Alexandrie is a typical country girl. She helps her family with their pepper farm and doesn’t really expect much more than that. She shows an interest in taking dance lessons, which is a luxury – and that is where the conflict between her and her mother comes in. Alexandrie wants to be the best dancer she can, while her mother wants her to become a famous lorrette and send money home to her family. This tension really forms the heart of this story.
Alexandrie goes to Paris and becomes a part of the famous Paris Opera Ballet company there. The story primarily focuses on Alexandrie and the culture and daily life of the ballerinas. I expected there to be rehearsals, and practice and shows, but there was much more. I had never thought about ballerinas being anything other than dancers, but apparently they were. Men would come to the shows to meet with the dancers afterward and hope to engage in a “post performance” – if you get the meaning. Many of these women would become lorrettes or mistresses to these men. They would be able to leave the dance life and be put up and well cared for. This is what many of them hoped for – and what Alexandrie’s mother wanted for her. But, Alexandrie wanted to be respected for her passion and dance expertise.
Edgar Degas is well known for his exceptional paintings showing ballerinas in various stages of the dance and he finally comes into play in this story around page 100. I kept waiting and waiting, thinking he would never come. He and Alexandrie form a bond and she becomes the subject of many of his paintings. During these sections you get a great feel for the character of Degas – he is a little reclusive, volatile, and compassionate for his work. I really found myself enjoying Degas personality, even though he is a brasher artist than some others I have read about lately. One thing I found interesting was the inclusion of other Impressionist artists – this reminded me very much of some scenes in Claude & Camille by Stephanie Cowell – which I loved. It helped set the story in the art world, not just isolated.
I loved getting to learn about the dance and the experiences that these young women went through. Even though today many young girls take dance lessons, not many will become famous dancers and this story was a little like living out that dream. The one thing that I had a problem with was the ending – that seems to be where books have been losing it for me lately. The ending seemed very abrupt and the character had a change in motivation. All along Alexandrie was focusing on one thing, and then…it just went away. I really didn’t see the ending coming and it didn’t feel satisfying. Besides the ending, I really, really, enjoyed the book!