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What's your favorite dance book?


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#1 Alexandra

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Posted 08 December 1998 - 10:55 AM

I'm not going to go first this time! What books have you read that have made a difference to you? What books do you love?

#2 Giannina

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Posted 08 December 1998 - 11:07 AM

I've already posted a reply under XYZ or Miscellaneous but I'll repeat it; I love this topic.

As a child I practically memorized "Baron at the Ballet". Today I can go through the book, see the photographs, and once more I'm 12 years old and agog at what's before me. Today my favorite reading is ballet books. Mine are not as deep as some book mentioned as references by posters but I enjoy all of them. Some of my favorites:
"Dancing for Balanchine" by Merrill Ashley
"The Ballet Called 'Giselle'" by Cyril W. Beaumont
"Ballet" by Mary Clarke and Clement Crisp
"Ballet 101" by Greskovic
And (big surprise)" "A Dance Autobiography" by Makarova

Since I subscribe to both "Ballet Alert" and "Ballet View" I feel free to mention other magazines I enjoy, namely "Dancing Times" (England) and "International Dance" (Canada).

Giannina

[This message has been edited by Giannina Mooney (edited 12-08-98).]

#3 Steve Keeley

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Posted 08 December 1998 - 03:16 PM

I have so many "favorite" dance books that it would be hard to pick a "top ten" list. Many of these books are favorites for different reasons; a favorite collection of photos, a useful reference, etc. So rather than making a list, I'll talk about some favorites one at a time.

The one I want to talk about first is the one that made the biggest difference to me on my journey from clueless to knowledgable.

This book is "Ballet Steps, Practice to Performance" by Antony Dufort (Clarkson N. Potter, Inc; 1990; ISBN 0-517-57770-4). When I first got bitten by the ballet bug, I would recognize many moves and positions that recurred. I knew these these had names but had no idea of the vocabulary of ballet. This was one of the first books about ballet I bought, and the one I learned the most from.

"Ballet Steps" was written by a non-dancer for non-dancers; rather than trying to teach you how to do the steps, he teaches you how to recognize them and how they are put together in a performance. He worked with dancers from the Royal Ballet, watching them in class, asking them questions, and using them as models for his excellent drawings. His drawings of the steps are supplemented with photos of those same steps in a performance. (As a plus, one of the models he used most was Viviana Durante!)

After explaining some basic principles like turn-out, the book follows the form of a class; he starts with the barre, explaining plies, tendues, ronde de jambes, and so forth, then moves on to the center work and pas de deux. He explains not only how they are done but why they are significant and points out places in actual ballets where they are used. He wraps it up by re-creating sections of "Sleeping Beauty" and "Swan Lake," demonstrating how these moves are strung together to build a moment of dance.

This book made such a difference in my understanding and appreciation of ballet that I recommend it highly to anybody new to ballet. No longer will you say "I loved the part in Sleeping Beauty where she stands on one leg with the other bent behind her while the suitors turn her around"; instead you'll speak of the promenades in attitude.

(Maybe I should have posted this on the "New to Ballet" board.)

~Steve

#4 Ed Waffle

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Posted 08 December 1998 - 10:33 PM

A partial "me, too" follow-up to Giannina Mooney's list.

Greskovic's book is one of the best books I have encountered this year on ANY subject. No matter how short your shelf of ballet books is, this one belongs on it. Impeccably organized, delightfully written, obviously the work of a person with not only an abiding love for this art form but the rare ability to express it well, and do it for page after page.

Even if you know most of the content of this book, and many on this board may, it is worth getting for the quality of the writing.

More than one person on my Christmas list will find it under the tree on December 25.

The Beaumont book on Giselle was a revelation for me--it showed me that librettos for ballet actually were worked out in detail and actually mad sense, in their own terms. And his detailed descriptions of the choreography allowed me to see a lot that I had missed before reading it.

If you pick up Toni Bentley's "A Winter Season," be prepared to be up part of the night reading it. November, 1980 through February, 1981 with the New York City Ballet. Moving and beautiful, with a brilliant afterword that I just read again and which expresses why people want and need to dance as well as anything I have read.

AND DON'T FORGET--if you buy any books, dance or otherwise, do so through the B&N link on this web site. It works.

