Yes to “Honesty and Vulnerability,” No to “Dramatized and Cheesy”

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Nashville Ballet dancer Keenan McLaren demonstrates how to stretch properly before reading a long novel. (photo by Anthony Matula)

One of Shakespeare’s most whimsical plays will leap from the page to the stage as the Nashville Ballet presents A Midsummer Night’s Dream April 24-26. In honor of this literary dance adaptation, we spoke with two Nashville Ballet dancers about their favorite books.

Keenan McLaren and Christopher Stuart explain what reading means to them:

Was there a book that helped inspire you to become a dancer?

KM: Dancing on My Grave [now out of print] by Gelsey Kirkland. She was one of Balanchine’s stars and it’s an autobiography of her life as a dancer. It is so honest and absolutely heartbreaking, but it made me realize as a teenager that I have to do this.

Christopher Stuart enacts that feeling you get when you turn the last page: “What?! The book is over? No!” (photo by Anthony Matula)

CS: There wasn’t one book that inspired me, but after I started dancing I remember going to my local library and taking out every book I could find on the subject!

Most realistic portrayal of a dancer’s life in literature?

KM: I’m going to have to say Dancing on My Grave again. Most fiction I’ve read about dancers is pretty dramatized and cheesy.

CS: Yes. Dancing on My Grave.

Why do you enjoy reading? What makes it worth your time?

KM: I love to read, especially before bed. It is a way to focus on something beautiful outside of my own life, calm my mind, and rest my body after being physical all day.

CS: I enjoy reading because it helps me learn more about things I enjoy in life. Now that I am choreographing a lot it gives me ideas for what I can do for my next creation.

Book you’d proudly read in public?

KM: Love In The Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. He was an amazing writer.

CS: I would read any book in public! But I am going to be a father for the first time, so I would say What to Expect When You’re Expecting.

Guilty-pleasure book?

KM: Anything about the royal court of England by Philippa Gregory (The Other Boleyn Girl, etc.)

CS: It’s more of a good coffee book, but Jimmy Fallon’s Thank You Notes. So funny!

Do you think dancing and writing might be similar?

KM: Absolutely! Both require your complete attention and focus, creativity, and above all honesty and vulnerability. They are both an art form and you want to touch people and transform their lives, whether its with your words or your body.

CS: They are so similar! You get to express feelings and thoughts and have the world experience it.

Best thing you’ve read lately?

KM: The Spontaneous Fulfillment of Desire by Deepak Chopra. It was a little out there, but the yoga teacher in me loved it! I’m about to start Bold by Peter Diamandis. Apparently it’s a great book about starting your own business by finding solutions to the world’s problems. I’m definitely a closet business and finance geek.

CS:  The True Memoirs of Little K, a novel by Adrienne Sharp.

A+Midsummer+Night's+Dream
See McLaren and Stuart in A Midsummer Night’s Dream April 24-26.

Best thing about going into a real bookstore?

KM: Judging a book by its cover — I totally do it.

CS: To sit and flip through a book and physically have it in your hands. In some ways [shopping online] is like watching dance on TV or the Internet instead of actually going to a theater and experiencing it live.

Favorite section in a bookstore?

KM: Newest fiction, cooking, health, inspirational, business… I have a lot.

CS: Poetry.

Earliest dance memory?

KM: Being in baby ballet class and doing butterfly stretch. My teacher used to ask us where we were flying, and I would always say, “to Hawaii!”

CS: I remember taking my first ballet class. I thought I would never take another class again. It’s now almost 20 years later, and I take ballet class every morning.

Is there a story you’ve read that you think should/could be turned into a ballet?

KM: I recently read The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton, and I really enjoyed it! It is a tragic love story of two people who cannot be together because of strict societal rules and boundaries. I think the period costumes, sets, and emotion would make a great ballet.

CS: I’d like to see a ballet about Camille Claudel and Auguste Rodin.

Book you’d recommend for children who love ballet?

KM: Angelina Ballerina. It was my favorite.

CS: Life in Motion by Misty Copeland

Favorite thing about living in Nashville?

KM: The weather. And the people — everyone is so friendly!

CS: My favorite thing is how much artistry and creativity there is in this city, more than just music. Obviously we have a wonderful ballet company here, but also we have great theater companies and visual artists.

* * *

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