The namesake's dance

A colleague at work recently loaned me a novel that had been given to her as a present, because she and the lead character were both keen dancers, and, furthermore, both shared a name - they are both Kate Cranes. It sounded rather like my sort of book too, having been raised on ballet stories, so as soon as Kate was finished with Kate (so to speak), I too read The Cranes Dance (yes, the missing apostrophe worried both non-fictional Kate and I) by Meg Howrey.

Meg Howrey is a former professional ballet dancer (ex-Joffrey, City Ballet of Los Angeles), so she's on sure ground with this tale of two sisters partly separated by their dancing ability. Kate and younger sister Gwen are both stars of a top American ballet company. Gwen has a stunning talent, but currently is home with her parents having suffered some kind of a breakdown, largely brought on by the tough life of a dancer. Kate appears to be fit and well, and determined to make the most of the opportunity to fill the roles vacated following the loss of her sister.

The novel opens rather like a Ballet for Laura children's novel, as Kate prepares to dance in the latest production of Swan Lake while dealing with the aches and pains that are a daily part of a dancer's life. There is a great deal of humour, and a lot of love shown for ballet. The story however soon moves into Black Swan territory as Kate struggles to deal with her guilt about her sister's mental condition. It soon becomes clear to the reader though that Gwen is not the only one who has problems; Kate too is desperately unhappy and struggling to maintain her equilibrium.

For a novel that appeared so light and sunny, this is at times a troubling read. It examines the bonds that glue families together, and occasionally tear them apart. It also looks at the cost of art, how far people are willing to go to do what they love, and the compulsions that drive them. Occasionally it's a very unsettling read, but it also gives a fantastic sense of the community of dancers, the camaraderie that holds them together, and the jealousies and ambitions that sometimes drive them apart.

It's a long way removed from the ballet books of my teenage years, but I thoroughly enjoyed it, and found it surprisingly thought-provoking.


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