In her first novel, Audition, Kehoe chose to write a verse novel in first person. Through eloquent, seductive and powerful language, which is sparse in volume, she creates a window through which the reader can observe the transformation of Sara – from a young Vermont girl learning ballet from the neighbourhood teacher, to an aspiring ballerina on a year-long scholarship at the Jersey Ballet Upton College.
The lyrical verse form is in perfect keeping with the elegant movement and rhythm of the ballet landscape. The verse is peppered with the technical language of ballet as Sara moves from the innocence of first position to the complex rigeur of arabesque, fondudeveloppe or en l’air.
The novel is a journey on which we can travel vicariously with Sara, an innocent country girl from when she starts learning ballet in the basement of her teacher, Ms Alice. Her life at this point, is quite idyllic, as she helps her father harvest the Macintosh apples from their orchard and attends school with her laid-back friends. It is her mother who arranges the audition which sets her course to follow a dream others have dreamed for her.
Her move to the city sees her tackling many difficult situations, such as living with a Latin American couple and their son. Also, at her dance classes she quite often feels like a gauche country hick with an unsophisticated technique. She faces the reality of the sheer physical effort and heartache of a life in dance. Beneath the glamour of the frothy tutu, leotard and satin pointe shoes she must mask the pain of aching shins, sweat and blisters.
The atmosphere at the college is one of constant rivalry with her peers, scrutiny by her tutors and body image issues as each dancer is on a quest for perfection and of course, the endless auditions. Sheer loneliness sees her enter into a relationship with an older tutor Rem, who is a choreographer. She becomes his muse and the price is sex. He is somewhat of a bad-boy character and her liason with him is never completely secure as other students are also infatuated with him.
The story is a rite-of-passage as she constantly dreams of the innocent delights of her home and friends in country Vermont and weighs it against the life in the city where she is no-one’s daughter. Sara in her classroom studies finds she has quite a talent for writing and alludes often to Milton’s ‘Paradise Lost’ and eventually comes to the realisation that for some, the ballet stage is a Paradise found. She stops wanting a world where she can only express herself through movement, a world without words.
This novel comes highly recommended for the mid-teen girls to adult audience as it a poignant coming of age story, which will resonate with this group as they too make life-changing decisions. It would be an excellent related text for Belonging and Journey HSC students.