The Ballerinas

The Ballerinas

by Rachel Kapelke-Dale
Setting: France
Genres: Fiction
Published on December 7, 2021
Pages: 304
Format: eARC

Dare Me meets Black Swan and Luckiest Girl Alive in a captivating, voice-driven debut novel about a trio of ballerinas who meet as students at the Paris Opera Ballet School.
Fourteen years ago, Delphine abandoned her prestigious soloist spot at the Paris Opera Ballet for a new life in St. Petersburg––taking with her a secret that could upend the lives of her best friends, fellow dancers Lindsay and Margaux. Now 36 years old, Delphine has returned to her former home and to the legendary Palais Garnier Opera House, to choreograph the ballet that will kickstart the next phase of her career––and, she hopes, finally make things right with her former friends. But Delphine quickly discovers that things have changed while she's been away...and some secrets can't stay buried forever.
Moving between the trio's adolescent years and the present day, The Ballerinas explores the complexities of female friendship, the dark drive towards physical perfection in the name of artistic expression, the double-edged sword of ambition and passion, and the sublimated rage that so many women hold inside––all culminating in a twist you won't see coming, with magnetic characters you won't soon forget.

I requested this book from NetGalley based on the cover. I also loved the description of long simmering rage in women. I was on vacation when I started this book and I read it over the course of a day because it was so engrossing.

Delphine, Lindsay, and Margaux were students in the Paris Opera school from the time they were young. When they graduate they have about a 10% chance of being selected to join the ballet’s corps – if they are lucky. Each year as more advanced spots open up they can audition to move up out of the corps until they face mandatory retirement at age 42.

They story is told in two time frames. The first is their time in school until they move into the ballet company and their first few years there. The second is 15 years later. Now Delphine is a choreographer and not a dancer. She’s been hired to come back to Paris from Russia to choreograph a ballet based on the life of the last Tsarina of Russia. She wants Lindsay for the lead. She feels like she owes her. Why does she owe her? That’s the mystery that is explored in the past timeline of the book.

For a lot of books that would be the plot. This book keeps the surprises coming. The present timeline doesn’t exist just to explain the past. There are some major conflicts here too. How to you come back to a place where you grew up when you’ve been gone for 15 years but most of your friends never left? Can you go home again? And then, just when you think everything is resolved there is a final twist that you didn’t see coming. There is a whole lot going on here but I loved it. I like books that keep me from guessing exactly where it is going to end up.

I learned a lot about the day to day life of elite ballerinas, especially those in training. These characters felt like real women and not stereotypes. In fact the author seemed to actively set up stereotypical situations and then maneuver around them in unexpected ways. For example, there is a young, ambitious ballerina who wants to move up and many authors would have had her be spiteful and mean. In this book she turns out to be sympathetic and supportive of other characters.

There are a lot of dark themes here – rape, domestic abuse, infertility, abortion, injuries, etc. It isn’t a light and fluffy read. But it does draw you in and keep you reading.