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Books: Ballet Reference Books

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Guest Ed Waffle

On another thread Alexandra suggested that more of us take part in the ballet quiz that is posted each Monday on this board. So I checked it out and once again did not submit an entry--the competition is formidable.


I was able to answer 4 of the questions with a glance at the ballet reference books acquired haphazardly over the years, which made my realize that I really need a decent reference on dance. I have some collections of reviews, the usual synopsis and analysis of standard and less standard works, a few excellent books which define the actual movement of ballet, a few relatively sketchy general reference works.


What I am looking for is the equivalent of the "Grove Dictionary of Opera." This is a four volume, 5000 page work. Unwieldy and expensive, but something that I wonder how I ever did without.


There must be the same type of work for ballet--and I am hoping there is a shorter, edited version of it--the type of thing that would allow one to answer all the questions in the current quiz on Anthony Tudor, for example.


So the question is--what is the basic, standard reference work in English on ballet, is there a good one volume version of it, and is generally available?

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Well, I don't know about such a big book, but I'm not the best

person to ask about books in English (however, there isn't anything like that in French either).


However, Horst Koegler's "Oxford concise dictionary of ballet" is quite good (that's the only book which always is in my desk

at the university, and often it's enough to help me finish the quiz).

But it's getting out of date now (I think the last edition was done in the early 80s), pity there

is no newer version (by the way, does anybody know if Koegler is still alive?)


About the Tudor quiz, may I suggest that Tudor is one of the few choreographers about whom

I've done a whole page?

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Guest Steve Keeley

As Estelle said, the Koegler book is not quite up-to-date, having been last updated in 1987. But it's still the best single source. I never bother putting it back on the shelf; it is always sitting right beside my computer. It's hard to find in the U.S. you can order a copy for about $17 from Dance Books UK (www.dancebooks.co.uk).


The next book to go for would be the Balanchine/Mason "101 Stories of the Great Ballets."


Another very useful reference is "The Dance Handbook" by Allen Robertson & Donald Hutera.



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Ditto on the Koegler. (Ahem, I'm sure they have it at Barnes and Noble. Link in The Shop on this site.


I have an older one-volume The Dance Encyclopedia by Anatole Chujoy which is useful -- and has bigger print.


Unfortunately, I cannot recommend the 6-volume Oxford International Encyclopedia of Dance that just came out (for $1200). It was in process for nearly 20 years, and, alas, is thus nearly 20 years out of dates. Articles were upgraded along the way, but there are an awful lot of important dancers from the late '70s and '80s, not to mention '90s, that didn't make it in. Also, in the articles I've tested, there are factual errors.


Also on my "don't defect without these" list of books is Nancy Reynolds' "Repertory in Review," which is invaluable for 85% of the Balanchine repertory (it, too, stops in the late '70s, which is about when serious dance book publishing stopped in this country.)


A word on the Quiz. Some people treat it as a "pop quiz" and answer off the top of their heads, some see it as a research quest. Ed, we have at least ten people every week who answer and have one, two, or even more answers incorrect. They keep taking the Quiz -- and I'm glad to have them. Get your feet wet. I email back before the answers are posted so people know how they did.


Also, I would like to say that we don't set out to do trick questions. It's very hard to tell, when you live and breathe this stuff, what's "common knowledge" and what's not. Unless the quizzes are otherwise attributed, I make up the questions and check my answers to be sure I'm right, plus run them by one or two others, when there's time, to see if they can help clarify the phrasing, but I don't sit down and look through Koegler to make up a Quiz.




[This message has been edited by alexandra (edited April 03, 1999).]

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Alexandra, I fully agree about "Repertory in review". That's a wonderful

book, its only shortcoming is that it stops too early. I feel especially lucky to have it,

since finding it is impossible in France (it was an old copy sent by a friend, to whom I'm very very grateful).


Among "specific" reference books, there's a catalogue of Balanchine's

ballets (sorry, I don't remember its exact title) which is quite good to know the first

casts, the exact dates of the premieres, etc.

And about Diaghilev's Ballets Russes, Richard Shead's "Ballets Russes" and Diaghilev's "Les ballets russes a l'Opera".


By the way, it's a pity that good dance books are so rare, old ones are so hard to find, and existing ones are so expensive. Most of those that I have are second-hand books, or gifts of an American friend.

