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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Books: Dance books, dance magazines

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Guest Paul W

I’m surprised that no-one has yet mentioned "Early Memoirs" by Bronislava Nijinska. What a wonderful account of a truly exceptional family! I'm still not yet quite finished with it, but I need to say how much I enjoy it!! This makes Nijinsky (and his family) come alive for me. I only thought of him as "a legend", as an incomparable dancer whom I would never see in flight even in still pictures (tell me where if such exist). Through her very touching story, Bronia, Nijinsky and also their mother Eleanora now exist in my mind as real beings. Nijinsky as Petrouchka in photographs (still marvelously expressive by and of him) has been replaced in my mind’s eye by a most wonderfully airborne Nijinsky the bluebird. Nijinska’s descriptions of him performing the blue bird pas de deux are unbelievably exciting even to a novice. I am so glad I chose to read this book as one of my first ballet books. Most long-time ballet lovers must have read this already. What are other’s impressions of it?


A couple questions:

Is Bronia considered an exceptional choreographer? I admire her greatly from this account translated by her daughter. Can someone tell me whether the production of "Les Noces" scheduled for late February by NYC Ballet is likely to be similar or the same as her original choreography?


Also, does anyone know whether the city called Vilno mentioned often in Bronia's account is the same as the city of Vilnius, Lithuania?

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Hi, Paul -


Don't know about Vilno/Vilnius, but Bronislava Nijinska is absolutely a great choreographer. There's a good video of her Les Noces with Paris Opera Ballet. I think it's Paris Opera Dances Diaghilev. It was extremely influential. Ashton revived it (and Les Biches) for the Royal in the 1960s and Nijinska was sort of "rediscovered." Robbins' Les Noces for NYCB was choreographed -- I'm pretty sure I read this -- before he knew that the original could be revived. The NYCB version uses the same score and the same idea, but isn't the same ballet.


A few years ago the Joffrey revived Les Noces -- and did it very well, I thought. DTH also revived it, and danced Les Biches a few years ago. Neither of those are on video, as far as I know.


I love Les Noces (in case you haven't guessed.) It's still the most "modern" ballet I've ever seen.



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I think that Vilno is the same as Vilnius (in Yiddish, for example, Vilnius is called "Vilne" - "the Jerusalem of Lithuania"...)


I agree about "Les Noces". I've only seen it in the "Paris Dances Diaghilev" (with Elisabeth Platel, Kader Belarbi, Jean-Yves Lormeau and

Francoise Legree), and wish to see it on stage someday. The Ballet du Nord in Roubaix

(France) will dance it within a few weeks, in a Stravinsky program also including

Maryse Delente's (their director) version of "The Rite of Spring".

The Paris Opera Ballet also restaged Nijinska's "Les Biches" and

"Le Train Bleu" a few seasons ago. I haven't seen "Les Biches", unfortunately it was staged only

one season, but their "Train Bleu" (blue train) was filmed in a "Picasso and dance" program (Picasso had made the stage curtain). It's a much lighter

ballet than "Les Noces", pleasant to see (with a lovely Nicolas Le Riche as "le beau gosse" in the video), but not as great as "Les Noces".

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For those interested in Nijinskiana, Joan Acocella has written an interesting article on Nijinsky's career and diary in the current issue of The New York Review of Books. I would also recommend Lincoln Kirstein's book Nijinsky Dancing, not easy to find but well worth a search. I don't think there is any other dancer whose quality comes across so forcefully from photographs.

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Regarding Vilno/Wilno - that's the Polish version of Vilnius. The Russian is Vilna. Remember, the Nijinsky family was Polish.

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did anyone else read the Drina series by Jean Estoril? Its a fictional account of a young girl (Audrina Adamo, better known as Drina Adams) making her way through as a student and then as a professional. It's all highly unlikely but I think its a sweet series anyway and I used to read it constantly when I was younger...

Just thought it deserved a mention since its written with love for dance.

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  • 2 months later...
Guest Paquita

I'm sure many of us have read several books on dance, as there are so many out there. So I wanted to start a thread where we could post the books we've read and what we thought, and an overall rating...So here it goes:

*The Young Dancer ( Darcey Bussell contributed) is very informative and clear for young dancers without being patronizing. Good for girls under 12 who are ballet obsessed!

*Margot Fonteyn's autobiography is very good. But I'm not done reading it yet! It may be kind of hard to find.

*Karen Kain: Movement Never Lies. An autobiography. This is my #1 favourite book. I've only seen her perform once and I do admire her but I didn't buy it because I was a huge fan at the time, it was just on sale. But she gives such good insight on the hardships of the dancing world, with deep reflection on the joy and passion of performing. I *highly* recommend this to anyone. It's inspiring.

