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Books: Favorite books by dancers

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I'm presently in Berkeley, and recently visited two used books bookstores which both have a rather large collection of dance books. But it's hard to choose (all the more that I can't spend too much on it), so I'm requesting the advice of the readers of this board. Here is a list of some books I saw, what do you think about them (good or bad comments are welcome)?:


-Lincoln Kirstein, "Portrait of Mr B"

-Lincoln Kirstein, "30 years, the NYCB"

-Francis Mason, "I remember Balanchine"

-Garis, "Following Balanchine"

-B. Taper, "Balanchine"

-R. Buckle, "Balanchine"

-R. Buckle, "Nijinsky"

-R. Buckle, "Diaghilev"

-Bronislava Nijinska, "Early memoirs"

-Margot Fonteyn, "A dancer's world"

-Sorrell, "The dancer's image"

-Sorrell, "The dance has many faces"

-Sorrell, "Dance in its time"

-D. Jowitt, "Time and the dancing image"

-Grosland, "Ballet Carnival"

-Kay Ambrose, "The ballet lover's companion"

-Bird, "Bird's eye view"

-Robert (?), "The Borzoi book of ballets"

-Chazin- Bennahum, "The ballets of Antony Tudor"

-Easton, "No intermissions (Agnes De Mille)"

-Gherman, "Agnes De Mille, dancing off the earth"


And also a few modern-dance related books (hoping that it isn't too unappropriate):


-Agnes De Mille, "Martha"

-Armitage, "Martha Graham, the early years"

-"Doris Humphrey, an artist first"

-Cohen, "The modern dance"

-Graff, "Stepping left"

-Siegel, "Days on earth (Humphrey)"


It's a long list, but perhaps the comments would be useful to some other readers of this board too!

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Guest Giannina

Of all the Balanchine biographies I've read I liked Garis's the least. Can't remember why now, and I could very well be in the minority. Liked Taper and Mason on Balanchine; also "Ballets of Antony Tudor".


Green, green, green....



P.S. Who's in Berkeley: Alexandra or Estelle?


[This message has been edited by Giannina Mooney (edited May 09, 2000).]

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Estelle is in Berkeley. Alexandra is just posting because her internet access is dicey. She's at a conference.

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Guest Leigh Witchel

GET THE KIRSTEIN BOOKS. The Mason book is also fascinating, but Kirstein is an essential view on Balanchine. The essay "A Ballet Master's Belief" in Portrait of Mr. B is important.


I'd probably get the Nijinska book too, because I'm very curious about her right now.



Leigh Witchel -dae@panix.com

Personal Page and Dance Writing

Dance as Ever

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"Ballets of Antony Tudor"!

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Kirstein's "30 Years" is wonderful for its insider perspective on company history, and fascinating for Kirstein's unique writing style and vocabulary.


As someone who missed City Ballet's "glory years," I thoroughly enjoyed reading Garis and discovering the company through his eyes. The book also has photos I hadn't seen elsewhere. Then again the conceit out of which he writes -- the idea that he can fathom the workings of Balanchine's mind -- really is conceited (not that I blame him for trying, or that it isn't fascinating conjecture), and there are other places too where he sounds arrogant, like in his snobby dismissal of Dances at a Gathering.


I love having all the different memories and points of view in the Mason compilation, and with its short chapters it makes convenient bedtime reading!

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Guest atm711

Don't leave without Nijinska's Memoirs--a truly superb book.


The Borzoi book brings back memories---I had a copy of it at one time, I think it was published in the l940's. I remember wonderful photos of Toumanova.


I also second KFW's opinion on the Garis book.




[This message has been edited by atm711 (edited May 09, 2000).]

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All three Buckle books are absolute gems - his meticulous research and his passion for Diaghilev and Balanchine alone would recommend them, but added to this is his wonderfully spare and witty prose. Even if you aren't particularly interested in the subjects, his books are excellently entertaining to read.


