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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Books: Autobiographies of Dancers

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The Dark Ages generally refers to the early Middle Ages – about 500 A.D. to 1000 A.D. (I am not good with dates, these may be slightly off!) – the period immediately following the fall of the Roman Empire, when the Vandals overran Europe and things were, well, confused.



As one who would have ranked socially with the 99%, I cannot say that I feel much nostalgia for the period. However, I can see how illiteracy, punishing manual labor, drinking bad water, living in distressed circumstances, and dying at a young age of disease or complications of childbirth might conceivably lessen one's interest in illuminated manuscripts.


Back to the topic, more or less -- has anyone read Frank Augustyn's book? He wrote one a year or two ago, but I never came across much about it.

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Thank you very much for the explanation Dirac ! :D

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dear Peregrin Took - what a great name! :D


i am also in australia - so i sympathise.


the answer to your question depends on which state you are in - if you have access to sydney, then the performing arts bookshop (assuming it still exists!) should be able to help you.


if in melbourne, i seem to recall that the giftshop in the south yarra arts centre had a few ballet books which you wouldn't get at Angus & Robertson or Dymocks - but still not many.


i am in perth, so i find that such specialised books really DO have to be ordered - usually via specialist bookstores. OR - if out of print - hunted down via 2nd hand bookshops.


alexandra's suggestion of AMAZON.COM is probably the most efficient, if you can buy anything online (i.e. if you have a credit card, and don't mind using it online, etc).


good luck to you!

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  • 10 months later...

All right, this is rather digging up an old post, and I should be going to sleep now ( :grinning: ) but, regarding Dancing on my Grave...


I'm 14 now, and I read it when I was almost about to turn 14, and really - It's not that disturbing, and I don't think in anyway it would encourage you to emulate her in any fashion. After I read her book, I did a search on Kazaa, and while I could only find a minute-and-a-half long snippet of her dancing from Wolftrap, I think it was, and about two minutes of something else, really, the only thing I thought about her was that it was sad. She looked like she could have been absolutely INCREDIBLE if only she'd frankly, had a decent psychotherapist from about the age of eight. I wouldn't describe it as a '17-and-above' book, because there's nothing really that horrible and shocking about it. All I think is that ... well, it was so sad that she wound up losing that further possibility, which from seeing her dance. I suppose it could be disturbing to some, but really ... I think it's just the maturity of the person reading it. It didn't frighten me at all at the age of 12 - I just thought that she was apparently a famous, so presumably at least very good, artist, who started out with several cards missing from her deck and went significantly downhill from their before she went up. That's all.

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I'd go back and look but my internet is cantankerous this evening.


Someone wrote they found Allegra Kents 'Once a Dancer' more disturbing than Gelseys book(s)... having completed Kent's book for the umpteenth time this evening (i love holidays!) I would have to wholeheartedly agree. I wanted to reach into the book and shake her. Here was someone completely out of control of her life, blindly following whatever the newest stranger in her life told her to the last letter. Following instructions with absolutely no thought for what was actually sane and sensible. Her manipulative relationship with her mother is particularly disturbing.


If Gelsey was hell bent on destruction, it was from her own choices. Allegra didn't seem to have enough of a spine to make any decisions herself. Am i being very acidic? Yes.. but the book has infuriated me.


Eventually she was put on antidepressants indicating she was unwell. Still, I have never read a book of someone so irresponsible and unwilling to take charge of their own life. *shakes head*


Of course her eccentricities are probably what made her great.


(Edit: I went a little over the top with my criticism)

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Isn't it funny how two people can read the same book and come up with two completely different reactions? :wacko:


While I will concede that Allegra Kent did seem to live in la-la land alot of the time. I completely disagree with calling her spineless! Her mother sounded like a kooky gorgon, yet Allegra survived. Mr. Balanchine was constantly telling her to stop having so many children, yet she had three. After her marriage to Bert Stern broke up she made ends meet as a single mother to those three kids, without any help from him. These are just a few examples.