*Kimberly Glasco ( profiles of Canadian dance). I really thin, small book i found in the library. It's only 30 pages and I must stress very small and softcover. But it was written in the 80's in the earlier years of her career and had some good quotes and photos.


There's more but I can't really remember the titles and authors. But here are some titles I want to read, and if any of you have could you please reply:

~Marakova: the Legend by: Leonard Maurice

~Advice for Dancers by: Linda Hamilton

~The NYC Ballet Workout by:Peter Martins

~The Dancer's Body book by Allegra Kent

~Classical Russian Technique by:???

~MissO- My life in dance by: Betty Oliphant

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Hi Paquita - I have read several of the books you have, and also The Dancers Body Book by Allegra Kent with James and Constance Cammer.


This is a lovely little paperback that is designed for dancers. It addresses tips, and helpful knowlege from professional dancers about how to eat and keep their bodies slim, healthy, energetic, and in top dance form.

The contributors include Ashley, Baryshnikov, Bujones, D'Amboise, Farrell, McBride, Watts, Harvey, Danilova, Jaffe, etc. and is great for anyone interested in the life of the dancer.(not bad eating and exercise tips for the "regular folk" too eh?)


The books that i absolutely LOVE are:


First and Foremost:

1)"Classical Ballet Technique" by Gretchen Ward Warren. (This is the most comprehensive technique book i have seen to date, includes something like 2400 photographs, and was designed "...for teachers and students of ballet, for dance professionals, and for all who marvel at the beauty and strength of the classically trained dancer." )


2)"Dancers Complete Guide to Healthcare & A Long Career" by Allan J. Ryan M.D. and Robert E. Stephens Ph.D.


3)"Striking a Balance" revised edition - by Barbara Newman (Dancers Talk about Dancing -it's wonderful!)


4)"The Art of Teaching Ballet" - Ten Twentieth-Century Masters - by Gretchen Ward Warren (this so far has been my favorite to read!!!)


5)"Tribute - Celebrating Fifty Years of New York City Ballet" (beautiful "coffee table" type book - Wonderful writing/poetry pictures and paintings - I love it!)


6)"To A Young Dancer" - by Angnes de Mille

(not sure if it is still in print i have a copy from 1967 when i was 10 years old - i had the opportunity to work with her in NY so this one, is very special to me


7)"Dancing Star" by Gladys Malvern(?)- (in my old trunk at home with my mom) - my favorite and probably first ballet book - written for kids about Anna Pavlova. But i love it as an adult too.*G*


7a) "To Dance To Dream" - read and loved as a child - but mixed up the title and story in my mind with "Dancing Star"


8)"The Pointe Shoe Book" - by Janice Barringer and Sarah Schlesinger (great resource book for dancers - and for those interested in what pointe shoes are made of, how dancers get fittings, problems that pointe shoes cause, etc.)


(9)"Inside Ballet Technique" by Valerie Grieg

(really an anatomy/kinesiology type book for more advanced dancers/teachers)


- These next books are more compilations of different ballets/works and are all good in there own way:


10)"101 Stories of the Great Ballets" by George Balanchine and Fancis Mason


11)"Ballet 101 - a complete guide to learning and loving the Ballet" by Robert Greskovic, forward by Mikhail Baryshnikov


12)"Dance Classics - a viewers guided to the best loved ballets and Modern Dances" by Nancy Reynolds and Susan Reimer-Torn. (This one has dances divided into categories - Romanticism, Classicism, Comedy, Traditional 20th Century, Early Ballet, Modern Ballet, and Modern and Contemporary Dance.)


There is, of course, last but by all means not least, a most highly recommended book (i do not have this one myself):

"The Oxford Concise Dictionary of Ballet" by Koegler


OK, Hope that gives you some new ones to check out. *S*


Much Aloha




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

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Guest Giannina

Paquita and I must have been on the same wave length; I was just about ready to "talk" about some books I've read (my treasure trove from Christmas.) I finished "Inside Ballet Technique" by Valerie Grieg yesterday (mentioned by Lugo) and found it fascinating. I would not limit it to advanced teachers and dancers; there's a wealth of information in there that serves a double purpose: explains the physical aspect of ballet, and makes you realize how incredibly difficult ballet is. David, if you haven't read a book like this I would recommend it as you help your daughter make possible career decisions.


