Dancing through Fire
The Opera Ballet is the center of Sylvie Bertrand’s world in this coming-of-age novel set in Paris during the politically tumultuous 1870s. Sylvie is a ‘petit rat,’ a poor but aspiring ballet dancer, who is talented enough to move up in the ranks, but yet three quarters of an inch too short. Encouraged by her ‘show-biz’ mother, Sylvie continues to practice, but the walls of the old Opera house can’t hold back the approaching war. The Prussian siege of the city halts lessons and performances, and draws Sylvie, despite her mother’s warnings, into the outside world. The young girl helps smuggle food, tries to save a dying friend, grapples with the ideals of the communards, and attempts to come to terms with the meaning of her art in the midst of such tragedy. Bravo to Kathryn Lasky for such a well-sketched portrait of late 19th-century Paris, and for bringing one of Edgar Degas’ little ballerinas to life.