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I too enjoyed the Taper and Buckle biographies of Balanchine, but it seemed to me that both books were unsatisfactory in some respects. Taper's chapters dealing with the last stages of Balanchine's career seemed pretty skimpy to me, and Buckle tends to bounce around from topic to topic without giving his material much shape. I read somewhere (maybe here) that Arlene Croce was working on a biography, and if that's true there's no reason why it shouldn't be definitive. I read Tallchief's autobiography with much interest. Her account of Balanchine's proposal is worth the price of the book. Has anyone mentioned Karsavina's Theatre Street? I liked that very much. There's another book called The Pointe Book, now in its second edition, that has some useful information.


[This message has been edited by dirac (edited May 14, 1999).]

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Guest Leigh Witchel

The last (highly unreliable) rumor I had heard about Croce's book was that it was in limbo. However, that's from a really bad source.


I don't have the Buckle biography, like the Taper and find that Francis Mason's compendium, "I Remember Balanchine" reminds us invaluably just how complex the man was. I did an informal cross-check of the 83 interviews within it to determine which facts seemed consistent. Of the handful I found: Concerto Barocco was once an allegro ballet, where it is now an adagio ballet. The Figure in the Carpet ought to be revived (but is lost). Balanchine and Villella had a problem getting along.


Most everything else was up for grabs, depending upon how he appeared to the interviewer. Whenever I write about Balanchine, I recognize that I have an idealized Balanchine in my mind, symbolic of the choreographic ideal. It tangentially relates to the real man, I suppose! I think recognizing his elusiveness is one way to understand him.

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Guest atm711

I find myself, from time to time re-reading Francis Mason's "I Remember Balanchine". These are recollections of dozens of people who knew him and worked with him. Not all of the remembrances are flattering--I find the one by Barbara Walczak particularly poignant. I remember Barbara as a student at SAB and as a dancer with the Company.

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Guest grlbug123

When I was little I used to read "Ballet Shoes." I thought it was great. It's a fiction book but, I think it's just great. It's about three girls who become dancers so they can support their family. When they turn 12 they can each get a liscense to dance for money. It tells a lot about what they went through and how they did on auditions. I think all dancers should read it because it's a wonderful book. Read it!!!!


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Guest cargill

Ballet Shoes is by Noel Streatfield, and it is a very good book. I remember reading that Streatfield got interested in children performers and dancers when she saw Ninette de Valois when she was a child performer dance Dying Swan at some music hall.

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Guest wjglavis

Just wanted to say I agreed with dirac. Karsavina's `Theatre Street' is, to my mind, one of the most fascinating ballet biographies ever written.

Similar books which I also love are Alexandra Danilova's book, `Choura', and Tamara Geva's `Split Seconds' (the latter is mainly about her attempts to be accepted as a student by the Theatre School, but is written with great passion - parts are very moving.) Both of these are good on the difficulties of everyday life after the revolution.

I also enjoyed Nijinska's `Early Memoirs', intersting for what she says about her brother, but VERY interesting on her own early life, with lots of detail about parts and costumes. And then there's Kschessinska's `Dancing in Petersburg' - though this is hard to find - which is surpringingly frank and engaging.

Karsavina is a good choice to read first, however. (After that I became hooked on Russian memoirs!)


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Guest atm711

I, too, loved reading Nijinska's Memoirs..it has the scope of a fine Russian novel. By reading all of her descriptions of her brother's dancing, and putting them all together in one long paragraph, you come away with a very good picture of how Nijinsky danced.

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I enjoyed the books by Danilova and Nijinska also. Interesting that these are all by Russian dancers within a generation or so of each other. I think what gives these books much of their strength is the varied background of each author. Karsavina, Danilova, and Nijinska were all women who had seen a lot of the world, and that experience gives their accounts flavor and color.

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The first thread is taking a long time to load, so I'm starting a new one.


Welcome, Alymer. It's especially nice to have someone else who's sensitive to style differences!