#5 Ed Waffle

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Posted 08 December 1998 - 11:33 PM

Somewhat off topic, but:

A non-dance book that I can recommend absolutely without reservation to lovers of orchestral music and opera is "Otto Klemperer, his life and times" by Peter Heyworth. I will finish volume I tonite and only wish that I had ordered both volumes from B&N (through this web site, of course) when I got the first one so I could begin Volume II right away.

Klemperer was 88 when he died. He suffered horribly from manic depression (or bipolar illness as it is also called) for most of his life. He conducted into his 80's and was one of the greatest artists of the 20th century.

My wife and I were listening last week to a recording he did of Beethoven's Third--very familiar music, we have 6 or 7 recordings of it, have probably heard it in the concert hall at least that many times over the years. A work we are both quite familiar with and love, one I have enjoyed following with a score. But as we were listening to the slow second movement, the so-called funeral march, the MOST familiar part of this work, it was brand new again.

Klemperer had a way of showing the sweeping architectural structure of a great work and at the same time was able to bring out fine details and nuances--it seems self-contradictory but he could do it.

Early and mid twentieth century orchestral conductors were allowed, even encouraged, to be imperious, haughty and difficult. Because of his illness Klemperer went way beyond even these standards of behavior. Singers and instrumentalists often refused to work with him, then returned saying that he made them sing or play in ways that they didn't think they could--not just better but on a higher plane entirely. Klemperer's admirers included Mahler and Strauss and while in conservatory he was considered a better pianist than Edwin Fischer, who became one of the most notable interperters of the Classical and Romantic piano literature. Music just poured from him.

Astounding book, extremely well written and researched. ISBN for vol 1 is 0 521 49509 1 and for vol 2 is 0 521 24488 9.

#6 Estelle

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Posted 10 December 1998 - 08:20 AM

Thanks for the reference for "Ballet steps", Steve!
I'm afraid finding it in France won't be easy, but it really sounds useful.

I hope that talking about dance bookstores isn't too off-topic in this thread...
I've never found a really satisfying bookstore from that point of view in France, but in London David Leonard's shop is a kind of paradise
for ballet lovers. I went there only once, but really would like to go there again, their collection of books (old and new) is very impressive!
Among the books which I found there: "Ballets Suedois"by Bengt Hager (it's in English, but there also was a French version of it).
It's a big coffee-table book about Rold de Mare's "Ballets Suedois", with great pictures and interesting texts.
I'm afraid that most of the dance books presently available in France fall into two categories: the "nice" big expensive ones with many pictures and uninteresting texts (I don't know how to translate "nunuche" into English...) -usually those ones deal with classical ballet-
and the "high brow" ones with no pictures, long complicated texts which often talk very little about dance and much more about psychoanalysis, graphic arts, etc. - usually those ones deal with modern dance. Books with good pictures *and* interesting analysis aren't so common...

#7 Margot

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Posted 10 December 1998 - 11:26 AM

Is Ballet Alert Online ready for this?... How many pages are we allowed?... Well this is going to be long, but as Steve said in the "Audiences" forum: "... since you asked..."!

Standing in front of my ballet bookcases, I pulled out books from different shelves, saying to myself: "I have to talk about this one" and then, "I cannot pass this one"... So here I am with books organized by categories, ready to tell my story according to my readings.

As a child, I was first interested in the picture books with lots of photographs. The first one my mother bought for me was: "Girl New Book of World Ballet" edited and photographed by Mike Davis, 1963. There is in this book a picture of Nadia Nerina in "La Fille Mal Gardée" which I remembered quite well and which gave me part of the answer to that question in quiz #13!

Then I read that book I already talked about in another forum: "Danseuse Étoile", Hachette, 1961, the autobiography of Claude Bessy of the Paris Opera Ballet. Even intended for children it is a fascinating book to read (the recount of the hours before the premiere of "L'Atlantide" where she more or less played her career is nerve recking) and I had quite a few of my friends read it and enjoy it, until six years ago, when someone borrowed it from me, moved without leaving a forwarding address, and I never saw my book again. Each trip to Paris is for me a quest to find this book, but so far without any success. (This IS a S.O.S. ! If anyone knows where to find a copy, please, please let me know).

Then, there was "Le monde merveilleux de la danse" (Wonderful World of dance) by Odette Joyeux, Hachette, 1967. It was a very good mixture of pictures and text about the history of dance. I guess it awakened my interest for something more than just pictures...

Later, when I got my hands on "Histoire du Ballet" by Ferdinando Reyna, I read it from cover to cover and I was hooked. (By the way, that one was also lost to the same person, but I was lucky enough to find it in a Paris bookshop in 1995.)

