SADLER’S WELLS, London, 1933
I would kill to dance like her.
Sisters Olivia and Clara rehearse with Ninette de Valois at the recently opened Sadler’s Wells. Disciplined and dedicated, Olivia is the perfect ballerina. But no matter how hard she works, she can never match up to identical twin Clara’s charm.
I would kill to be with her.
As rehearsals intensify for the ballet Coppélia, the girls feel increasingly as if they are being watched. And as infatuation threatens to become obsession, the fragile perfection of their lives starts to unravel.
LUCY ASHE trained at the Royal Ballet School for eight years, first as a Junior Associate and then at White Lodge. She has a diploma in dance teaching with the British Ballet Organisation. She decided to go to university to read English Literature at St Hugh’s College, Oxford (MA Oxon), while continuing to dance and perform. She then took a PGCE teaching qualification and became a teacher. She currently teaches English at Harrow School, an all-boys boarding school in North London. Her poetry and short stories have been published in a number of literary journals and she was shortlisted for the 2020 Impress Prize for New Writers. She also reviews theatre, in particular ballet, writing for the website Playstosee.com.
‘I have a great love of ballet and am fascinated by its history. I was lucky enough to meet many of the great dancers of the Royal Ballet, even Dame Ninette de Valois when she came to White Lodge to celebrate her 100th birthday. I have performed at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden and learnt the repertoire for many of the classical ballets.
My novel is closely researched, re-creating the early years of the Vic-Wells company at Sadler’s Wells, and the story is immersed in ballet history featuring characters such as Ninette de Valois, Lydia Lopokova, Constant Lambert, Alicia Markova and Nicholas Sergeyev. Frederick and Dora Freed and their pointe shoe workshop play a key role, as does the history of Sadler’s Wells theatre itself. In a book shop on Cecil Court, I found beautifully preserved theatre programmes from the 1932-33 season at Sadler’s Wells and it was magical to imagine my characters holding those pages.
One major inspiration for me was my twin sister. We spent the first part of our lives doing everything together: first day of school, first ballet class, first piano lesson. We were a unit, referred to simply as the twins, and we had a very special connection. That connection remains even though our lives are so entirely different now. And so, in my novel, I have been inspired by the connectedness and the bond of twins, Olivia and Clara staying so close despite their lives starting to take them in different directions.’
My thoughts: when I was little I wanted to be a ballerina, turns out I have great feet, turnout but the wrong attitude. It didn’t stop me, however, becoming a huge ballet fan. I adore going to see the incredible dancers and of course Sadler’s Wells, the home of British ballet, is a theatre I know well. So this book was very, very much up my street.
Set during the period when British ballet was coming into its own, after being dominated by the French and then the Russians, and featuring some of the greats of the time, this very well researched book takes you right into the heart of Sadler’s Wells and the ballet classes attended by twin dancers Olivia and Clara.
Ballet is a small world at this point, and quite insular, so obsession is perfectly possible and it is obsession – almost mirrored in the production of Coppelia being rehearsed, that we find. Two men, a pianist and a cobbler, in love with the twins, but not in a necessarily healthy way. Then there is the twins’ own obsession with ballet, with their performance, their career. One is a purist, the other wants to be a star. This is post Pavlova, pre Fonteyn (although a very young Margot makes a tiny cameo) and there’s maybe a gap for a star dancer in the company. Could Olivia or Clara fill it?
It’s also, ultimately, a love story. Between the sisters, who share their lives with each other almost to the exclusion of others, and with ballet. One I can definitely appreciate, I may never have become a dancer, but sitting in the audience, watching the incredible performers, the hours of work and the honed, perfect bodies, you can fully see that love and obsession that still draws young dancers to it today. A brilliant, highly enjoyable book.
*I was kindly gifted a copy of this book in exchange for taking part in the blog tour but all opinions remain my own.
1 thought on “Blog Tour: Clara & Olivia – Lucy Ashe”
Thanks for the blog tour support x
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