In her award-winning book, Clair-de-Lune, Australian author Cassandra Golds employs balletic grace and skill to weave a breathtaking fairytale about a talented young dancer who cannot speak. We were lucky enough to chat to Cassandra about the book.
How did the idea for Clair-de-Lune come about?
It started with a picture: I could see a girl at the barre in a 19th century ballet studio, and a mouse watching from a mouse hole nearby. And somehow I knew that the girl could not speak …
Can you tell us a bit about your own background in ballet?
I studied ballet by the Cecchetti method at the Burlakov School of Ballet in Penrith, where I grew up. It was one of the most memorable and influential experiences of my life.
What kind of research did you do for the book?
Clair-de-Lune is set in the 1850s, so I had to read up on ballet in the 19th century. I also saw two fascinating documentaries: Elusive Muse, the story of Suzanne Farrell and her mentor, legendary choreographer George Balanchine, and another one in which Isabelle Fokine discussed her grandfather Mikhail’s choreography for Anna Pavlova’s signature solo, ‘The Dying Swan’.
Do you think that ballet is a crucial element to the story, or could you still have told Clair-de-Lune’s story if you’d made her, say, a basketball player or a violinist?
I guess Clair-de-Lune could have had some other calling … but I had a particular kind of story in mind when I began. I wanted to write something flamboyant and baroque and romantic and intensely emotional. And the world of ballet, with its elaborate culture and traditions, and a body of legend that goes back generations, seemed the perfect background for my purposes. Plus, I wanted to write about relationships between girls and mothers and grandmothers, and about the dangers of shutting out men. Ballet seemed perfect for that, too.
You’ve mentioned that you loved Lorna Hill’s Sadler’s Wells series when you were a kid, and also Noel Streatfeild’s Ballet Shoes. What is it about ballet, do you think, that makes it such a compelling storyline for readers?
I think it’s the mixture of romance and discipline. There is nothing more magically lovely than the romantic ballets of the 19th century. And there is nothing that is harder work than becoming a skilled enough dancer to actually dance one of those roles. To work almost impossibly hard to attain such an exquisite ideal is a fascinating story in itself. It’s a metaphor that any idealistic person can understand. And anyone who lives life at that kind of pitch is going to have intense feelings about people too. So passion – and conflict caused by the tremendous demands of the art – becomes a fruitful theme as well.