Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Cranes Dance Review

Growing up, I danced for years. I started ballet when I was five and picked up tap and jazz three years later. Every Saturday for a very long time I would spend the day at my dance school, where I also took classes on Tuesday and Thursday evenings. Eventually, I dropped everything except for tap, but by the end of eighth grade, I simply did not have the time, talent or desire to continue dancing at all.

That being said, I've always been fascinated by dance and dancers, ballet in particular. I'm familiar with many ballets, having danced in them or seen them in various places. I saw The Nutcracker and Swan Lake last year and Giselle at the Sydney Opera House during my study abroad in Australia. And of course I saw Black Swan. Amazon's description of this book said something about how this book was like Black Swan without the crazy. I might have read that wrong, because there was definitely crazy in the book. Not as extreme as Black Swan, but still pretty intense.

The story follows Kate Crane, a soloist at a major New York City ballet company. She is in her late twenties and has been in NYC since she was 16. At the start of the book, she is in a bad place. Her sister, Gwen, who is only a year or two younger than her had some sort of breakdown and was sent home to live with their parents for a while. It's unclear in the beginning exactly what happened to Gwen, but the specifics unfold as the story does. Unlike Kate, who was a soloist, Gwen was a principal dancer (the highest rank of a professional dancer. Along with Gwen's breakdown, Kate has just broken up with her boyfriend Andrew. She is at a loss herself, reeling from her sister's problems and her own stresses as a professional dancer.

Kate moves back into the apartment that she used to share with Gwen before living with her boyfriend. The very first line in the book is "I threw my neck out in the middle of Swan Lake last night." This sets an uncomfortable tone for the novel. The whole time I kept thinking about her neck and how much it must have hurt despite her seeing chiropractors, acupuncturists and massage therapists.

Kate spends much of the book in her head, having her own private breakdown. She dances in Swan Lake, A Midsummer's Night Dream and a modern ballet where she plays a celebrity. She interacts with her dancer friends, an older friend named Wendy, who had hosted Kate as a young dancer, and a student dancer named Bryce, who idolizes her. She also spends a lot of time in rehearsals and classes, despite her neck injury.

Gwen is a constant presence, although you never actually see her until the very end of the book. Their story is told through flashbacks that trace how they got into dance all the way to Gwen's drastic breakdown. It's a fascinating look into the ballet world, which is quite cutthroat. The book is funny at time. I especially loved the description in the beginning of Swan Lake, which made me laugh a lot as Kate described "acting" in ballets, where the dancers really have to just pantomime their actions on stage. It's also about sisters - the bonds that link sisters together, as well as the jealously that drives them apart.

I really enjoyed this book. I couldn't really tell what direction it was going in although as the plot progressed, it was clear that Kate was struggling with her own demons and heading towards her own breakdown. The only question would be, how would that turn out in the end? All in all, it was a satisfactory conclusion and I definitely recommend it!

Buy it at amazon and Barnes and Noble

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