In the Everyday Dancer, former principal dancer of the Royal Ballet Deborah Bull describes in detail the daily routine of the dance career which is often unknown by the general public. Although the book is not a biography of the dancer, it was written from a personal viewpoint in which she reports her experiences during the years she danced with the Royal Ballet.
In 209 pages Bull leads the reader on a delightful journey within the Royal Opera House walls, also offering us an insight into the dance career that usually starts during childhood and ends with retirement.
Bull describes the path she took to reach the top of her career, which started with the first ballet classes at a local school, the years she studied at the Royal Ballet School, the progression through the ranks of the company until she was finally promoted to principal dancer.
On the curtain down chapter, Bull talks in a very sensitive and profound way about the difficulties and pains inherent to the decision to stop dancing. Over time, the physical abilities of the dancer begin to decline; and it is now time to make way for new generations to shine. During this time, internal conflicts and memories gathered over the years arise and dancers have to give up the childhood dream of being a dancer and move on to a different stage of their lives.
The eight chapters that comprise the book were structured around a typical working day of a Royal Ballet dancer, which always starts with a ballet class, followed by a number of rehearsals ending with the performance of the evening. Bull then shows that having a life ruled by noticeboards, classes, rehearsals and inflexible schedules requires a great deal of discipline and willpower to be able to work on average 12 hours a day, 6 times a week, including extra sessions of pilates and physiotherapy.
The book also reports the expectations of the ballerina in the moments that precede the stage call, the feelings arising during performances, the rewarding end represented by the flowers received on stage, and the certainty that the same ritual will be followed the next day.
One of Bull’s merits while writing this book was to raise issues related to the rewards and frustrations inherent to the dance career, such as injuries, being unexpectedly casted to a specific show, and the tough acceptance in recognising that sometimes a dancer is not suitable for a particular role. For the reader, it is very clear that besides the willpower to succeed, being a dancer also requires a lot of determination, and sometimes resignation in relation to the lack of control over the paths that she wants to follow.
Bull also highlights what the public sees on stage is a result of months of rehearsals, creativity and corrections made by a team without whom the Company would not exist; including coaches, notators, ballet teachers, soloists and members of the corps de ballet.
Despite interesting and informative, I think the book sometimes dwell on unnecessary details, such the preparation of the pointe shoes before each performance, and the characterisation work done by the wig mistress. On the other hand, it is impossible not to embark on Bull’s personal journey. Her memories are so vivid that the reader has the impression of having lived every moment described in the book. As you navigate through the pages, you feel compelled to know more about the people who surrounded her, the creation of the roles she played, which Bull seems reticent and discreet about.
Written in conversational language, the book is so delightful to read; and even if you do not belong to the ballet world, you empathise immediately with the author and can only rest until you reach the end of the book.
Author: Deborah Bull
Publisher: Faber and Faber (6 Oct 2011)