Saturday, September 21, 2019

Book Review: Pippa by Design: A Story of Ballet and Costumes by Claudia Logan

I took ballet from the age of 5 until my freshman year in college. What I lacked in talent and flexibility, I made up for in stamina and the ability to go on pointe easily and without damage to my feet. However, neither of those things ever came close to making me a good dancer. In one of my last performances, I was in The Nutcracker. I was a snowflake. Yes, most of my friends in the Intermediate II class were the Candy Cane and Chinese Tea and Spanish... something and the wind-up dolls, a few of us were relegated to the corps. Well, someone has to be in the corps! And less than an hour before the performance, someone appeared and said that our snowflake costumes were missing something. She had these pieces of tulle with sequins in the shape of a snowflake. Those were supposed to have been attached to our bodices beforehand but were forgotten. Did anyone know how to sew? Well, I did.

So, while normally anything involving bodies and touching and possible nudity would have been the most squeamish thing to us 13-14-year-olds, there was a show to go on, and we were athletes. So I grabbed the needle and thread and whip-stitched those appliques onto the bodices of my fellow snowflakes--while they were still wearing them (which meant yes, I had one hand down the front of their shirts. And no, you can't wear a bra with this sort of costume.) It was most awkward when trying to do my own which probably ended up being the most poorly attached, but it only had to stay on for 20 minutes or so, it wasn't the most strenuous dance, and it had to look good from 20 feet away or further, so we completely got away with it.

All of this incredibly long explanation goes to show why I was so drawn to this lovely children's book. Pippa's sister takes ballet and is chosen to be one of the children featured in the upcoming professional performance of Sleeping Beauty. Pippa, who has to sit in the hallway waiting with her mother during the interminable practices, amuses herself with sketching. One day she forgets her sketchbook. When they return the next day to retrieve it--it's gone missing. It is returned a week later with a note, which turns out to be from the head of the wardrobe department at Toronto's National Ballet of Canada, who is very impressed with Pippa's fashion sketches. For the entire run of rehearsals leading up to the performance, Pippa is allowed to spend all her time in the wardrobe department, and is eventually named as an intern, learning all the intricacies of costuming for ballet, and in the end even saving the day. It's an utterly fascinating look behind the scenes for any aspiring ballerina, but it was also a lovely look at how both sisters can enjoy different aspects of the same interest. Ballet costumes are crazy complicated! Between sweat and flexibility and the stiff stand-out tutus, and costumes that don't injure the ballerina's male companion as he lifts her or spins her, there's a heck of a lot that goes into these, and it was a riveting read.

This review is a part of Kid Konnection, hosted by Booking Mama, a collection of children's book-related posts over the weekend.

This book is published by Farrar Straus and Giroux BYR, a division of Macmillan, my employer.

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