

Start this video at 1:40 to begin to get an idea of what it takes:

A day in the life of a principal dancer:

This book’s heroine goes weeks at a time without checking in at work! Nobody can do that, no matter how easy or mundane their job. She would always be considering her health, her diet and her fitness. You’re straight out of hospital? On crutches? Dying? Nine months pregnant? You still go into the company studio, and you still train for hours.

There are plenty of little mistakes about ballet throughout (little children don’t dance en pointe, and nobody has danced on a wooden stage for decades). A ballet career certainly doesn’t end at twenty-five, as implied here. Most of the ballet stars in the world today are over thirty.

Ultimately, this is a very good book about a lawyer and a *social worker*, not a book about a lawyer and a ballet dancer. I wish someone who knew the ballet world had given this a proofread, because it could have been a much more believable book.

Only the Brave Try Ballet by Stefanie London

Only the Brave Try Ballet by Stefanie London

Step up, Grant Farley…not your typical ballet student!

Football pro Grant Farley is nursing an injury and needs to get back into shape—fast. Ballet wouldn’t be his first or even his last choice, but he’s desperate. Enter tantalisingly prim teacher Jasmine Bell—one disapproving arch of her eyebrow and Grant knows he’ll enjoy getting her tutu in a flutter!

But it’s not only Grant’s flexibility that Jasmine’s pushing to the limit! He knows she feels the heat between them, so why won’t she give in to it? Time to convince Jasmine that if she’s brave enough to dance en pointe she can certainly handle a fling with him!

Only the Brave Try Ballet by Stefanie London

I’m really happy how many great Australian authors are emerging. If you’re a Sarah Mayberry fan, then you should look into this book. Both authors use Melbourne as a setting, both write contemporary-feeling characters who are actually recognisable as 20-30ish people from the 21st century (not a common thing in contemporary romance!), and both just genuinely write good books.

Only the Brave Try Ballet was very close to home for me, as it’s about an Australian Ballet soloist who becomes involved with an Australian Rules football player. Having worked in various capacities for The Australian Ballet, and having known AB soloists who actually did marry AFL players, I knew this book would go one of two ways for me. Either I’d love it, or I’d find so many faults with it I would go insane.

I’m happy that it turned out to feel very right to me, and that I really enjoyed it.

These are two great characters who get together, and I liked how the author seemed to know both her subjects (ballet and football) inside out. I liked pretty much everything, and would recommend the book to any romance fan.

There were two tiny things I want to mention. Firstly, I always hate it when non-American characters say ass instead of arse – we don’t do that!

Secondly, I don’t know how it is possible the heroine would be almost as tall as the hero. AFL players are giants. Ballet dancers are not – how in the world could she be a giant and then stand en pointe? She’d be twice the height of her partners!

However, that’s about it. If that’s as much as I can find to criticise in a book, then obviously it was a really good book. I’m looking forward to more from this author.

The Week: 11th – 17th November

Miserable Sydney 16th November 2013 Sonya Heaney

The closest thing to blue sky Sydney had to offer!

We just got back from Sydney, where we went to see The Australian Ballet (and also ate at Café Sydney – the setting for one of Sarah Mayberry’s books!). Good God does it rain a lot in Sydney!

More Than One Night by Sarah Mayberry

I’ve gone through a lot of books this week, in an effort to try and catch up with all my review books. I’m doing okay so far.

My review of Provocative in Pearls by Madeline Hunter

Provocative in Pearls (The Rarest Blooms #2) by Madeline Hunter

What in the world happened to Bridget Jones?

Bridget Jones Mad About the Boy by Helen Fielding

My review of The House on Main Street by Shirlee McCoy

The House on Main Street by Shirlee McCoy

My review of Dancing On Air by Nicole Hurley-Moore

Dancing On Air by Nicole Hurley-Moore