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Tuesday, August 20, 2013

At the Ballet

For years I’ve wanted to have a ballerina as my heroine. It is one of those characters that had been rumbling around in my head with no place to go. I didn’t know her all that well and only had fragments of who she would be.  Then six months ago I began work on the sixth Tenacious Trent book. Julia Trent (a/k/a Juliette Mirabelle) was missing, last seen in Paris before her eighteenth birthday and then she disappeared.

When I started the Trent series I always thought Julia would turn out to be an actress but when I started her story it wasn’t what I wanted. Or perhaps it wasn’t what she wanted. An actress didn’t fit but a ballerina did. At this point I had no idea where Julia had disappeared to. It was one of those things I would figure out once I started writing and so my research began.

It was then I remembered a conversation I had with a friend on New Years Eve a year and a half ago. Somehow we had transition from my love of Tom Clancy novels, to his enjoyment of Vince Flynn novels, to his recommendation for Apollo’s Angels: The History of Ballet by Jennifer Homans. Well, of course you can see how that natural transition came about (still scratching my head over that one). I filed the information away because I knew I would need it one day. Thank you, Marc.

When I began working on Julia’s story, the first book I purchased and downloaded was Apollo’s Angels. If you ever need to research, or simply want to know about the history of ballet, I highly recommend this book. I found the history fascinating and Julia’s backstory began to form (and I doubt this will be the last ballerina I write). Ms. Homans provides a history and comparison of the French and Italian ballets, as well as the names of choreographers. The choreographers mention in Lady Revealed truly lived, danced and choreographed in either Italy or France and through further research on the internet I was able to learn more.

In Paris, Julia would have studied under Pierre-Gabriel Gardel. He studied under his brother at the Opéra de Paris, became a premier danseur in 1780, took over as the ballet master in 1787 and remained head of the Ballet de l’Opèra de Paris for 40 years, retiring in 1829. As Julia lived in Paris from approximately 1792 through 1807, he would have choreographed the ballet where she first appeared.

The transition from Paris to Milan came about after reading about Salvatore Viganó, who settled in Milan and staged productions at Milan’s La Scala from 1811 through 1821. He was also recreating Promethieus in 1813 (he had presented an earlier version in 1801 in Vienna), a ballet which I reference because had Juliette remained in Milan, of course she would have been a featured dancer – lol.

During this time a school was also established in Milan, and remains today. The Accademia di ballo (dance academy) of the Teatro alla Scala, founded in 1813 by Benedetto Ricci. I am not sure if women taught ballet back then, but as I have Julia teaching and dancing when she first meets the hero, I would like to think, had she remained in Milan, she would have also taught at this school.

I just love using a little bit of fact mixed in with all the fiction.

Knowing the history of ballet and being a ballerina were two different matters however. I did take one semester of ballet in college, but I didn’t remember enough to describe what Juliette would do so it was back to the internet. This time I downloaded Basic Principles of Classical Ballet by Agrippina Vaganova. I am fairly certain this is the same text book I had for my class and it was enough to get me by for the few scenes I needed for Julia to be dancing or teaching.

So, Julia’s backstory was established and I was able to have her dancing in Milan. My research would have been complete if I had not moved her to London. Let me tell you, there is very little information out there with regard to ballets taking place in London in 1814. What I have learned is that ballets were often a small part of a grander theatre production which often included an opera. Perhaps that is why I couldn’t find much on simply a ballet. It isn’t like attending one today where the only thing you are going to see is the ballet.

In my quest I did come across a really cool book, The King’s Theatre Collection: Ballet and Italian Opera in London 1706-1883 from John Milton and Ruth Neils Ward Collection, Harvard Theatre Collection. A Catalogue by Morris S. Levy and John Milton Ward. The book is set out by date and all I had to do was flip through until I came to 1814 and find the month I needed. Unfortunately, I could not find a ballet, but I did find an opera, and in my reasoning I decided there must have been a ballet performance as well since that was usually the case.

One of the things I do enjoy about writing historical romances is the research. I do sometimes grumble when I am pulled out of a story because I need to look something up, but I am always rewarded and learn something interesting I would not have before.

