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An enchanting first novel about that ""ballet"" year (1955), when the iron rod of terpsichorean excellence waved like a wand over the cultural sleepers of Middleton, Louisiana, bringing two aging but finely tuned professionals into uneasy conjunction--and all seen through the breathless involvement of a 14-year-old ballet student. The school of Madame LeBreton, nÉe Milly Forbish of Albuquerque, is ""a rustic but valiant little outpost of ballet."" A toper and smoker who looks ""a wreck"" away from the studio, Madame is nonetheless a thorough teacher who can ""pull herself erect into the sacred positions as if there were a brilliant arrow in that lumpy leotard."" And among her students is Meredith Jackson--who's both stunned and thrilled when the advanced class is visited by none other than dancer/choreographer Geoffrey Render, founder of the famous N.Y. company with which Madame performed long ago. Balding, thick-set, a man of immense charm (which, curiously, Madame endures with a caustic forbearance), Render leads them in astonishing ""combinations,"" at times dancing all out even in street clothes. Then comes the heart-stopping announcement: Render will choreograph a new ""ballie"" using Middleton's dancers, to be performed at the yet-to-be-constructed Merrick theater: after the melee of the audition, Meredith dreams of white tutus. But the ballet is ""Mother Goose""--featuring mice, dogs, cows, spoons--and the months that follow are crowded with crisis: Render comes and goes, dispensing magic, art, and personality; Milly dutifully rehearses the troops--position-perfect but her way (she carefully flushes Render's notations clown the john); the show's ""angel,"" wealthy Lyda Merrick, is played like a harp--until the roof of her theater caves in; Nathan, a Juilliard pianist, takes up the limp reins from ancient, tempo-bashing Mrs. Fister; school seamstress Mrs. Oleander complains (""Them dawg costumes are goin' to be a pain in the neck""); 17-year-old Claude, the only viable male dancer--persecuted by his peers, ferociously career-minded--falls in love with Cecilia, Madame's daughter (who dances like a dream but couldn't care less); and Meredith's nice parents worry about ""people who don't think as we do."" Amid hysterics and hilarious disasters, and Madame's final blow-up from a passion-blasted past, ""Mother Goose"" flies--and though Meredith will leave ballet for another kind of life, for one unforgettable night she ""danced like a real dancer."" Funny, warm, sometimes even moving--several cuts above the usual ballet-fiction's soap and sleaze--and L'Enfant handles the dance-technicalities so brightly that you can just about reconstruct the whole ballet before your eyes as you read.

Pub Date: July 8th, 1983
Publisher: St. Martin's