Quill and Quire

REVIEWS

« Back to
Book Reviews

Footnotes: Dancing the World’s Best-loved Ballets

by Frank Augustyn and Shelley Tanaka

by Frank Augustyn and Shelley Tanaka

Every young ballet fan who has succumbed to the magic of dimming lights, swelling music, and gossamer costumes wonders what it’s really like to be on stage. Famous Canadian dancer Frank Augustyn knows both the joy and the anguish of the dancer’s life. But this is no self-indulgent autobiography; in fact, Augustyn himself is rarely seen. Instead, this beautiful book (inspired by the television series of the same name) works hard to welcome the young reader into the world of ballet in a way that is both realistic and inspiring.
Footnotes uses chapters on the seven most famous ballets (including Giselle, Swan Lake, and Romeo and Juliet) to structure a discussion of everything from acting to pointe shoes to the fine art of partnering. Sidebars containing extra information (the plot synopsis of each ballet) or funny anecdotes (like Natalya Makarova spinning herself offstage) enliven almost every page. We learn the basic history of ballet’s development as a unique art form – for instance, how and when the first ballerina danced on her toes and how male dancers slowly became more athletic and prominent. The book doesn’t shy away from readers’ reservations, but instead humorously exploits them; for instance, regarding the plot of Giselle, Augustyn asks: “A prince who nearly dances himself to death? Why would anyone pay money to see that?” He then explains the complex language of gesture and emotion that transforms such a silly story into something sublime.
Lavishly illustrated with photographs from many performances, this book is both a wonderful introduction to ballet and a treasure trove for diehard fans.