In that same Paris bookstore, (Librairie Bonaparte) specialized in theatrical arts books, I found another book by Claude Bessy. It was second-hand, but in good condition. It is called "La Danse et l'Enfant" subtitled "l'école de danse de l'Opéra de Paris", Hachette, 1981. All about the school of POB, pictures, pictures and more pictures. You can see Guilllem and Pietragalla still in the school. I love to browse through it.

I anyone is wondering about pointe shoes, I have the perfect book for you. It is called "The Pointe Book - Shoes, Training and Technique" by Janice Barringer and Sarah Schlesinger, a Dance Horizons Book, Princeton Book Company Publishers, 1991. Pointe shoes will hold no more secrets after you read this...

When I took the class on dance history with Vincent Warren, I did my paper on Tamara Karsavina. I discovered not only a beautiful and very talented dancer (partner to Vaslav Nijinsky) but also a beautiful woman, loved by everyone who knew her. Why do we always hear about Pavlova (who, according to everything I read was a great dancer, but a very nasty person) and nobody knows of Karsavina. Maybe because Pavlova traveled so much? Theater Street is the name of the street of which you can find the Kirov Ballet School where Karsavina studied when it was still called the Imperial School. It is also the title of her autobiography, which is very well written and very informative about russian ballet under the tzar.

There is this magnificent book called: "L'Art des Ballets Russes 1908-1929" by Militsa Pojarskaïa and Tatiana Volodina containing all the projects for backdrops and costumes of Les Ballets Russes. A beauty. Very expensive, but worth it. Gallimard, 1990.

I enjoyed every minute of reading "Balanchine, a biography" by Bernard Taper. I frequently go back to it, to check an information or for the simple pleasure of reading again...

Did you know that Maurice Béjart's father was a philosopher and that Maurice Béjart himself has a licence in philosophy? That makes very interesting reading of his memoirs. Two volumes: "Un instant dans la vie d'autrui - Mémoires 1" and "La vie de qui? Mémoires 2" Flammarion, 1979, 1996. The first one was reprinted two years ago when the second one was published. A must.

I agree with Giannina on "Dancing for Balanchine" by Merrill Ashley, E.P. Dutton, Inc. 1984. I bought that book in New York City (along with several others, my suitcase was full!) and when I got back home, it was the first one I picked up. I remember getting up in the morning, having breakfast and starting to read with my coffee... Then feeling hungry, looking up at the clock... it was 6 o'clock in the evening... I call that good reading!

I also loved "Split Seconds - A remembrance" by Tamara Geva, Limelight Editions, 1984. It was quite dramatic, full of suspense, very easy and fun to read.

Gelsey Kirkland's two books "Dancing on my grave" and "The Shape of Love", Doubleday, 1986 and 1990 are quite depressing! But I think they are a must if you love her dancing; I feel it is important to know how much she was troubled. But wait for a time when you're feeling good about yourself to read that...

"Prodigal Son - Dancing for Balanchine in a World of Pain and Magic" by Edward Villella with Larry Kaplan, Simon & Schuster, 1992, is a very down to earth book. I think it says it as it is, and that is a good thing. Very good reading. Dancing for Balanchine but from the male's point of view... quite unusual. Very different from Peter Martin's "Far from Denmark".

Christmas eve 1995. I worked on the evening shift, from 4 until midnight, got home, into bed with the book I had been reading for the past few days and... cried my eyes out the whole night, finishing it with dawn on Christmas morning (and I had to go back to work!) "A Dance against Time" by Diane Solway, Pocket Books, 1994. Eddie Stierle was a Joffrey Ballet dancer and choreographer who died of AIDS at 23. This book is so well written and not complacent. Diane Solway interviewed a lot of people to write this and of course there was good and there was bad about Stierle. And she says it all, but in a very fair way. She does not make an idol out of him (at times I have to admit I almost hated him) but she makes him so very human... and that is what it's all about isn't it? And that is why I cried for the last chapters, because he was a dancer, a choreographer, but also a man suffering and dying. I just bought Diane Solway's biography of Nureyev and I can't wait to read it...

On the canadian side, I loved Karen Kain's "Movement Never Lies: An Autobiography" with Stephen Godfrey and Penelope Reed Doob, McClelland & Stewart Inc., 1994. Clear and honest, just like everyone who knows her says she is. It's interesting to learn how even the great dancers blessed with success have their doubts, think they are unworthy and feel so lonely.