And I can testify to this. Years ago when I was young and not the slightest bit interested in ballet (had never even seen one, in fact) I couldn't wait to read his ballet reviews in the 'Sunday Times' and later the 'Observer' because they made me laugh out loud.


I think that says it all about his qualities as a writer.

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Guest Kevin Ng

I have also thoroughly enjoyed reading Garis' book "Following Balanchine", and learnt a lot about the particular qualities of each of Balanchine's ballets. Is Garis still active as a writer, by the way?

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Guest ismeneb

Buckle's 'Nijinsky' and 'Diaghilev' are must-haves, as previously said (they do overlap, obviously, from time to time, but their different focuses yield different focuses). I also think Agnes de Mille's 'Martha' is magnificent, a tremendously vivid, insightful history of American modern dance as well as a sharply observant, personal view of Graham. It's obviously not objective, but De Mille was a fine writer by any standards. Easton, de Mille's biographer, is staider in style but did her proud, I thought, in 'No Intermissions' (de Mille had the most interesting life imaginable). The Tudor biog by Chazin-Bennahum (which I haven't read) had a lukewarm review in 'Dance Now' by Allen Robertson (writer with Donald Hutera of the useful 'The Dance Handbook', about to be reissued updated). He found it unreliable factually, particularly about the English aspect of his career and life, and was superficial in its examination of Tudor's work, but thought it superior to Donna Perlmutter's biography 'Shadowplay'.

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Guest Paul W



Definitely Nijinska's "Early Memoirs" !! Many of the others may be excellent, I can't comment on them, and perhaps your interests and focus may be more toward the making of dance choreography. But "Early Memoirs" was sentimental, touching, enjoyable to read, and gave me a better understanding of an amazing artistic period at the turn of the century in Russia and Europe.

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I second Leigh about the Kirstein books, with the caveat that he is an unashamed propagandist with a number of axes to grind,in other words very far from an objective observer. For example, in his book "Movement and Metaphor" (quoting title from memory)which describes epochal ballets and their influence through a century or two, he includes exactly one Ashton ballet! I'm of two minds about the Buckle books. I think his books tend to lack shape and his powers of analysis are not great, but on the other hand there's really no place else to go for a complete biography of Balanchine, for example. You need to have them. Taper's book on Balanchine originated as a magazine article and shows it, becoming very sketchy towards the end. I kind of liked Garis' book. His approach is self-absorbed, not to say eccentric, but while there's lots of guff about his mental "collaboration" with Balanchine, there's also insightful material on the relationship between Balanchine and Stravinsky, for instance. Also, he was friendly with people like Edwin Denby and B.H. Haggin who were also writing about ballet and has interesting things to say about them. I loved Nijinska's book. "No Intermissions" was a problem for me -- I find de Mille's life in some ways more interesting than her work and was eager to read this, but it was written by a professional biographer with not much background in dance, and so she groups de Mille with Balanchine, Ashton, and Tudor as if all four of them were working on the same artistic level -- just doesn't seem to know the difference. De Mille's book on Graham should be read but it is unashamedly partisan, ultimately too much so for me. I got a kick out of the anecdote describing Erick Hawkins auditioning for Rodgers and Hammerstein, though. Hope this helps.

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Sorry to reply so late, but I've been quite busy since I came back,

and also there have been some computer problems...


It was a tough choice, with many additional parameters (price,

weight in my suitcase, also I didn't have enough time to go back to one of the bookstores I had previously visited...) So I "only" bought Kirstein's 2 books,

Taper's biography, and DeMille's book about Graham. I wish I could have

bought more!


In case anybody in the region of Berkeley is interested, the bookstores were "Moe's" (Telegraph Avenue) and "Black Oak".

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Welcome back, Estelle! Please report on the books as you read them. It may interest some who haven't read them yet but will be inspired to do so, and your view of the books will be interesting, I'm sure.


BTW, I hope you noticed that Jose Martinez posted on alt.arts.ballet this morning.

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