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The Sugarless Plum by Zippora Karz


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#1 Helene

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Posted 11 November 2009 - 12:06 AM

I just finished Zippora Karz's memoir "The Sugarless Plum". She opens with the premiere of Peter Martins' "Les Petits Riens" and her subsequent diagnosis of diabetes. Misdiagnosis, actually, as she is told that she has Type 2, which can be treated with diet and exercise, rather than Type 1, which must be treated with insulin, and that diagnosis was switched twice afterward.

The book covers her childhood, training, and subsequent careers, as well as her medical struggles and the formidable challenge of regulating insulin and sugar levels while dancing, a daunting feat, since the right action had to be taken before taking on any number of combinations of programs, each combination with its own demands. It's also a great story of company transition: while chosen by Balanchine just before he fell ill, Karz and several other SAB students were told there was no guarantee that Balanchine's successor would take them into the company. Once Martins chose her, there was the pressure to prove to the Balanchine company that she belonged.

I recommend this book highly, especially because of her directness.

#2 Farrell Fan

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Posted 11 November 2009 - 12:18 PM

Thanks for the recommendation, Helene. I just ordered The Sugarless Plum (wonderful title, IMO) from Amazon.

#3 Helene

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Posted 11 November 2009 - 12:50 PM

Karz speaks very highly of Farrell in the book. Since Karz is sugarless in more ways than one, I never got the sense that she would ever exaggerate her respect or admiration. I think you'll be pleased.

#4 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 11 November 2009 - 02:37 PM

I didn't know her well, but I do remember Karz from class back in the early 90s. She was one tough, sugar-free cookie.

#5 pj

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Posted 11 November 2009 - 03:59 PM

I can't wait to read this! She told me in May that she was writing a book and for some reason, I thought it had more of a medical theme, as that is the part of the book she was telling me about, rather than a personal memoire. This is going to be a really good book to read. And, I agree, it's a great title!

#6 vipa

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Posted 11 November 2009 - 04:24 PM

I don't know how to post a link, but there is a short youtube video of Karz talking about her life and book. Also some footage of her dancing. You can go to youtube and search for Zappora Zarz or Sugarless Plum or copy and paste the web address found below. I can't wait to read the book.



#7 vipa

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Posted 11 November 2009 - 04:25 PM

I don't know how to post a link, but there is a short youtube video of Karz talking about her life and book. Also some footage of her dancing. You can go to youtube and search for Zappora Zarz or Sugarless Plum or copy and paste the web address found below. I can't wait to read the book.



Reply to myself - I guess I did know how to post a link! That easy huh!

#8 Helene

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Posted 11 November 2009 - 04:27 PM

From the time of the onset of symptoms when she was 21, the medical, professional, and personal were bound together. As a result, the medical aspect is prominent.

#9 sandik

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Posted 11 November 2009 - 11:00 PM

Thanks so much for the heads-up -- it's a fascinating topic. My mother was an "instant diabetic" after her cancerous pancreas was removed when she was in her early 50s, and I remember the incredible balancing act between what she ate, what she did, and how much insulin she needed. I can only imagine that for a dancer, those challenges would be increased exponentially.

#10 Farrell Fan

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Posted 15 November 2009 - 07:44 PM

Some of my favorite writing about life in NYCB was by corps dancers and soloists. I'm thinking of Robert Maiorano's "World's Apart;" Toni Bentley's "Winter Season," Christopher d'Amboise's "Leap Year." Zippora Karz's "The Sugarless Plum" is from a somewhat later era, but it belongs in that entertaining and distinguished company. And it has the added drama of Karz's account of her frustrating day to day, hour by hour struggle against diabetes. The book provides memorable portraits of backstage life and Zippora's relationships with dancers, doctors, boyfriends, her sister Romy, and Peter Martins, who, it must be noted, comes off rather well in these pages. So does Suzanne Farrell, whom Zippora idolized. My only complaint is that, like those aforementioned earlier memoirs, this book has no index. It does, however, have a list of resources for people with diabetes. I'm glad Helene recommended it, and I do too.

#11 bart

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Posted 16 November 2009 - 07:36 AM

Thank you vipa, for that exceptional video.

As someone who grew up with a diabetic parent -- long ago when the tools to control blood sugar levels were a primitive urine test followed by one big daily shot of insulin, injected by means of a huge hypodermic needle, supplemented when needed with swigs of orange juice as the day progressed -- I am astonished what can be done to control effects of diabetes today.

As Farrell Fan says, the struggle against diabetes for a dancer, especially one performing with one of the greatest companies in the world, is literally ...

day to day, hour by hour.

That's really something to think about with admiration and wonder. I suspect that the discipline and the respect for one's body and for procedures that Karz learned as a ballet student helped her in all of this.

#12 Dale

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Posted 16 November 2009 - 09:29 AM

Thank you. I purchased the book. I always loved watching Zippora Karz. She was my favorite in Tschaikovsky Suite No. 3, 2nd movement. Before she retired there was a wonderful performance of her as the Waltz Girl in Serenade. There's a clip of her dancing in the film on Danilova, who is teaching her Raymonda's solo.

#13 balletgirl22sk

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Posted 16 November 2009 - 06:21 PM

I got the book on EBay very cheap but I haven't read it yet since it is supposed to be a Christmas present from my son!

#14 DeborahB

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Posted 05 December 2009 - 08:06 AM

Thanks for the recommendation! I bought the book when I first read about it here, and just finished it.
It's a very good read. I have a very dear friend who has diabetes so that part struck close to home. Ms. Karz was one of my favorite soloists; it was nice to learn more about her.

#15 Ray

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Posted 05 December 2009 - 08:41 AM

[...]My only complaint is that, like those aforementioned earlier memoirs, this book has no index. [...]


The reason for this, as many of you undoubtedly know, is that publishers no longer pay for indexing--it's completely up to the author to take care of. I'm sure there are exceptions made for some, but even Sarah Palin's book didn't have one--so it's clearly something the publishers feel is OK to omit.


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