The opening sentence of “The Ballerinas” hints at the entire book. “You start out as potential energy and then you fall.” Delphine Léger narrates, and readers know immediately that unusual events will be recounted because she states that many things happened “before I killed anyone.” What did she do so long ago that changed lives? The past hangs ominously over everything, every action, every encounter, every moment. Readers find out bit by compelling bit as the narrative goes back and forth in time between 1995 and 2018.
Delphine is a dancer because her mother was a dancer, not just any dancer, but a star ballerina with the Paris Opera Ballet. Delphine has also been part of the P.O.B. since she was a child. Through her first-person narrative, readers learn that she was not just one of the little dancers; she was so much more. Gradually Delphine’s past advances as her role changes from student to corps member, quadrille, principal dancer, solo dancer, star étoile, and finally to a choreographer in the present. The full impact of those years becomes evident as details of impact of what happened emerge. Ballerinas are like pointe shoes — you have to break them down before they are of any use.
“The Ballerinas” is a startling story of both the good and the horribly bad in the life of a dancer. It is about both the purpose of life and what defines it. I received a review copy of “The Ballerinas” from Rachel Kapelke-Dale and St. Martin’s Press. As Delphine so aptly states, “Dancers are like violins. Handcrafted, unbelievably beautiful, their whole bodies joined only by fine slivers of wood. Likely to crack at any time.” As a bonus, readers get a chance to imagine a ballet to the music of Janis Joplin.