I began my reading with "The Romantic Ballet in Paris" by Ivor Guest; I was inspired (by Alexandra) to read this when I couldn't come up with one answer to the Quiz on POB. Finding the book was the biggest challenge; reading it was an education. It covers a mere 30 years of ballet history, starting with 1827; though the book is crammed with dates and a lot of French terms/names it moves swiftly, a tribute to Guest. Ballet in those days was something quite different than today. "Romeo & Juliet, the Love Story in Dance" by Nancy Ellison was a lot of pretty pictures and nothing more. "Dance Writings and Poetry" by Edwin Denby was beyond me, as I mentioned in another post. Some of his articles were of great interest, but many more concerned facets of ballet that I don't understand. Maybe some day. Darcey Bussell's "Life in Dance" was light reading; interesting though she wrote more about celebrity life than I wanted to know. "Frederick Ashton and His Ballets" by David Vaughan was excellent. I wish I had read it before I read "Secret Muses" by Julie Kavanagh; the former concentrates on his choreography (with tons of photos) and would have made a good introduction to the 2nd, which is broader and covers not only his life but the lives (and gossip) of those with whom he worked. I'm now whizzing through "Let's Go On" by Wayne Johnson, a book celebrating the 25th anniversary of Pacific Northwest Ballet. This caught my eye mostly because of Olivier's posts; informative.




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

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Guest Giannina

Ooops; forgot a book. Obviously it didn't make much of an impression. With great eagerness I read "The Ballet Called Swan Lake" by Cyril Beaumont, since his book "The Ballet Called Giselle" is one of my favorites. "....Swan Lake" did not measure up. All the explainations of steps and gestures given in "...Giselle" that made the ballet come alive for me were missing in "...Swan Lake". Rats!



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Giannia *S* - i am sooo thrilled that you liked "Inside Ballet Technique"! It is one of my favorites, but i hesitate to recommend it to anyone other than dancers and teachers.


Paquita - this was a terrific idea, i love to read!! Thank you!


and Aloha


p.s. i edited my post above - see book number 7) and 7a) (i had the title mixed up)*s*



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

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  • 2 weeks later...
Guest Giannina

Alexandra...in a post on the Dancers thread you were talking about Bussell's book and said, "don't take everything she says about her roles as gospel". I recently finished reading her book and wondered what you meant.




[This message has been edited by Giannina Mooney (edited April 17, 1999).]

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Oh, dear. I was thinking particularly of what she said about Aurora, how she (Bussell/Aurora) in the third act was trying to tell the story of how "Aurora gets her man" but she had to bother with those silly steps that got in the way of the story.


"Sleeping Beauty" isn't a love story, it's about dynasty. (My absolutely favorite Sleeping B quote is from Danilova: "Princess must be little bit snitty." Aurora hasn't "gotten her man." She's dancing at a formal court wedding with her predestined consort.


I meant that kind of thing. Several reviewers have pointed this out; I mentioned it because I couldn't let a new generation of Auroras look at the ballet that way without a caution.




p.s. Juliet throwing up isn't a very classical attitude, either, although that is a matter of opinion, rather of fact. In my opinion, "classical" ballet isn't supposed to be realistic. There's an artifice, a distance, an objectivity. If MacMillan wanted them to worry about whether they'd vomit the sleeping potient, it's his ballet and he can do it. But Aurora doesn't get her man.

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Guest pointe&click

I have read "The NYCB Workout." It was hard at first to understand all the exercises. Some were helpful, like the stretches and the abs workout, but others were kind of basic for a dancer. They teach tendus and other basic steps of ballet using normal language. Kind of a waste for someone who already knows the steps. The combinations are good though, and they tell just want to concentrate on. Also, once you have figured out all the exercises, you can do certain combinations of them in order to achieve your specific goals. For instance, there is a workout for football players or just concentrating on abs. And the last part of the book recommends music to listen to while you do the workout. The pictures are excellent. I haven't really stuck with the workout though because I was pretty bored by it. The stretches are good though.


"Dancing on my Grave" and "The Shape of Love" by Gelsey Kirkland and Greg Lawrence: First you read about all the hardships she goes through in the first book, and then read about the happy ending in the second. "Shape of Love" was my favorite because it talked about how she developed her character for Juliet, and how she teaches younger dancers.


"Russian Ballet Technique" by Agrippina Vaganova: Hard to read straight through, but if you flip through, you can find some great explanations of steps and the proper execution. My teacher refers to it during class whenever we don't understand what he is asking from us.


"Holding Onto Air" by Suzanne Farrell: Very inspiring. I really enjoy reading about how dancers make it. I love to use this one against my mother: "Suzanne Farrell's mother moved to NY so her daughter could audition at SAB, so they least you can do is . . ." *wink*


"Ballet Dictionary" is great for learning to spell all the terms, or finding the exact name for a step. Good reference.


"Pointe Book" is the most used out of all my dance books. The poor thing is just about to fall apart at the seams from use. Great tips and explanations. Even pointe class examples for teachers.


That's all I've read so far. I'm reading "Tributes" right now, and so far it is absolutely inspiring. I love the poems they include, and the pictures are fabulous!



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