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#1 Alexandra

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Posted 21 June 1999 - 04:11 PM

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.)

Alexandra

#2 dirac

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Posted 22 June 1999 - 12:38 PM

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.

#3 Guest_Lugo_*

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Posted 23 June 1999 - 12:52 AM

Thanks Alexandra and Dirac Posted Image - 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).]

#4 Alexandra

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Posted 23 June 1999 - 09:17 AM

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

#5 Guest_Lugo_*

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Posted 24 June 1999 - 09:16 PM

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. Posted Image

Much Aloha

#6 Nanatchka

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Posted 28 June 1999 - 09:52 PM

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).]

#7 Alexandra

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Posted 28 June 1999 - 11:19 PM

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.

Alexandra

#8 Jane Simpson

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Posted 29 June 1999 - 09:37 AM

Nanatchka, is it important that David Vaughan is English? After all, most of the people who write about Balanchine are American...

Jane (also English)

#9 Nanatchka

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Posted 29 June 1999 - 08:48 PM

No Jane, it isn't important in the sense that British is better/worse, only interesting that we are discussning British bios of a British choreographer. Perhaps the different approaches reflect a generational shift, come to think of it. The old Britian, and the new. The same shift as in the public deportment of the royal family. And Alexandra, while of course I admire and appreciate David Vaughn's recognition of the public/private distinction, I am also frustrated because he knows soooo much that I would like to know myself. Nosy of me.

#10 Guest_Stuart Sweeney_*

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Posted 30 June 1999 - 12:59 AM

Nantchka, I don't think it's just being nosy. The background that Kavanagh gives provides insights into Ashton and helps tp put in context the pieces we see on the stage.

The party-going Ashton gives rise to a piece like 'Facade', his spoofs with Helpmann inspiring the sistere in 'Cinderella' and the forlorn lover inspiring many of the works. His lack of a full ballet or musical training and his technical shortcomings as a dancer resulting in an insecurity that gives rise to Kavanagh's account of his jealous anger at Helpmann's choreographic work for Sadler's Wells during the War.

Interestingly, the few UK dance folk who I have spoken to about the book really enjoyed it and like me found it an absorbing and easy read. For all his faults, I ended up finding Ashton more interesting by the end of the book and it certainly made me want to see more of his work.

I just loved the anecdote of him using his free public transport pass to attend a engagement where he would then travel in a Royal carriage.

#11 dirac

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Posted 30 June 1999 - 12:54 PM

I got a kick out of those photographs of him as Queen Victoria -- he's a dead ringer -- and as Gertrude and Alice with Helpmann. A minor point -- I don't think it was his worry about his relative lack of training that made him resent Helpmann so much as professional jealousy and, more important, Helpmann's bent toward narrative ballet and emphasis on acting was changing the company's dance focus, hence Symphonic Variations. Kavanagh does indicate that Ashton felt some insecurity vis-a-vis Balanchine, however.


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