Artscape
7:09 am
Sun September 25, 2011

Seattle author looks "Inside the Land of Ballet"

Stephen Manes has been a TV writer, a children's author and a personal technology columnist for national publications. He's also co-authored a book about Bill Gates.

But he was a total outsider when it came to ballet.

He'd been a patron of Seattle's Pacific Northwest Ballet. But it wasn't until a behind-the-scenes tour of the company for donors got him thinking: How much do pointe shoes cost? What's it take to mount a season? What's it like to be an artistic director, a dancer, a dance student, a stager, a costumer or a member of the orchestra?

He chronicles all of it in his new book, "Where Snowflakes Dance and Swear: Inside the Land of Ballet" (Cadwallader & Stern, 910 pages, $35.00)

"They had guts," he says about PNB's artistic director Peter Boal and executive director David Brown who granted Manes access to all sorts of things: ballet class, rehearsals, board meetings and "Nutcracker" auditions. Manes spent the 2007-2008 season at PNB chronicling every detail, no matter how small: how toes get wrapped with masking tape, for example.

A focal point of his narrative is the angst, second-guessing and drama surrounding Boal's decision to mount a new "Romeo and Juliet," this one by Jean-Christophe Maillot. Not only were some of the dancers unhappy – some principal dancers didn't get lead roles as expected – some subscribers were unhappy. There was also second-guessing as to whether the cast had enough rehearsal time and whether there were enough dancers cast for the roles, particularly when injuries struck.

In the end, the ballet was a success but it also led to the departure of one dancer, principal Noelani Pantastico.

Manes says he asked a lot of dancers about one thing they thought the public didn't understand about ballet. The overwhelming response: That what they do is a job.

So in his 900-page book, he looks at the emotional and physical cost of a short-lived ballet career, as well as the financial pressures of one of the top ballet companies in the country.

Artscape” is a weekly KPLU feature covering Northwest art, performances and artists. The feature is published here on Sundays and airs on KPLU 88.5 on Monday during Morning Edition, All Things Considered and on Weekend Saturday Edition.