It seems to me that so many people were trying to fit her into thier idea of what she should be; dutiful daughter, ballerina, biddable wife, happy and contented mother, that the only way she could fight back was to simply and quietly do her own thing. Even if that meant following a stupid and ultimately pointless path.

I know it sounds completely loopy :wink:, because I don't know her personally, but I quess I feel somewhat protective of her or her image precisely because she does seem to posess such a fragile mind.


Just felt compelled to add my two cents, hope you don't mind! :)

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Katharyn, why would you read for 'the umpteenth time," a book that infuriates you? After finishing "Dancing on my Grave," my impression was that Gelsey blamed others for everything bad that had happened to her. I wasn't left with that impression from Allegra's book. Toward the end of "Once a Dancer..." she says, "What I regret is that it took so long for me to emerge into a somewhat normal person who could handle everyday life with easy grace. But it did happen."

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What I liked about Kent's book was she really gave the reader a sense of her growth as a human being. It's normal that as we get older we understand ourselves better (we hope), but it's rare that a writer can show us that journey. As Farrell Fan said, I didn't get that with Kirkland's books. In the first one, she looked to place the blame everywhere else but herself, very much like a child. "He was mean to me, so I didn't do well. He doesn't like me. It's his fault." However, reading it, I do feel badly for her. Maybe a different writer could have come up with a better book on her life. In fact, the reviews of Kirkland's first book were, in a way, far more interesting and better written than the book itself. Especially notable were the 2 contrasting views in Ballet Review and Anita Finkel's in her own New Dance Review.

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I think perky makes some good points about Kent. It's difficult in today's very changed environment to imagine the kind of pressures that were put on women not only to marry, but in all aspects of their lives (they haven't all disappeared, I should note). When I read her book, I was particularly struck by the episode in which she visits a therapist to talk about her failing marriage, and upon hearing that Kent is pregnant, the therapist tells her to head back to her husband like a good wife. That would not happen today. Without entering into too much facile psycholanalyzing, I had the impression that Kent, rather than asserting her rights and self-interest, resorted to indirect forms of resistance against the demands of her mother, husband, and Balanchine, some of which were self-defeating. I'm sorry she didn't whomp Bert in the head with a polo mallet, but it's a matter for great regret, not only for Kent personally but for the art of ballet -- that Balanchine and she didn't come to a better understanding. She had a great career, but it could have been even more.



Regarding Kirkland, I think it's a simplification to say she blames others, not herself. There's been too much denunciation of Kirkland merely as a Bad Girl. Melissa Hayden remarked to Robert Tracy that Kirkland " got too much too soon without the right kind of support." It's been observed that men generally turn anger and resentment outward toward others; women are more likely to take it out on themselves -- one way or another. Kirkland does her share of blaming, and although obviously very bright seems to be unusually lacking in self-awareness. However, it's quite clear from her book that she was forever dissatisfied with herself – her looks weren't right, etc. – leading to dissatisfaction with others. That's a misfortune – and as in Kent's case, there were artistic repercussions as well as personal ones.


Farrell Fan, people re-read fascinating but infuriating books all the time, don't they?

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Does anyone know of any other bookes in the works,say another book by suzanne Farrell?

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I've read Kirkland's first book 3 times, once for myself, once to see if I thought it was OK for a teen reader, and once from a more professional perspective because I was curious about her mental state. I don't really know of much else about her life other than what I read in that book.


Based on those reads, I think that the label of "Bad Girl" logically descended on Kirkland. That book is a classic look into a disturbed mind; it ought to be required reading for psychologists. While Kent, in her autobiography, showed that she made some terrible choices, she could own up to them. Some of her choices originated from compassion, some were from fear; but she has the normal human ability to look back squarely at her actions and recognize her mistakes.


Kirkland, at the time of her writing "Dancing...." lacked that ability and was still operating from the egocentrism of a young child or of a disturbed adult mind. I know nothing of what became of her later other than that she's a sought after teacher. I hope that she was able to move past that early thinking because, as an artist onstage, she was brilliant and has much to offer dancers. It's a tragedy that her mind was so fragile that her dance career bloomed for so short a time.

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