Max Wyman wrote a beautiful book on Evelyn Hart "An Intimate Portrait", McClelland & Stewart Inc., 1991; but I don't know, she seems really troubled, fighting eating disorder and lacking self-confidence. It was troubling to read that she has no time for her family (not even her sister's wedding day!); I adore her on stage, but I actually feel sorry for her in life... I don't mean to patronize her, it's just that to me she seems unhappy, and I think she is worthy of happiness (like everyone); but maybe it's that state of mind which makes her dancing so beautiful and moving? Isn't it a hard price to pay though, especially if she is the one to pay, and we get the benefits by watching???

One last word (will I be thrown out of Ballet Alert Online for taking too much space or will you have to close the thread and start a new one Alexandra?). A lot of dancers write their life story, since it seems to interest the fans. But a lot of them are wise enough to recognize that they are dancers, not writers and so they ask a writer to help them. Such is not the case with Maya Plissetskaya who wrote all by herself "Moi, Maya Plissetskaya" Gallimard, 1995, translated from the russian. It is so terribly bad, I could not get myself past 100 pages. Maybe it is the translation (though I doubt it, Gallimard being a very, very good publishing house), unfortunately, I can't judge that because I don't read russian, but some sentences don't even make sense. There is a note in the beginning saying that Plissetskaya strictly forbade the russian correctors to modify any syntax mistake in russian. The translator says she respected that... but adds that "as the reader can see, there are very few" (???) It's a shame, because I would be interested in the facts, but I can't bring myself to read it. I would love Alexandra's opinion on this (dancers writing).

For Estelle, did you read "Cléo de Mérode? Le ballet de ma vie", Pierre Horay, 1955, 1985? The Paris of the end of the 19th century is so well described here, you feel like you have been there...

Hope I did not bore you and that you are still awake ???

Thanks for putting up with me...

Margot



[This message has been edited by Margot (edited 12-10-98).]

#8 Estelle

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Posted 10 December 1998 - 12:20 PM

Wow, Margot, what a great list!
Since that thread is likely to become very long (and that's good!), perhaps it'd be interesting
to include a page somewhere on the site (something like the Library catalog)
listing all the ballets quoted in this thread, with the references (author, publisher, date, if possible ISBN number)?
Tom Parsons' ballet-modern FAQ includes a large bibliography, perhaps it'd be interesting to email
him the title quoted in this thread.

Margot, if I ever see "Danseuse etoile" in a bookshop I promise to warn you! :-)
About the Ballets Russes, the book by Martie Kahane "Les Ballets Russes a l'Opera" is quite interesting, with many pictures and documents. I liked Richard Shead's "Ballets Russes" too,
except that some photographs had odd colors.

#9 Jane Simpson

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Posted 10 December 1998 - 12:33 PM

Like Margot I could go on for some time - but maybe my all time favourite is a book called 'Gala Performance', published to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Royal Ballet - like Giannina with 'Baron at the Ballet', I pored over that till I could practically recite it!

Incidentally, Margot, there's a wonderful video called The Glory of the Kirov which has a precious few seconds of Karsavina in class - worth every penny of the price even if there was nothing else on the tape at all! So far as I know it's the only available film of her. She lived in England till she died in 1978 and although I never saw her myself she fairly often talked and demonstrated - especially about classical mime - and there's a book she wrote called Ballet Technique, illustrated with photos of Antoinette Sibley.

#10 Olivier

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Posted 10 December 1998 - 01:01 PM

Margot, just for your information...
If you enjoyed reading "Evelyn Hart...an intimate portrait"...
You might enjoy the film that was made about her, called "moment of light"...
If you enjoy Manuel Legris and Rex Harrington it should be a treat...

One of my favorite book...
"101 Stories of the Great Ballets" by G. Balanchine and F. Mason. I use it as a reference, every time I am learning a new role it's the first book I open...and it gives me an overlook of the ballets.
An other one was given to me by Arnold Spohr...
Martha Graham's "Blood Memory"...is full of inspiration !

#11 Alexandra

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Posted 10 December 1998 - 09:46 PM

Actually, I think we should start a new thread, because this one is so long. (But it's fine to write long, long posts, Margot, or anyone.)

Estelle, if you'd like to keep a book list, feel free. I already have four jobs!

Thanks all,

alexandra

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