Rab Ferguson's The Dancer was published by Unsung Stories in December 2016.

Information about Rab Ferguson:

Rab Ferguson is a York based writer of fiction and poetry. He's been published in several journals including Litro Magazine, Storgy, Voice-In Journal, Under the Fable and The City Fox. He's also a performing storyteller, and has been known to wear a woollen cape.

Click here to visit his official website.

Information about The Dancer:

Penelope D’Silva is a dancer, loved worldwide for her innovative interpretations of classic theatre. She is a perfectionist, content only with being the best. Performing to packed theatres live every night, the recordings syndicated globally - she is incomparable.

But her new live show, The Lady, is faltering, with empty seats and dwindling audiences marring each performance. The advent of 3D projection technology is changing the nature of theatre. Performance is evolving, as audiences flock to the CineTheatres.

As every artist must, D’Silva must innovate, raise her standards, or lose her audience - to herself.

A story of doubles, the territory between progress and work that has endured for centuries, and the nature of live experience, Rab Ferguson’s The Dancer looks at how technology changes our art, and artists. In the age of the perfect simulation, what is an authentic experience?

A REVIEW OF RAB FERGUSON'S THE DANCER

Rab Ferguson's The Dancer is one of the most compelling new novelettes I've read this year. I enjoyed it immensely, because it had all the elements I expect to find in literary speculative fiction. It was an enthralling blend of originality, beautiful prose and literary storytelling.

I consider The Dancer to be one of the absolute highlights of the year. It differs intriguingly from what other authors have written during the recent months, because it's a story about a famous dancer's desperate struggle to hold on to her fame and to create an ultimate performance that can only be experienced live on stage. It's an original and beautifully written story for thinking adults.

The Dancer can be classified as literary fiction that has been infused with science fiction and weird fiction elements. It's a perfect marriage of literary fiction and speculative fiction.

Here's a bit of information about the story:

Penelope D'Silva is a successful and admired dancer who has performed to sold-out audiences across the world. Her new live show, The Lady, is a one woman Skakespeare show in which she has gone back to the source of her success. She feels that The Lady will make her immortal, but she is wrong. The new show is anything but successful and there are empty seats in the audience. Nothing seems to make the show successful and the number of empty seats increases, because the CineTheatres with their state of the art 3D projection technology have become popular and people flock to see the presentations. Penelope realises that she has to beat the CineTheatres and show the world that no projection could ever equal seeing her live. She wants the audiences to notice that she's better and more unique than a recording of her...

I think that everybody who reads this story will be impressed by it, because it's something a bit different and has a fascinatingly disturbing ending. I was personally deeply impressed by the disturbing elements, because the author uses them effectively (what makes this story frightening is that it could easily be true).

The protagonist, Penelope D'Silva, is a well portrayed character. She's an ambitious and talented dancer who is known for her inventive interpretations of classic theatre. The author writes excellently about Penelope's desire to be perfect and how she feels about performing on stage to sold-out audiences. He also writes fluently about what happens when Penelope finds out that the CineTheatre projections of her are more popular than her live performances.

Penelope's relationship with her manager, Leon Simmon, is interesting, because she wants him to make her new show popular, no matter what the cost (she wants every night of the show be sold out). Although Leon is a minor character, the author writes fluently about his work and his importance to Penelope.

It was fascinating for me to read about how Penelope fought to be more popular than her projection and how she felt about the whole situation. Her anguish, fury and determination could be heart-felt when reading the story.

In this novelette, Rab Ferguson creates an atmosphere of awe and wonder that feels stunningly vibrant. His depictions of Penelope's acts and what she does on stage are engaging. They perfectly envision and bring to life the various positions and movements that Penelope performs. The author manages to make Penelope's acts seem as real and  as possible.

The Dancer is a thought-provoking examination of the future of art and the evolution of theatre. It depicts the clash between the traditional and the modern in a mesmerising way, because new technology and its wonders are more popular than traditional performances. The author explores how important and inevitable adapting to changes and reinventing your acts is to artists and to what lenghts they're willing to go in order to be legendary and successful performers.

I found it fascinating that the author dared to make readers ponder these questions: Can a filmed performance ever be fully compared to a live performance? Can a filmed performance capture the spirit of a live performance or is it just a pale and lifeless copy of the original performance?

I'm not sure if the classic dance/ballet film, The Red Shoes (1948) which was inspired by Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tale, has been a source of inspiration to this story, but I wouldn't be surprised if it is, because there were a few moments in this story that reminded of it and its visuality. It's also possible that Black Swan (2010) may have inspired the author to write this story.

I'm sure that this novelette will be of interest to many readers. I think it will especially appeal to those who are familiar with the stories and novels written by Nina Allan, Douglas Thompson, Aliya Whiteley, Andrew Hook and Allen Ashley.

Rab Ferguson was a bit unknown author to me prior to reading The Dancer. Because I enjoyed this story and liked the author's writing style, I intend to take a closer look at what he has written and I intend to keep an eye out for his forthcoming stories.

Rab Ferguson's The Dancer is a hidden gem that should be read by quality-oriented speculative fiction readers who enjoy reading literary prose and thought-provoking stories. It's a thoroughly compelling reading experience and one of the best stories of the year.

Highly recommended!

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