Besides reading, writing, and traveling, I also love ballet. From the age of five until twenty-one, I took ballet classes on three occasions, never advancing above advanced beginner. Needless to say, I enjoy it now as an observer.
So last week I read Zippora Karz’s ballet memoir, The Sugarless Plum (Harlequin, 2009).
Reminiscent of the film, Black Swan, Karz pushes herself to perfection, even at the expense of her health. While Natalie Portman’s character is haunted by herself, Zippora Karz’s demon is diabetes. She ignores her doctor’s phone calls, increased hunger, and sores under her arms. When she finally sees her doctor, her sugar levels are so high it’s a wonder she’s still standing.
Karz was a rising star with NYCB under George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins, after moving to New York from Los Angeles at age 15. Other similarities to Black Swan include her close relationship with mother (who moved in with Karz in NY) and how she closes herself off to everything but ballet (no dating).
If you enjoy ballet, this book is not only a unique look into the rigorous world of the NYCB, but also a historic expose of the larger-than-life figures at NYCB back then.
Another ballet memoir I enjoyed several years ago was Li Cunxin’s book, Mao’s Last Dancer (Putnam, 2004). Last year I saw the film based on his book.
I’ve always found it fascinating that throughout the communist purges of all things bourgeois, ballet always remained popular. It never lost its stature in Russia. And in China it climbed heights during the Cultural Revolution.