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article imageReview: The Pursuit of Perfection by Carol Bishop-Gwyn Special

By KJ Mullins     Jan 21, 2013 in Entertainment
Toronto - In Carol Bishop-Gwyn's book The Pursuit of Perfection: A Life of Celia Franca readers are able to grasp the true force of how the National Ballet of Canada came to be an international leader in the world of dance.
This wonderful book is on the Charles Taylor Prize Short List to be decided in March 2013.
Celia Franca's life is a testament of what a person can accomplish when they have a goal. She overcame cultural barriers by creating a persona that gave little clues to her life before she became a star.
Dance was Franca's passion before she even attended school. While never a prima ballerina she was able to capture the audience's attention while on stage.
Born in 1921 in London to Jewish Polish immigrants Franca was an unlikely person to become a dancer. Her conviction to her passion of dance led her to the stage of war-torn London and then across the Atlantic in 1951 to Toronto where she started a dance company.
That conviction also embodied a central core of control that Franca was famous for. Her ideals were not to be dismissed by those in her path. She was a great friend to those who were of personal use but was known to drop those friends if their use wore out like a pancake.
The National Ballet of Canada was Franca's passion for most of her life. The story of how the company rose from nothing to being considered Canada's best flows like a melody with all of the drama, back stabbing and passion that is the world of ballet from the pages of The Pursuit of Perfection.
During a phone interview author Carol Bishop-Gwyn said that her motivation for writing The Pursuit of Perfection was that Franca is a cultural icon and it was apparent that it would be a good thing to have her story told.
Researching Franca's past was made easier by the amount of papers she donated to the Dance Collection Danse said Bishop-Gwyn who also delved into interview tapes from the late Frank Rasky. Rasky died before finishing finishing his biography of Franca. One incredible stroke of luck came when Bishop-Gwyn found a close friend of Franca's that had thought to be deceased. This friend still had letters from Franca written during the war.
"The paper of some of the letters still smelled from the smoke of Celia's cigarettes," Bishop-Gwyn said excitedly as she confided that research is her favorite thing to do.
Bishop-Gwyn admits that if Franca were to read The Pursuit of Perfection she would likely have not been happy with it. "Franca was an incredibly intelligent woman. She was also incredibly controlling." Franca must definitely would not have it known that her third marriage was not a story of happily ever after, in fact her husband wrote her out of his last will shortly before he died.
"I have been in contact with two of Franca's relatives who knew her, both in their 90s. One, a man in Israel said that the book is very fair of Franca while the other, a lady in England, was not as happy with the book," Bishop-Gwyn said. It can be difficult for family's to read about the negative aspects of their famous relatives. While Franca could be very kind to her friends such as sending injured dancers home in a cab using her own money. In her eyes the dancers of her company were her boys and girls and "she took care of her boys and girls." She could also be very harsh. "Franca did not coddle people along," Bishop-Gwyn stated adding that Franca never cared about money. "She never made a lot of money during her career."
Bishop-Gwyn was very surprised that she was listed as part of the short list for the Charles Taylor Prize. As her husband Richard Gwyn, one of the three jurors for the Prize, was at the King Edward Hotel for the announcement Bishop-Gwyn was grocery shopping at No Frills. "I never thought I would make the list!"
Gwyn did not have a say in the choosing of his wife to the short list. Jurors Susanne Boyce and Joseph Kertes easily picked The Pursuit of Perfection saying, “Carol Bishop-Gwyn does for Celia Franca what history requires and demands. She gives us the complex story of an artist both driven and tyrannical, both sensitive and unreasonable, but someone able, with little help and in what was little more than a cultural backwater, to found a ballet company which was to become one of the best in the world, the National Ballet of Canada. The company still bears her stamp. Bishop-Gwyn’s rich biography tells us exactly why.”
The jurors were correct. Carol Bishop-Gwyn brings the life of Celia Franca with both the positive and negative that breeds true passion. In the end her book gives readers the truth of what it took to make an inspirational woman become a true Canadian icon.
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