Sharp, Adrienne

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SHARP, Adrienne


Daughter of Norman and Rona Subotnik; children: two. Education: Attended Brandeis University, University of CaliforniaSan Diego, and University of Virginia; Johns Hopkins University, M.A.; University of Southern California, M.A. Religion: Jewish.


Home—Redondo Beach, CA.


Writer. Former dancer with Harkness Ballet in New York, NY.


Henry Hoyns fellow, University of Virginia graduate writing program.


White Swan, Black Swan: Stories, Random House (New York, NY), 2001.

First Love, Riverhead Books (New York, NY), 2005.


Adrienne Sharp is a former ballet dancer who has drawn upon her knowledge of the profession in her writing, including the short story collection White Swan, Black Swan: Stories and the novel First Love. The title of White Swan, Black Swan refers to the plot of the ballet Swan Lake and is also the title of one of the twelve tales within it. The book reveals the off-stage existence of real and fictional ballet dancers; the stories show the often dark side of life that contrasts with the excitement of performing. Sharp herself began dancing at the age of seven, eventually leaving her dancing career in New York City to study creative writing at Johns Hopkins University and the University of Virginia.

The author's stories are dark, peopled by characters struggling with ruined love affairs, alcohol and drug problems, AIDS, and anorexia. Some of the fictional characters include the trio of dancers in the story "White Swan, Black Swan": wife Lexa, husband Robbie, and his young dance partner and mistress, Sandra. Robbie uses Sandra and drugs to gratify his urge for the unattainable. Other fictional characters find themselves turning to or from ballet according to the influence of their personal relationships. Many stories also feature famous dance figures. Using information found in biographies and popular publications, Sharp created fictionalized accounts of episodes in their lives. "Don Quixote," for example, has an aging George Balanchine describing his past obsession with eighteen-year-old dancer Suzanne Farrell. Furious at her refusal to leave her lover, he risked ruining his dance company by firing her. In another fictionalization of a real-life event, the widely publicized romance between ballet stars Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev is expanded on in "The Immortals: Margot + Rudolph 4 Ever."

Reviewers responded to White Swan, Black Swan with disparate judgments. In a review for the Washington Post Book World, Laura Jacobs expressed disappointment with the author's use of famous names and ballet companies and saw a too-heavy emphasis on sex. "Sharp understands that there is a mind-body dichotomy locked into the heart of every dancer…. Unfortunately, it's the blunt body that fills these pages, often to the point of prurience," she stated. Other reviewers, however, praised Sharp's knowledge of the dance world and rated her work as a strong first novel. A writer for Kirkus Reviews called White Swan, Black Swan a "luminous debut collection" in which all the stories are "dark in mood, more like reports from a war zone." Donna Seaman commented in Booklist that it is a "breathtaking" collection that "adroitly captures the elegance, magic, sexuality, obsession, ambition, sacrifice, vulnerability, and pain that define dancers' lives." Seaman enjoyed Sharp's writing skills and ability to probe "the deeper implications" of this art form. Further praise came from a Publishers Weekly critic, who wrote that "the dance world becomes palpably real in this accomplished debut collection." The reviewer remarked that the use of real figures made the stories "resonate with realism for readers who recognize the first-name references" and recommended the stories to readers familiar with ballet, who would have a "full appreciation" of their significance.

Sharp also brought her insider's understanding of the dance world to her debut novel, First Love. As in her short stories, she allowed her fictional characters to mingle with real-life dance figures. Set in the 1980s, a time when the AIDS epidemic was beginning and American ballet was enjoying a surge of mainstream popularity, the novel revolves around an aging George Balanchine. Balanchine becomes obsessed with one of his young female dancers, Sandra, who is confronted with a choice between romantic love and her love of dance. A Publishers Weekly writer praised the novel as a "richly reimagined story" of Balanchine's life. It is a novel that explores the highs and lows of the dance world and the human spirit, according to Donna Seaman, who in her Booklist review called First Love a "bewitchingly sensual and trenchant tale."



Booklist, June 1, 2001, Donna Seaman, review of White Swan, Black Swan: Stories, p. 1849; June 1, 2005, Donna Seaman, review of First Love, p. 1757.

Kirkus Reviews, May 1, 2001, review of White Swan, Black Swan; May 1, 2005, review of First Love.

Library Journal, May 15, 2005, Leann Restaino, review of First Love, p. 108.

Los Angeles Times, July 20, 2001, Susie Linfield, review of White Swan, Black Swan, p. E3; November 13, 2005, Lea Aschkenas, review of First Love, p. E10.

Publishers Weekly, May 28, 2001, review of White Swan, Black Swan, p. 47; May 23, 2005, review of First Love, p. 54.

San Francisco Chronicle, June 19, 2005, Rachel Howard, review of First Love.

Village Voice, August 15, 2005, Elizabeth Zimmer, review of First Love.

Washington Post Book World, July 1, 2001, Laura Jacobs, review of White Swan, Black Swan, p. T09.