What are some of your favorite historical non-fiction books and what book would you recommend? Anyone making a recommendation will be entered to win Lady Revealed in either Kindle, Nook or Kobo format. Doubly entry for anyone leading me in a direction of Italian Fencing Masters from the late 1700s to early 1800s. Be sure to leave your e-mail address so I can contact you if you are the winner.



17 comments:

  1. Jane,
    The King's Theatre Collection sounds perfect. I should get a copy too. :)

    I"m not sure what to recommend as far as non-fiction books go. Maybe I'm not awake enough, but my mind is blank. I really enjoyed researching the early history of New Orleans and ran across a book in the library that was a great help. I love to just browse the library shelves and see what I stumble across. History can be a great source of story ideas.

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    1. Samantha,

      It is so easy to get sucked into a library history section. I could end up stuck there for hours. It has happened and the kids used to get frustrated and tired of waiting for me.

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  2. Hi Jane this is going to sound odd but I fell onto a copy of DK Publishing's Britain. It has a lot of sound information on the country and its history with little town maps thrown in. I found it to be a great help when doing work on research papers.Otherwise, my connection to research has for the most part been digital. Being a student I have access to a lot of historical archives out there.

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    1. Thanks for the recommendation. This sounds like a book I would love.

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  3. Another chance to recommend my favorite biography! The Black County by Tom Reiss is a fabulous book, though it doesn't really apply to what you're writing about. It's the biography of General Alex Dumas, father to Alexandre Dumas pere (the author of the Count of Monte Cristo) and grandfather to Alexandre Dumas fil (the author of Camille). The Black Count is also fabulous on audio.

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    1. Jennifer,

      I just looked it up. This sounds like a book I would love. Thanks for the recommendation.

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  4. First, I love hearing the story of how your heroine evolved...it's always fascinating how heroes and heroines have a way of speaking to you! One riveting non-fiction work is a book called 'Inside the Vicious Heart'. It is a close look at the liberation of the concentration camps post WW II. It's a gut honest, wrenching look at what happens when people are bystanders to evil.

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    1. Christi,

      Wow, that sounds like a powerful book. I will have to look into it. Thanks.

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  5. Sounds like a great book--both of them!

    I have an addiction to research books. Love them. Love to get all the nitty gritty deets of the era. I have a lot of fairly specific, narrowly focused books, but I love to read biographies to get the bigger picture of the times. For Georgian I highly recommend Amanda Foreman's biography of Georgina, the Duchess of Devonshire. It really gives a great perspective on the politics and personalities of the times.

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  6. Deb,

    I may have to pick up the biography.

    I thought I found heaven the first time I walked into Powell's in Portland while visiting my daughter. The history section was huge and loaded with new, used and old books, sectioned out by country and then periods in history. I've yet to get through England, let alone any other area of interest. My family hates going there with me because they will have what they want and be left standing waiting for me. There are just too many books that I don't dare go too quick or I might miss something important. Each time I go I end up with stacks of books, which they box up and mail to me. It is a beautiful thing. This is the one vacation I take where I actually list books into the vacation budget - lol.

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  7. I have comb through all the books I have read. The only non-fiction book I have read has been the Diary of Anne Frank. I have read some books that have been based on historical events. However my husband is more likely to have read non-fictional historical books.

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    1. Melody,

      I am not big on biographies, but I love history books when they are on a specific topic and books based on historical events. They feed my muse and inspire me and I start thinking, what if. . . then it is all over and I have notes for yet another book to write. The list is getting longer and longer.

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  8. Jane, I'm horrible when it comes to non-fiction. Just typing the words makes me cringe! ;) I definitely prefer to be pulled into my fantasy worlds over learning the facts of this one. My husband on the other hand, loves non-fiction. He scares me. ;)

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    1. Lol. Andris I feel the same way.

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    2. Too funny, Andris. When I am in the history section of the library or book store I am like a kid in a candy store.

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  9. I don't read a lot of nonfiction... the stuff that I have read has been inspired by TV/movies :) Last non fiction book I read was Band of Brothers by Stephen Ambrose. And I read it after watching the incredible miniseries. Congrats to Melody on the new release!

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    1. Erin,

      I missed Band of Brothers somehow when it was on. I need to find it so I can watch it. I've heard it was great.

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