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Books for Beginners

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#1 Alexandra


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Posted 12 June 2000 - 11:31 AM

Cliff asked on another thread for some book recommendations, and I thought it might be helpful to have a whole thread on this, as I suspect there are a lot of people reading this board, but not posting yet, who may have the same question.

Two requests, if I may. One, two or three recommendations for the very best FIRST books someone should read. We've had a few "favorite books" threads, so please gear this one specifically to someone starting out. Second, I thought it might be interesting if people posted the first two or three ballet books they read, and something about them.

First, book recommendations for beginners. Victoria recommended Robert Greskovic's "Ballet 101" I think that is an excellent beginner book, and it was written specifically for the adult beginner (although longtimers find interesting things in it as well).

I'd also recommend Balanchine's Stories of the Great Ballets, written/compiled by Francis Mason. This has been reissued again; it's available in the Kennedy Center bookstore. It's invaluable for information about different productions of "the classics," but there are also small essays and descriptions about literally hundreds of other ballets and so it's a great book to have around when someone starts talking about "Cakewalk" or "Rodeo" and you don't know what they're talking about. There's also an essay in here by Balanchine that tells you how to look at ballet, and learning from a master is never a bad idea Posted Image

Third, I'd recommend picking up a biography of any dancer who interests you. It might not be someone you've actually seen, but at least someone you've heard about -- Baryshnikov, Nureyev, Farrell. Often reading someone's story and learning about their obsession for ballet, and then the roles they danced, and how they felt about it, etc., can open a very different window on that world, and also whet the appetite to read more.

My first books:

The first two books I read about ballet were Keith Money's "Margot Fonteyn, the Making of a Legend" and John Gruen's "The World of Ballet." I had gone to the D.C. Public Library and found exactly six books on ballet, none of them appealing (I don't even remember what they were, but they were about things I knew nothing about, and were old and dusty and had no photos). So I went to Brentanos, since this was in the days before Super Stores, and bought the only two books they had, as above.

The Fonteyn book fascinated me (Fonteyn was the first ballerina I'd seen). She'd danced so many roles, and, except for "Swan Lake" and "Sleeping Beauty," I'd never heard of any of them. But I returned to this book again and again as I began to go to the ballet and would see a performance that didn't make sense to me, or an interpretation I found unsatisfactory and try to find a photo of Margot in the same role, and I often learned more from the photo about the ballet than I had from the live performance.

The Gruen book I found a bit distasteful -- it's a gossip book, interviews with all the major stars of the day (1976) -- but harmless, especially by today's standards. Again, it was a bit like being thrown in at the deep end, because these were stars everyone else knew about talking about their roles, but I learned a lot.

#2 Giannina


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Posted 12 June 2000 - 11:50 AM

The first "ballet history book" I read was "Ballet, an Illustrated History" by Mary Clarke and Clement Crisp. It was full of fascinating information yet an easy history book to read.


#3 Victoria Leigh

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Posted 12 June 2000 - 05:14 PM

I love the biographies too! The first books I remember reading, at about 10 years old or so, were Karsavina's "Theatre Street" and the bio of Anna Pavlova. Both wonderful!

#4 dirac


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Posted 16 June 2000 - 05:52 PM

It's not really a ballet book per se, but I was introduced to ballet between book covers by Noel Streatfeild's "Ballet Shoes",one of several "Shoe" related books she wrote for children. (It might appear that I'm misspelling her name, but I'm pretty sure that's correct.) I loved it when I was little and it holds up just fine today. My first ballet book proper was Agnes de Mille's "Book of the Dance", which is lavishly illustrated and has a typically pungent text. It's horribly out of date now, but I'd still recommend it, especially for the sections on the beginnings of ballet. I also came across by sheer accident a quaint little volume by Ashton's friend William Chappell on Fonteyn, with photographs by Cecil Beaton. I could not make much of the text at that time (it seems droll today), but Beaton posed her skillfully and she looks beautiful. I'd never seen her on film at that point, but I bought it because of the pictures.

I'd also endorse "Stories of the Great Ballets" -- it's the closest ballet comes to Milton Cross. There's one more volume whose name escapes me that I found useful as a reference and I'll look it up.

I also remember looking at a few books devoted exclusively to technique, but didn't get much out of those until I had seen more.

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