I can't add anything to your post except to second it. It's partly that gossip sells but it's also partly, I think, that in our information age, when it's possible to gather every piece of information, it's difficult to know what to use. Some people, of course, don't find that a problem and tell, or write, everything they know. And some people are afraid they'll be found not to have been thorough enough. Kavanagh may well have been in the latter group. She may have wanted to be conscientious. I also think that the book might be short on the artistic side because David Vaughan's critical biography is so complete it would be hard to better it. None of this makes me either like or admire the book any better, but it does make me understand it.


I asked around about the allegations that Ashton orchestrated an anti-MacMillan feeling in New York and couldn't find any substantiation of it among the New Yorkers I talked to who were there at the time. For one thing, Ashton didn't socialize with the NY critics, I'm told. For another, as some of the people I talked to said, "What anti-MacMillan faction?" (There were several New York critics who backed MacMillan for a long time as the best young classical choreographer, while, at the same time, being worried about why the Royal Ballet was beginning to look a bit different.)



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I don't want to make claims for Secret Muses that it doesn't deserve, but I do think it's worth a read and has valuable information. Yes, it's gossipy and lacks structure, but that doesn't make Kavanagh Kitty Kelley. It does make for some frivolity, but Ashton had his frivolous side, although I concede it's overemphasized here. I also don't think it's necessarily bad for a biography to emphasize personal as opposed to artistic matters, as long as there's a study like Vaughan's to pick up the slack. Quentin Bell's biography of Virginia Woolf is very highly regarded, and yet it deliberately does not present itself as a critical biography, sticking instead to the events in Woolf's life and also exploring her social milieu, as Kavanagh does. (It would be pretty difficult to write a truthful account of Bloomsbury and not mention that everyone was playing musical beds.) I think that Kavanagh's perspective is most damaging in respect to matters such as the MacMillan issue mentioned above. You would get the impression from Secret Muses that Ashton's sometime antipathy to MacMillan derived merely from jealousy of a young and talented rival, and while this may have played a part, it seems clear that Ashton's chief concern was that MacMillan's expressionistic dance style was not only at opposite poles from Ashton's classicism but that the two approaches could not cohabit in any peace without one suffering at the expense of the other.

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Thanks Alexandra and Dirac smile.gif - I find it an "interesting" biography at times, just very difficult to sift through the insignificant details. I hate skimming, so i read it all - just in case i miss some piece of information that is relevant later in the book.


My complaint is the "quality" of writing - which for me doesn't "flow" or keep my interest. I love to read and do so voraciously - But this one book is taking forever - more of a chore than an enjoyment... hmmmm...


Much Aloha





[This message has been edited by Lugo (edited June 23, 1999).]

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Interesting. The one general praise that Julie Kavanaugh's book has been received is that the writing is quite fine.

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Yes i know, that's why it must just be me *lol* not quite sure why this book is affecting me this way. Maybe my expectations were so "set". Or maybe i've just read too much in the last couple months. wink.gif


Much Aloha

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Guest Nanatchka

Interesting comparison to the Quentin Bell Woolf bio, which I read when it came out and found fascinating. What I loved about it and remember best was Bell's (Vanessa's son, Virginia's newphew) correction of his most detested apprehension about his aunt: that she was a gloomy, moody person-- Of course one thinks that because of her illness and final suicide--but he pointed out that he always found her very merry and a great deal of fun. (So interesting to see how she acted when with the children, no?)Julie K. only knew Ashton late in life, and her point of view is not comprehensive at first hand, yet she, too, gives one the feeling of knowing the private, real Ashton, in various circumstances. This is not something everyone desires.It didn't help me understand the dances better. I just got to know Sir Fred better. I like to read books all at once, but this one is better in bits, I think. [And yes, David Vaughn's (another English person, say what?) works are invaluable dance histories, admirable indeed, and of great use to those already interested in a topic.I would not, however, describe them as enticing reads. Very proper, dry as toast.}




[This message has been edited by Nanatchka (edited June 29, 1999).]

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Maybe it's because I was desperate to learn about British ballet history, but I didn't find Vaughan at all dry, and I liked that he understood the distinction between public and private. I thought he gave a good sense of the man and the artist in any sense that interested me. We obviously have a different sense of dry. Dry, for me, in a biography is Richard Buckle's biography of Nijinsky. I love Buckle's wit in other writings, and I know he was writing a serious, scholarly biography, but I think it could have used a little mustard.



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