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Saturday, November 12, 2011

'Audition' by Stasia Ward Kehoe

Received from the Publisher

From the BLURB:

What would you give up for your dream?

Dare I tell them that since I came here to dance

I have been giving pieces of my body away

To ridiculous diets,
To repeated injuries,
To Remington?

And that maybe

I think

With each bit of my body

I lose a little piece of my soul.

At sixteen, Sara is living many ballerinas’ dreams. She has been given a scholarship to study at a prestigious dance academy in the big city. But following your dreams is harder than it seems . . . Sara is in constant competition with her dance peers. Training is a grueling affair and the weight of success rests heavy on her shoulders – when she thinks of all those who are so sure she will excel.

The more Sara dances, the more she wonders if she even enjoys going through the motions any more.

But in the milieu of her dance dreams, Sara becomes enraptured by an older dance instructor, Remington. She becomes his muse and his short-fuse.

In the midst of so much change and personal upheaval, Sara has to start thinking of herself outside of dancing, in order to know who she really is.

‘Audition’ is the YA verse novel from Stasia Ward Kehoe.

I don’t normally have much opinion about verse novels. I don’t seek them out, and I haven’t really read any since my university days when they were assigned reading. I didn’t hate them, but they were never my first choice for recreational reading. However, my indifference to verse novels is in direct conflict to my obsession with dance movies. ‘Center Stage’, ‘Save the Last Dance’, ‘Step Up’ and ‘Dirty Dancing’ (to name a very few). So, of course, when the cover for Kehoe’s ‘Audition’ was revealed I knew I'd have to give this verse novel a chance . . . and I’m so glad I did. ‘Audition’ works beautifully in verse – in the flow and sweep of the words, the lyrics like songs that you can imagine Sara pirouetting to. Stanzas that stretch across the page in arabesque and raise the reader in relevé. Absolutely stunning!

I would say, as is always the case with poetry, that you will enjoy ‘Audition’ more if you read it out loud. Poetry is cold and dead on the page; it needs voice and cadence, pitch and flow. And some of Kehoe’s poems are just dying to be read aloud – the stanzas so succulent and observations so beautifully precise.

For those who are unhappy with the verse format, don’t be under the mistaken impression that verse means empty, pretty words. There is a story in ‘Audition’ – a love story between dancer and his muse, and between an artist falling in and out of love with her medium.

On my dresser is a postcard

From Ms. Alice:
A Russian ballerina in black and white,
Arms open, reaching forward,
Leg behind in arabesque.

“Anna Pavolva.”
Ms. Alice’s handwriting loops in even curves.
“She reminds me of you.
Keep working hard!”

I sit on my narrow bed
In the dank room
Where only strains of Julio’s guitar
And his occasional muttered curses
Filter through the door.

I think of Ms. Alice, Mom, Dad, eyes full of pride.
Bess, the practical genius, sending me off.

Wish there were no photographs,
No mirrors in the world to record
Anna Pavlova
Or Lisette or Bonnie or Rem,
But especially my own reflection.

I did find some of Kehoe’s formatting odd. I am, by no means, an expert in poetry. But I found it strange that when her topic is dance, Kehoe kept to a very traditional layout for her poems. Poetry is very versatile in how it’s presented on the page – it’s not unusual for a poem to be full of double-spaces and white space, separating words and stanzas so that a verse can start in the top right of the page and trickle down to zig across, going far left and finishing centered. Kehoe keeps her poems so rigidly same that the first word on each new line is upper case. It’s a small complaint, but I think Kehoe could have been a little bit more adventurous and used unique spacing and formatting to make her poetry literally dance across the page. . .

All in all, ‘Audition’ is a sublime verse novel. It reads like the frenzy of a dance; the lulling beginning as Sara comes to terms with her dreams, and rising in pitch and pace as Sara voices her dying love and new obsession with her cavalier, to finally reach a heart-stopping final crescendo. Beautiful.


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