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Estelle, are there any grand old book stores in Paris, perhaps by the university? I ask because the only thing cheap in Copenhagen are old books. There are four antique book shops on the same street, right by the old university, and they have lots of old dance books (many in English), all extraordinarily cheap -- $5, $10. Their new books are extremely expensive. Here, it's often the opposite. A new book will come out in paperback and be quite affordable (unless it's a picture book, or something rather esoteric) while an old book can be $100 or more. I've always imagined that there is a treasure trove in Paris -- or maybe Marseilles -- like a big attic, where there are hundreds of old old books on the Romantic era -- or, better yet, a period we know almost nothing about, the beginning of this century.



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Guest Jeannie

Alexandra - There is a wonderful little antique bookstore half a block from the Odeon Theater. It deals in all theater topics...not ballet-specific, but with a good dance section. I purchased a grab-bag full of old Saisons de la Danse magazines for a pitance when I was in Paris for the Neumaier SYLVIA premiere (less than 2 years ago, I think). As I'm in the office, I don't have the shop's biz card handy but I'll try to remember to look it up at home tonight. I bet that Estelle knows about this shop (or similar ones)! - Jeannette

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Jeannie, you're better informed than me, because I don't think I know that shop!!

(Actually, I don't remember where the Odeon is... I'm not so familiar with Paris, in fact!)

I remember going to a "performance arts" bookstore near the Opera comique, but it was not so big.

And I haven't met any really interesting dance bookstore in Paris yet- I found a few things at some

"bouquinistes" near the Seine (including 3 old magazines with Michael Denard on the cover wink.gif ), but the prices and the

quality may vary quite a lot, and also a few things at the Gibert shops on the Boulevard Saint-Michel, but that's a matter of luck.

The POB boutique has a decent collection of dance books, but only new ones.

In Marseille, even good "general" bookstores are rare... I also found a few things in bookstores in Grenoble, but

it took quite a lot of time (the only "advantage" of non-specialized bookstores is that sometimes the prices

are cheap because they just don't estimate well a book's value!) I wish I knew any library like David Leonard's "Dance books" (in the only week-end I ever spent in London, I rushed there, and that's a wonderful place. I didn't have enough money nor room in my luggage to boy many things, but for example they had nice big books about the Ballets Suedois about 7 times cheaper than the French version...)

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Guest Jeannie

Ok, I found two business cards of bookshops in Paris that I have visited. One of the 2 is the one near the Odeon...I think it's the second of these, because the Odeon Th. is in the 10th arrondisement, not far from the Palais de Luxembourg. Anyhow, both had nice, if not huge, dance/ballet sections. (Sorry that I don't know how to place accents on the letters.)


1. Librairie Theatrale

3 Rue Marivaux, 2e arr.

Metro: Richelieu-Drouot


2. L'Introuvable

35 Rue Juliette-Dodu, 10me arr.

Metro: Colonel Fabien


Hope this helps - Jeannie

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Jeannie, many thanks for the addresses!


Actually, I tried to find that dance bookstore near the

Odeon... and so did Leigh Witchel, since he's in Paris now.

But the one we found (with not so many things) was called "Le coupe-papier", in the Rue de l'Odeon

just near the Theater. So that's a third one...

I'll be back in Paris within a week, and will go to the other two ones

you mentioned.

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  • 6 months later...
Guest Dancer Chica

Hi people! I was wondering...do you know of ballet everything books?. I have been in ballet 9 years and I have never looked for one. I need to find a book with everything from arabesques to releves! Anything would help! Thanks so much!


[This message has been edited by Dancer Chica (edited October 31, 1999).]

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Guest Saut de Chat

Try "The Language of Ballet" by Thalia Mara. Tons of definitions of steps--also, explanations of different schools of ballet (ie, French school) and major persons in ballet history (such as Jules Perrot and Fokine). My copy was a gift, so I don't know where to get it, but try a major bookstore, like Barnes and Noble or ballet stores.

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  • Administrators

Gretchen Ward Warren's book, Classical Ballet Technique, is definitely excellent! (But it is also definitely expensive smile.gif )

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Dear Victoria,


It is even MORE expensive in Australia! nfortunately, Gretchen, who has visited us in Australia twice now, gets next to nothing from each book sale - and she was always concerned that the book was not more affordable, especially outside of the US.


The story behind the book is fascinating too - she submitted that manuscript to thirty publishers -rejected by every one- before finally getting a go-ahead. Can you believe it? I can't recommend anything else now, for the purposes it covers. I expect this will be a ballet bible for many many years.


p.s. Maybe (since your background is with ABT ?) you also know that she is a very nice woman.

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