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White Swan, Black Swan Reader’s Guide

By Adrienne Sharp

White Swan, Black Swan by Adrienne Sharp


Questions and Topics for Discussion

1. The stories explore many different stages of a dancer’s life–
the ballet student in "The Brahmins," the fledgling corps de
ballet dancer in "Wili," the ballet stars in "Bugaku" and "The
Immortals," the aging choreographers in "Don Quixote" and
"A Midsummer Night’s Dream." How do the characters at
each stage feel about their endeavors?

2. Many of the titles of the stories refer to characters in a ballet
or to the titles of a ballet–Giselle, Swan Lake, Bugaku, Sleeping
Beauty, La Bayadere, A Midsummer Night’s Dream
. In what ways
do the characters and stories of these ballets reflect the action
and characters of the book?

3. White Swan, Black Swan mixes together real life ballet figures,
such as Alexander Godunov, Margot Fonteyn, and George
Balanchine, with entirely fictional creations. In what way is the
book enriched by this juxtaposition?

4. American Ballet Theater ballet mistress Elena Tchernichova
observed that many dancers come from unhappy homes. In the
stories "In the Wake" and "In the Kingdom of the Shades,"
both young dancer protagonists have problems with their parents.
In "Prince of Desire" and "White Swan, Black Swan," the
main characters struggle with disintegrating marriages. In what
ways do these personal problems affect them professionally?

5. Many of the dancers in the book must deal with the gap between
the perfection they seek and their frustration with the
level of accomplishment they are actually able to achieve. How
do these dancers come to terms with their despair?

6. Many of the stories are interrelated, in that we see a character
first in one story and then in another. How has Adam grown
and changed from "Departure" to "Ax"? In what way has Joanna’s
obsession with ballet in "Bugaku" both frightened and
inspired her brother in "Prince of Desire"? Why does Kate quit
ballet in "Wili" only to return to it at the end of "The Brahmins"?
What has Robbie Perez destroyed in the women he
loves in "White Swan, Black Swan" and "In the Kingdom of
the Shades"?

7. The book opens with the story "Bugaku" and closes with the
reminiscences of Frederick Ashton in "A Midsummer Night’s
Dream." Why does "Bugaku" open the collection and why does
"A Midsummer Night’s Dream" close it?

8. The title of the book, White Swan, Black Swan, refers to both
the beauty and the difficulty of a dancer’s life. What beauty do
you see throughout the book? What darkness?

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