Welcome to the TLC Book Tour for When We Danced on Water
Every day he sits in the same booth in the coffee bar and she brings him his coffee. They strike up a most unusual friendship, this eighty-four-year-old former ballet dancer and choreographer of great renown in the world of the arts, and forty-two-year-old waitress. She tells him that she likes to “dabble” in various forms of arts and crafts. Ah, but you cannot master all of them, he tells her. You must focus on just one in order to achieve greatness. For her it is too late to achieve the kind of artistic perfection that Teobold Levin did a young man, isn’t it? She, Vivi, the daughter of an outspoken Holocaust survivor, lives in a flat she shares with her gay roommate, Pinchi, a DJ at a dance club about whom she fantasizes. After work, she wanders the streets of Tel Aviv, walking, walking, walking …
Teo is coaching the dance troupe in the studio just downstairs. They are restaging his masterpiece ballet, ironically titled Obsession, and he is teaching the dancers to make sure that the interpretation is correct, his legacy intact. Unbelievably, Teo feels that he has not accomplished anything and has only that ballet to leave the world as his legacy.
“A week after I had the concept in my head, when I tried to remember where it came from, I had no idea.… Between the idea and the fleshing out of it, that’s the hard part. That still takes years.~ Author Evan Fallenberg
So two solitary souls come together and begin sharing their lives and their stories with each other. She was a soldier in the Israeli army who fell in love with a man she knew her parents would never accept, so she literally ran away from her home to live with him. Teo tells her he can see that she has been the victim of a man even before he knows the details of her life in Berlin just a few years before the wall separating East and West Germany came down.
Teo was the young benefactor of a wealthy former ballerina who recognized his talent and arranged for him to escape Warsaw before it fell to the Nazis in order to study with the Royal Danish Ballet. Later, he studied with the great George Balanchine. He says he has been in love twice in his life, both times as a young man, many decades ago. As Teo contemplates his fast-approaching eighty-fifth birthday, he wishes he had created a family for himself and corresponds with his sister about his regrets.
What can Teo and Vivi learn from each other about life, the pursuit of artistic excellence, and the desire to feel that you have lived your life to the fullest?
Author Evan Fallenberg’s prose is a delightful surprise, as lithe, graceful, and lyrical as the ballet movements he describes. When We Danced on Water is remarkable because it is simultaneously a sprawling, epic novel set in various time periods and numerous locales such as pre-World War II Poland, Denmark, and Berlin, Berlin in the early 1980’s, and modern-day Tel Aviv, and an intensely intimate character study of two people whose lives are forever changed because they come together in a seemingly random manner.
Both lead characters, Teo and Vivi, are fully-formed and fascinatingly complex. Teo has always kept his own counsel, letting his public persona and achievements speak for him while maintaining a private, but unfulfilled existence. How can he possibly believe that he has not done enough in his lifetime when he has won acclaim for his artistic vision and achievements that will live on long after he is gone? The passionate drive for artistic perfection fuels his need to know that his legacy, primarily comprised, in his mind, of his penultimate creation, Obsession, will live on precisely as he designed it. Like all great visionaries, he feels he should have accomplished more, but still wonders if the sacrifices were too great, if he gave up too much in order to succeed.
When I work on characters, even if they start out resembling someone real, the more I work on them, the more they take
on a life of their own. Sometimes they even inform me of experiences that I didn’t know they had.~ Author Evan Fallenberg
Vivi has, prior to meeting Teo, just been existing, working in the coffee bar and, as she puts it, “dabbling” in various artistic mediums. Unlike Teo, she has never achieved artistic greatness and knowing him sparks a passion deep within her that makes her want to push herself. As Teo’s guest, she attends a rehearsal for Obsession and observes Teo coaching the young dancers. For a few brief moments, as he rises from his chair and joins the dancers on the floor, she sees him raise his hands, draw up his spine, and demonstrate the movements he wants them to emulate, giving her a glimpse as the beautiful dancer he once was and, in many ways, still is. Seeing the finished work with Teo at her side moves and inspires her to pursue her own artistic goals, forever changing her life.
That Fallenberg loves his protagonists is obvious from the tender-hearted manner in which he pulls his readers into their innermost memories and emotions. Their painful pasts are painstakingly revealed, the narrative moving from time period and location in successive chapters as Fallenberg peels away the decades so that readers can fully understand the two people who start off their relationship over the same order each morning. Fallenberg’s writing is richly elegant and deeply affecting, making it a surprisingly quick but satisfying tale about love, passion, and obsession.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received one copy of When We Danced on Water free of charge from the author in conjunction with the TLC Book Tours review and virtual book tour program. I was not required to write a positive review in exchange for receipt of the book; rather, the opinions expressed in this review are my own. This disclosure complies with 16 Code of Federal Regulations, Part 255, “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
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