cover image Dancing on Thorns

Dancing on Thorns

Rebecca Horsfall, . . Ballantine, $23.95 (800pp) ISBN 978-0-345-47978-5

Horsfall's elaborately wrought, mammoth debut delineates the rise to fame of a gifted young dancer with an exalted lineage and his troubled love affair with a similarly ambitious actress. Discovered at age 16 by dowager étoile Nadia Petrovna, young Jean-Baptiste St. Michel is struggling under the burden of his absent, famous dancer-choreographer father. Petrovna recognizes Michel's natural brilliance despite his technical deficiencies and apprentices him to her megalomaniacal disciple, Charles Crown, who heads up the Islington Ballet, a cutting-edge London company. After years of torturous effort, Michel, grown single-minded, arrogant and technically perfect, attains the rank of soloist and becomes a jealously guarded treasure among the maverick troupe. Offstage, he is the nucleus of a bright group of stars, a clique that comes to include the pretty, fledging actress, Jonni Kendal, whom Michel eventually marries. Yet in order to attain peace in his professional and personal life, the alluring, emotionally diffident dancer must confront the parental sins of a chilly mother and a snide, insulting father he finally meets in his late 20s. In this stately pas de deux of a novel, Horsfall patiently, fluently takes on the larger-than-life personalities that inhabit the lofty realm of the dance world. (Aug.)