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Ballerina and Tolstoy devotee

Alison Basford: Ballerina and Tolstoy devotee

Rosalie O’Connor

It is only a five-minute train ride from Alison Basford’s home in the South End to the Boston Opera House where the Boston Ballet Company dancer is performing in “The Nutcracker.” Still the ballerina always takes a book along for the trip. The Brooklyn native, who trained at the School of American Ballet, dances the role of Frau Silberhaus and has two solos in the second act of the holiday ballet, which runs through Dec. 30.

BOOKS: What are you reading currently?

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BASFORD: I’m reading “War and Peace” by Leo Tolstoy. I’ve been working on it for two years. It’s been a little stop-and-go. I’m about 89 percent done. We have a two-week break in January so I’m determined to finish it then.

BOOKS: Are you a fan of Russian literature?

BASFORD: No, I just really like Tolstoy. I read “Anna Karenina” a long time ago and really liked it. I’ve also read his semi-autobiographical novel, “Childhood, Boyhood, Youth.”

BOOKS: What kind of books do you generally like?

BASFORD: I like mysteries and English literature, especially anything by Jane Austen. “Pride and Prejudice” is my all-time favorite book. And I love Charlotte Brontë’s “Jane Eyre.” Agatha Christie is the top mystery writer for me. I’ve read some of her books three times.

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BOOKS: How has your reading changed over time?

BASFORD: I’m a little more open to reading contemporary books. If a friend recommends them, I’ll try them, like “The Life of Pi” by Yann Martel. Somebody just gave me “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” by Jonathan Safran Foer so that’s on my to-read list.

BOOKS: Do you find ballet dancers are readers?

BASFORD: Some people read a lot. When we have down time in the theater studio you’ll see people sitting in corners with their Kindles or their books. Dancers are pretty intelligent people who like to learn.

BOOKS: Anyone in the company that you talk books with?

BASFORD: Not really but sometimes I’ll be hanging out in the Pilates room and someone will mention a book and everyone chimes in about it. In the dressing room, people bring books in for anyone to take so we have a kind of rotating library. That is where I got my copy of “Water for Elephants” by Sara Gruen and some of Dan Brown’s books.

BOOKS: Who influenced you as a reader?

BASFORD: I had a teacher in high school who taught a class on artists in literature. That is when I read the Tolstoy book and also Willa Cather’s “Song of the Lark” about a young pianist. I’ve read it three times and given it as a gift to people. We also read “The Soloist” by Mark Salzman about a troubled musician.

BOOKS: Do you read about ballet dancers?

BASFORD: I’ve read a lot of autobiographies by dancers. Suzanne Farrell wrote a really great one, “Holding on to the Air.” One on my to-read list is the ballet history “Apollo’s Angels” by Jennifer Homans.

BOOKS: Is your reading influenced by what you’re performing?

BASFORD: I don’t typically read what we are performing though when we did “A Midsummer’s Night Dream” that inspired me to reread the Shakespeare play, which made me appreciate the ballet more. There is this great book for kids with the stories of classic ballets with beautiful drawings, “Of Swans, Sugarplums, and Satin Slippers” by Violette Verdy, who danced with the New York City Ballet. I wish I had a copy of that book now. “The Nutcracker” is in there.

BOOKS: Have you read the original “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King” by E.T.A. Hoffman?

BASFORD: I have. It’s a funny story. Sometimes I read it and wonder how they ever thought to turn it into a ballet. It doesn’t naturally lend itself to that. This year the company redid “The Nutcracker” and made all new costumes, which has made me think of another book. For the party scene, when I put on the wig, dress, and the bonnet, I realized it made me as feel as if had become my favorite heroine, Elizabeth Bennet in “Pride and Prejudice.” It’s a great feeling.

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