________________ CM . . . . Volume IX Number 17 . . . . April 25, 2003


A Young Dancer’s Apprenticeship: On Tour With the Moscow City Ballet.

Olympia Dowd.
Vancouver, BC: Raincoast Books, 2002.
127 pp., cloth, $24.95.
ISBN 1-559192-228-3.

Subject Headings:
Dowd, Olympia.
Ballet dancers-Canada-Biography-Juvenile.

Grades 8-10 / Ages 13-15.

Review by Joanne Peters.

***½ /4


There was nothing special about that warm June morning to suggest that events would turn my life upside down. Tipped off by a small notice in a dance newsletter, I had come to the Russian Community Centre for the start of a five-day Vaganova ballet workshop -- something to fill the gap between the end of the ballet year and the start of summer school.

Inside the dark, old building on Fourth Avenue in Vancouver were two men and a woman who spoke Russian. . . . All three scrutinized each of the dancers murmuring to each other as we came in to the studio to stretch. ... The women gave a very good, very hard class. At the end of class Mr. Robertson took me aside. Translating for the Russians, who were earlier introduced as the artistic director and ballet mistress of Moscow City Ballet (MCB), he told me that they would like to use me in their company's first North American tour in 18 months' time. I would be part of a Vancouver-based cast hired for The Nutcracker and other, future productions. I could scarcely believe my ears.

Within five weeks of that class, Olympia Dowd and her father arrived in Moscow where the 14-year-old dancer would quickly settle into the MCB's grueling schedule of classes and rehearsals. Quite the leap (no pun intended) from Vancouver's Goh Ballet Academy where Olympia began her studies nearly eight years previous. Olympia's six-part story is not unlike a ballet itself, beginning with her audition in Vancouver, continuing with her apprenticeship in Moscow, touring Asia and the United Kingdom, pausing for a holiday in Spain, the home country of her highly successful “Carmen,” and ending with a "Moscow Encore," before returning to Canada in the spring of 1999. Throughout it all, readers get vignettes of life in Moscow and on the road, the challenges of learning new and coveted dance roles under the direction of Mila (Ludmila Nerubashenko) MCB's demanding head ballet mistress, the fun that Olympia has when working with her friend from Vancouver, Rebecca Blaney, as well as the excitement, and yes, glamour, of appearing on stage as the Lilac Fairy in “The Nutcracker” or as her favourite character, Carmen, in the “Carmen Suite” (Karmen Suita). Throughout her time with the MCB, she remains a remarkably well-grounded young lady, due, in no small measure, to her family's ongoing support.

     A Young Dancer's Apprenticeship is a beautifully-presented story: the photos (many taken by Olympia's father) are stunning, and the book's physical design makes it suitable both for balletomane browsers as well as those readers interested in following Olympia's story, chapter by chapter. A glossary at the back of the book explains terms ranging from "adagio" to "Wili" (the vampire-like maidens from the ballet “Giselle”), and an Afterword brings readers up-to-date on both Olympia's personal and professional lives four years after her adventure with MCB.

     Is it a book for general readers, or for those with a real interest in dance? For answers to this question, I asked Adriana Krawchenko, herself a young dancer, to read, review, and reflect upon the book. Like me, she enjoyed Olympia's personal insights, and particularly enjoyed the descriptions of the tours and of the various ballets presented. And, as a dancer, Adriana thought that the descriptions of the ballets, and in particular, their various interpretations, were especially interesting. When I first began reading the book, I was a bit unsure of its intended audience - I think that Adriana is quite right in suggesting that is most appropriate for upper middle years or very early senior years (grades 7-10) readers; "it's a little too complex for elementary students yet not sophisticated enough for high school students." The book certainly will appeal to students of dance as "they would understand most of its context and appreciate it," but also might attract "general readers."

     A Young Dancer's Apprenticeship certainly has a place in school libraries with students in grades 7 through 10, and makes a great gift book for a young dancer that you might know.

Highly Recommended.

Joanne Peters is a teacher-librarian at Kelvin High School in Winnipeg, MB.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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ISSN 1201-9364
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