by Emily Kate Long
Miriam Wenger-Landis’s latest novel Breaking Pointe is the companion to her first, Girl In Motion. The protagonist is Anna Linado, now fresh out of the School of Ballet New York and entering her first season as an Apprentice with Los Angeles Ballet Theatre. Breaking Pointe takes us through four seasons of Anna’s career with LABT. From her embarrassment at her mother’s effusiveness over Anna’s new job, to her first-day find of an old diary in her theater case, to her debut in solo after solo, to her disappointing and confusing fall from favor with the artistic staff, Anna’s narration reveals she’s wise beyond her eighteen years. She is optimistically curious about the “real” dance world and its inhabitants, and observant—but forgiving—of the shortcomings she finds there.
Slowly we see Anna’s optimism change to denial and disbelief. How can the things she reads in the diary possibly be true? How can dancers become so jaded and cynical? Injuries, lost roles, sexual harassment, company politics, guilt over the need to prioritize other areas of life, and workplace role ambiguity all take their toll on members of Los Angeles Ballet Theatre. Will the same things happen to Anna?
I loved the way Wenger-Landis uses the voice of Karina, the diary’s author, to serve as a series of interviews with the dancers and staff of LABT. For Anna, the entries provide insight into her colleagues’ sometimes mystifying behavior. They also ring true for the reader as an airing of dancers’ grievances in general. I know many dancers who have been in at least one of these characters’ fictional shoes.
Many of Anna’s career challenges initially stem from her relationship with Ethan, an older, worldlier, boy-next-door type. He is an utter outsider to the dance world, and Anna decides to take the risk of inviting him into her ballet bubble. Though she comes close to questioning her decision to let him in several times throughout the story, Ethan is Anna’s rock. Ultimately, he’s the best thing that could have happened to her, and she knows it.
Spoiler alert: in Breaking Pointe, as in many a ballet fairy-tale, love triumphs over evil, but this happy ever after is the real kind you have to work hard at. The conclusion of this novel brings to light a sad but important question for dancers: how many of us actually have the healthy relationship we want with dance? How good are we at picking up on cues in our own experiences to help us make that assessment? If anything, Breaking Pointe is a lesson in the importance of self-knowledge. I recommend it in earnest.
BIO: Contributor Emily Kate Long began her dance education in South Bend, Indiana, with Kimmary Williams and Jacob Rice and graduated in 2007 from Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre School’s Schenley Program. Ms Long attended Milwaukee Ballet School’s Summer Intensive on scholarship before being invited to join Milwaukee Ballet II in 2007. She also has spent summers studying at Saratoga Summer Dance Intensive, Miami City Ballet, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre School, Pittsburgh Youth Ballet, and Ballet Chicago.
Ms Long has been a member of Ballet Quad Cities since 2009. She has danced featured roles in Deanna Carter’s Ash to Glass and Dracula, participated in the company’s 2010 tour to New York City, and most recently performed the title role in Courtney Lyon’s Cinderella and the role of Clara in The Nutcracker. Prior to joining Ballet Quad Cities Ms Long performed with Milwaukee Ballet and MBII in Michael Pink’s The Nutcracker and Candide Overture, Petipa’s The Sleeping Beauty and La Bayadére, Balanchine’s Who Cares?, Bournonville’s Flower Festival in Genzano and Napoli, and original contemporary and neoclassical works by Tom Teague, Denis Malinkine, Rolando Yanes, and Petr Zaharadnicek.