Posted by Rebecca King on 08.23.2012
Those of you who spend quite a bit of time in the online dance community have probably heard that former Miami City Ballet Dancer, Miriam Wenger-Landis, has just come out with her second novel, Breaking Pointe (which was given it’s name long before the CW television show premiered). In honor of the release of her second book, Ms. Wenger-Landis has agreed to two interviews for TENDUS, one on each of her publications.
Girl in Motion, the prequel to Breaking Pointe, follows young aspiring ballet dancer, Anna, as she makes the transition from her home town to the world of competitive ballet schools. In Breaking Pointe, Anna gets a job as an Apprentice with Los Angeles Ballet Theater, launching her into the drastically different world of professional ballet. We follow Anna through the beginning of her career, experience her ups and downs, her triumphs and her disappointments. Girl in Motion provides readers with positive lessons about dancing in a ballet school, while Breaking Pointe introduces us to an even more cut-throat dynamic. I really feel that this book, like Ms. Wenger-Landis’ first, accurately portrays the professional ballet company and the experiences of it’s dancers.
I spoke with Ms. Wenger-Landis to find out what inspired her and how she developed the story line:
RK: How did your mindset as an author change depicting a ballet dancer’s company life in this book vs. your first book, “Girl In Motion” that focused on dancers in a school setting?
MWL: I wrote the final version of Breaking Pointe a few years after Girl in Motion came out, so my writing skills had improved and I had already watched the reception of Girl in Motion, both good and bad. The characters in Breaking Pointe are older and at a different life stage, so their experiences were more recent in my mind. Ultimately the goal of both books remained the same though, to portray realistic characters going through these particular life experiences. However, I believe my mindset matured over those years and that is reflected in the books.
RK: As a Miami City Ballet dancer myself, I notice our company shares a lot of unique similarities with the your main character’s company, Los Angeles Ballet Theater (LABT). How much inspiration did you draw from your experiences as a dancer with Miami City Ballet?
MWL: Two main similarities I can think of are the studio setups (both are unique in that they’re exposed with walls of windows to the outside world) and the regular rotation of performances in nearby cities. Those were obviously inspired by Miami City Ballet and give the company a unique personality. I grew to appreciate those aspects of my time in the company and thought they brought out interesting things in the personalities and experiences of the dancers, so I wanted to include them. The less obvious similarity, which MCB dancers will recognize more deeply than most, is the philosophy about timing and attack that go into the company style. The way that MCB dancers learn how to move greatly influenced the way I dance and teach ballet, and apparently, the way I write too.
RK: “Breaking Pointe’s” main character, Anna, faces hazing from older company members when she joins LABT. Did you feel this was an important element of company life to portray and why?
MWL: Yes, I felt it was important. I had friends coming up in many of the major companies in the United States at the same time I did, and aside from my own experiences, I heard repeated stories about the politics of climbing the career ladder. Those scenarios are true in many fields, and I saw them as much during my time in corporate America as I did in the ballet world. I had never anticipated the repercussions of success beyond ballet school, and in a company the stakes are even higher. I wish I had been better prepared.
RK: Your book features numerous diary entries from a former LABT member that Anna finds comfort in. Did you keep a diary during your career? If so, how close are the diary entries to your own?
MWL: I did keep a diary during my career, but I didn’t use any of it for either of my books. To be honest, it was embarrassing to look at years later and I would have been mortified if anyone read it. The diary in Breaking Pointe is by an older and wiser dancer who interviews various people in the company, and I looked to many other ballet books and interviews to try to capture the voices accurately. I wanted to show other perspectives about company life besides Anna’s, and to do that I needed to get as far away from my own identity as I could. Obviously I was never an artistic director or a male ballet star, so the feelings and stories in my own personal diary weren’t relevant at all. Perhaps the diary entries in Breaking Pointe reflect less of my memories in that moment but more of my thoughts now, looking back years later.
RK: Young dancers can face many challenges when in a ballet company. In the book you illustrate that dancers often adopt coping mechanisms. Some of these choices are unhealthy, but do you feel there are healthy ways to deal with different challenges of company life?
MWL: Breaking Pointe shows unhealthy coping mechanisms that are realities in the dance world, for better or for worse (like smoking, drugs, drinking, and cheating), but obviously those aren’t ideal ways to manage the challenges of life in a company. It’s easy to make a list of preferable substitutes, like a healthy support system of friends and family outside of dance, hobbies, pets, and a good diet. But everyone is different and has different resources available to them. Many dancers live far away from family and simply don’t have the time or energy to eat well or seek out new relationships beyond their ballet circle. It’s just the reality of being so committed to the art.
RK: How much did Edward Villella inspire the character of LABT’s Artistic Director? Did you discuss your novels at all with Edward before publishing them? Was he supportive of your project?
MWL: Edward was an important mentor and inspiration to me both during my ballet career and beyond, as he has been to so many dancers. I still hear his voice in my head when I teach ballet classes today. William Mason, the director in Breaking Pointe, does share some of the qualities I most admired in Edward, like his passion and philosophy regarding ballet, a remarkable dance career of his own, and his fighting spirit. But ultimately, William is a fictional character and isn’t meant to represent Edward. William is a widower and makes choices that Edward never would. Edward always brought a spirit of family to MCB, and I wouldn’t characterize the company in Breaking Pointe as having the same dynamic.
I didn’t discuss my novels with Edward before publishing them and I don’t know if he’s aware of the books, has read the them, and is supportive. I’ve seen him once after I left the company in 2000, two years later when I was a student at Stanford and the company was on tour in California. It was great to see him then and I’m sure it would be great to see him now. He was a formative figure in my life and will always have a special place in my heart.