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Favourite biography


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Kate B wanted to start a thread about favourite/most interesting biographies (of dancers, of course :) ), but didn't, so I'll start it :)


I can't actually say anything about it, because I haven't read any yet, but I'll be going to the library this afternoon to pick up Markova: her life and art

Portrait of a dancer, memories of Balanchine: an autobiography

Winter season, a dancer's journal

A book about Nureyev and one on a Dutch ballerina Olga de Haas...


I'll let you know ;)

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Ooh thanks for starting this, Miriam. I'd sort of forgotten!:)


I mentioned before Dancing on My Grave by Gelsey Kirkland. I don't know why but I found it fascinating. I guess it was because it was a story of triumph over adversity.


I also read Antionette Sibley's autobiography a while ago and I enjoyed that a lot, probably because I have always thought she must have been a fabulous dancer and I am sorry I was born 25 years too late to see her.


I think I'd like to read some others, so anyone else's suggestions would be most appreciated.

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I seem to remember that there was a thread on this somewhere in another section of the board (Books, Magazines, Critics?)... but I'm always willing to contribute to a discussion on books - no matter where it is! :)


I have so many 'favorites' but will try to limit myself to just a few (for now):


Come Dance With Me - a Memoir 1898-1956

by Ninette de Valois (1957)

I found she had such a capturing writing style - especially her way of describing her first meetings with people who were to become famous. This is also a book filled with so much history... both ballet and world.


Once a Dancer: An Autobiography

by Allegra Kent (1997)

I especially liked the first part of the book - again, written with a style I was fond of.


The Adventures of a Ballet Critic

Richard Buckle (1953)

A fascinating (if somewhat nonlinear) read... amazing the people he knew, the places he went, the events he saw by this time.



P.S. Sorry if there are some errors in the titles etc. I'm at work, the books are at home and I'm relying on internet searches to get the info.

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Among my faves were the Taper bio of Balanchine and Fonteyn's autobio which conveys the same gracioius charm as her dancing.


Kirkland's "Dancing on My Grave" bothered me. I was in New York during in the '70s and '80s and had the opportunity to observe her on stage (when she bothered to show up) and in class, and my feeling was that the book was less than fullly honest in ways that were misleading. I am not saying she lied, but that some of her accounts are incomplete. She alludes to the fact of her many cancellations in a most oblique manner, but never explains those many nights I stood in front of the Met selling my ticket. :mad:


Not ballet, but Paul Taylor's autiobio was another terrific read.

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I couldn't find the "dancer biographies" thread, but there was a "dancer's autobiographies" thread on the Books, Magazines and Critics forum -- here's the link:





I loved Mathilde Kschessinska's "Dancing in St. Petersburg." If you want to know what it was like to be the richest, most powerful ballerina in the world, I think you'd like it too.


I liked John Percival's biography of "Nureyev." It was written when he was alive, and so doesn't have all the nasty stories the later ones have, and I think that's why I like it. It does give the sense of tremendous drive that Nureyev had.


Another autobiography is Sono Osato's "Distant Dances" She was in the Ballet Russe and a rising star when she stopped dancing. It's interesting to read from a corps person, soloist's point of view -- one of her great experiences was working with Tudor on one of the Lovers in Experience in the original cast of "Pillar of Fire," for example. So it's a good reminder that you don't have to be a star to have a career.


There are more autobiographies than biographies, it seems. Having written one, I can say that it's difficult, becuase when the person is alive, they're very guarded about their lives -- most of them, anyway. (Shameless plug: My book is about one of the great Danish male dancers, and later ballet master, Henning Kronstam. He danced until his 50s and was known as an actor dancer, and so had a career that no young dancer (likely to retire at 35, tops) would have today. There's a thread on it on Books, Magazines, Critics, too. It's called "Henning Kronstam, Portrait of a Danish Dancer." :)

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. . . And a beautiful book it is. (Alexandra probably didn't want to say it.) It is right on my bedside table. I haven't *read* it yet, but I have skimmed passages, which are beautifully written and wonderfully detailed. And so lively.

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Guest mic31

I've read the Nureyev book that Alexandra mentioned, it's quite good, I've also read Dancing from the Heart, by Frank Augustyn. That one is full of alot of great stories. Augustyn also did another book called Footnotes, named after his dance TV series.

I've read Dancing On My Grave too, I just thought that Gelsey needed help from the day she stepped into the studio.

Currently I'm reading a book called Balachine on Tchaikovsky(I hope that I came close to spelling that right). This book is a series of interviews with Mr. B by a Russian music scholar. It's really interesting. The book allows you a peak into the mind of a genius. I found it in a used book store, while I was killing time before class because they were filming another blasted movie in my studio

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I like "Balanchine's Tchaikovsky" too -- for exactly the same reasons! A cautionary note on "Footnotes." Please don't use this as your only source for dance history -- there are a lot of details that aren't quite right.

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Guest mic31

I only just glanced through Footnotes. There is a new Biography of Chan Han Goh out, Beyond the Dance a Ballerina's Life. Has anybody read that??

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I have. It's written for teens (I think it's labeled 9-12 year olds) and so it's rather simple, but I still found it interesting, and it's good to read about someone who is still dancing. Her determination was very evident; this is someone whose life is dance.

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I started in a book by Rudi van Dantzig about Nureyev, it describes Dantzig's experiences working with Nureyev, and as far as I've read till now it's quite nasty about Nureyev, but I guess he was like that?

Until now it's a very nice book though, it's written with humor and not meant to make Nureyev sound bad..


I also read a bit of Winter season, a dancer's journal by Toni Bentley, I didn't like the way it was written, but than it was a translation so the english version might be a lot better... I had some interesting bits about dancers' lives and abusing pointeshoes though :-) It's basically the diary of a NYCB ballerina in the Balanchine period, she keeps the diary for one winter season... It might be good in English...

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Miriam, although many people made a big fuss about Toni's writing, I was (and remain) unimpressed. :) Some of the details of the dancer's day-to-day lives were interesting, though.

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Exactly, the details were interesting, but other than that she was just ranting on, not very interesting.... I read the first bit and than I started getting bored so I just leafed through it and only read bits that looked interesting... I guess not all dancers can write

:) ;)

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Re Winter Season, I think, too, that part of its popularity was that, when it came out, Americans (New Yorkers, anyway) were very hungry for any backstage info about NYCB, and that all dance fans were interested in dancers lives. And it was very unusual for a corps dancer to write a book. This is twenty years later -- a good example of what perspective, and how things look different at one time than at another, is all about!

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Suzanne Farrell's "Holding On to the Air" is my favorite. There's something about her writing voice that's reminiscent of her dancing -- direct yet also also slightly mysterious and totally engaging. Much of the book is about her artistic partnership with Balanchine, and it's just fascinating.


I also like Edward Villella's "Prodigal Son" (I'm betraying my NYCB obsession I guess!). You get a real sense of his era in the company -- and the physical toll it took on him.


Like others, I have mixed feelings about Gelsey Kirkland's books, but mostly I think they're valuable in that at her peak, she was the most captivating dancer and I was glad to hear her take on herself, however skewed.

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