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The White Ballets by R. Kupesic



Kupesic, Rajka. The White Ballets. Toronto, ON: Tundra Books, 2011. Print

Many classical ballets choreographed in the 1800s are considered “white ballets,” since during at least one scene, the prima ballerina and the dancers in the corps de ballet are all costumed in traditional long white tutus. This work by former ballerina Rajka Kupesic retells the storylines for three of these ballets: Swan Lake, Giselle, and La Bayadère. Each story is illustrated with reproductions of four of Kupesic’s paintings.

The book’s introduction explains a bit about this background and gives Kupesic’s reasons for choosing these ballets. It would have been helpful if she had mentioned other “ballets blancs” such as “Les Sylphides” so interested readers could seek information about them as well. Each story is followed by an “About the ballet” page. This page includes a brief history of the ballet’s early performances, identifies the choreographer and musical composer, and provides a commentary about each illustration and its meaning. The dust cover displays one of the images from “Swan Lake” while the image on the front cover depicts a scene from “Giselle.”

The work is labeled as being for all ages and indeed there is something for everyone. The stories are told using simple language that young girls could read, while the commentaries would be appreciated by an older audience. Despite the explanations, young children may not understand the nuances of the artwork. The paintings are intended to portray the atmosphere of the performance, though younger readers may have preferred a more literal interpretation of the story. I fear the reprinting of the paintings may have led to some loss of their intended effect. I would not have noticed the application of gold leaf had it not been mentioned, and in the two page “Swan Lake” illustration, although the eye is supposed to be drawn to the image of Odette in the back window, the page fold interferes.

Art is subjective, and many readers may find the illustrations breathtaking. While there are many beautiful elements to the illustrations such as the costuming and backgrounds, there are certain features that are not to my personal liking. Several dancers assume poses from the actual choreography, but in several cases the postures look awkward with overly inclined heads and weirdly proportioned and angled legs. One always thinks of ballerinas as beautiful young maidens but these dancers seem to have very prominent noses and oddly spaced eyes. The faces all seem to have the same emotionless expression, and the poses all seem quite static with little allusion to movement.

Despite my comments about the illustrations, many people will appreciate the artwork. The “About” pages will be beneficial for aspiring ballerinas as they learn some dance history and something of the choreographers and composers of the major classical ballets. Because the stories themselves stay true to the ballets and can be enjoyed by readers of all ages, this work would make a nice addition to any ballet lover’s personal library.

Recommended: 3 out of 4 stars
Reviewer: Trish Chatterley

Trish is a Public Services Librarian for the John W. Scott Health Sciences Library at the University of Alberta. In her free time she enjoys dancing, gardening, and reading books of all types.