Megan Abbott on the Dark Underworld of Ballet
In Conversation with Maris Kreizman on The Maris Review Podcast
On pain and beauty:
Pain has been one of my fascinations, and I think low key a lot of our fascinations with ballet is its cost on the body, the wear and tear, the ballet dancer’s feet. Let me tell you, you just have to look on YouTube to see how people are into it and these rituals of care around it. I grew up loving old movies and Hollywood, and I was always fascinated by the toil that actresses would go through to master eternal youth and beauty. All of this stuff feels so connected. You have to enjoy some of the pain even if you don’t want to, because somehow it shows that this is your choice, even if it feels like you don’t have a choice. Maybe it’s a way of taking agency over it.
On the all-consuming culture of dance:
Dara had a very glamorous mother, so she has a very firm aesthetic in her head of how things should look. It carries over into all areas of her life. When you’re surrounded by mirrors all day—and I have heard dancers talk about that, where it’s like they can see the mirror even when there is no mirror because they’re so used to observing themselves from the outside—the effect of that has to ripple over, for many dancers, into every area. Dara was raised by dancers in a house completely consumed with dance. I don’t know how you’d ever take that lens out.
On the darkness of fairy tales:
Like every fairytale, The Nutcracker is so dark. Sort of haunted and spooky and Freudian. I love how it’s become this family ritual and this holiday extravaganza. I remember going to the New York City Ballet once, and it wasn’t until I started writing this book that it started to look really different to me. This enormous phallic Christmas tree that rises from the middle of the stage. You do wonder if on some lower level we understand it but we choose not to look too closely at it, because as we all know, most children’s books are pretty dark, and you have to let that unfold. Let the kids figure it out. Which is why I’m not a parent, by the way.
Megan Abbott is the award-winning author of ten novels, including Give Me Your Hand, You Will Know Me, The Fever, Dare Me, and The End of Everything. She is the co-creator and executive producer of USA’s adaptation of Dare Me and was a staff writer on HBO’s David Simon show The Deuce. Her latest novel is called The Turnout.