canbelto

Who needs a biography?

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There is hardly a ballet biography written it the last 20 years that isn't flawed in some way or other. What is the worst sin for me is when events are mentioned or discussed to which there were no witnesses. Rudolf Nureyev suffers more than most he a most distinguished artist deserves better. Of the biographies for me, only Diane Solway's biography comes nearest to being both accurate and acceptable. I am still waiting a betterl biography of this man who invoked an extraordinary experience for so many over a long period of times.

Dame Margot Fonteyn in death, has been generally vulgarly exploited in mostly unreadable books and this most distinguished artist and woman. never leaves the pages that have been written. I am still looking to find a biographe that reveals the woman I admired for 30 years across the footlights and who I briefly knew in her older age. I was totally in awe at her elegance beauty of spirit and her wholehearted belief in people as being important in themselves. Recently I heard a number of her most distinguished colleagues talk in hushed tones about the beauty of this person, her kindnesses and assistance and her absolute dedication in performing even when not fit to do so and come off stage and go into her dressing room where it was revealed that her feet were bleeding and was then only concerned about talking about the people who had come to visit her. Her work ethic was legendary and little of her sincerity is portrayed in her biographers and the real women, is lost in a milieu created by scandal sheet journalism. If she had a fauit, it was that of an innocent nature.

The only two books in the last few decades that I have read and enjoyed as a portrait of a life associated with dance are, Alexander Meinertz's biography of Vera Volkova which made me weep at her treatment by Ninette de Valois and the gang at the Royal Danish ballet. I have also enjoyed the autobiography of Tamara Finch who, I met through the author Nesta MacDonald in which she colourfully describes her extraordinary testing childhood in a matter without any self pity and colourfully portrays her balletic life with the Ballet Russe. You feel this is a woman who always stood strong even when cruelly betrayed.

PS

I would also love to read a biography of Delibes. I know their is a book by Janet Mullany, (2005) but have yet to read or even find it.

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While there's lots written about her, there's really no major, satisfactory biography of Maria Tallchief. Her own latest effort, with Larry Kaplan, selectively highlights certain details and passes over others.

Generally speaking, that's what autobiographies do (or any biography - the writer is creating a narrative, where some things in a life are emphasized, others deleted or downplayed. Some are more candid than others, of course. I understand why there were some things Tallchief didn't want to go into, but her book is actually less reticent than Farrell's, for example.

It's too bad Diana Adams never wrote a memoir. I gather that she had retreated somewhat from the ballet world at the time of her death, so perhaps she didn't want to, but she was one of the crucial ballerinas at NYCB and seemed a most intelligent and thoughtful observer. She worked with de Mille on Broadway, married Tudor - I wonder what that was like -- and was muse and lover to Balanchine. I'm sure it would have been a great read.

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Leonid's post reminds me that you should be careful what you wish for. Those Nureyev 'biographies' are a perfect example of an artistic giant brought low by a bunch of opportunist scribblers and the trash produced by Peter Watson and Carolyn Soutar fit only for the bonfire.

I'd rather make do with my memories than have to read more by those kind of 'writers'.

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She worked with de Mille on Broadway, married Tudor - I wonder what that was like -- and was muse and lover to Balanchine. I'm sure it would have been a great read.

Wow--what a Freudian slip---- In a sense, the poor girl did marry Tudor (it was Hugh Laing she married).

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While there's lots written about her, there's really no major, satisfactory biography of Maria Tallchief. Her own latest effort, with Larry Kaplan, selectively highlights certain details and passes over others.

Generally speaking, that's what autobiographies do (or any biography - the writer is creating a narrative, where some things in a life are emphasized, others deleted or downplayed. Some are more candid than others, of course. I understand why there were some things Tallchief didn't want to go into, but her book is actually less reticent than Farrell's, for example.

It's too bad Diana Adams never wrote a memoir. I gather that she had retreated somewhat from the ballet world at the time of her death, so perhaps she didn't want to, but she was one of the crucial ballerinas at NYCB and seemed a most intelligent and thoughtful observer. She worked with de Mille on Broadway, married Tudor - I wonder what that was like -- and was muse and lover to Balanchine. I'm sure it would have been a great read.

Well I guess I was trying to respond to the spirit of this topic's subtitle, which asks who we think needs a "real" biography. Clearly there's no consensus here! So, to begin to articulate my definition, I don't count a ghost-written memoir as a "real" biography. Or to use the word in my post, it doesn't satisfy me.

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She worked with de Mille on Broadway, married Tudor - I wonder what that was like -- and was muse and lover to Balanchine. I'm sure it would have been a great read.

Wow--what a Freudian slip---- In a sense, the poor girl did marry Tudor (it was Hugh Laing she married).

Thank you, atm711. What a slip! It does appear that the whole business was some kind of strange menage a trois.

Well I guess I was trying to respond to the spirit of this topic's subtitle, which asks who we think needs a "real" biography.

I understand, Ray. A bio is always welcome alongside a memoir. I just thought that Tallchief's was actually more forthright than many others.

I would suggest, though, that the fact of a book's being ghostwritten is less important than whether or not the ghostwriter has done his job. The goal of a ghostwriter is to make the voice of the memoirist more clear, not less so, and to help the person produce a well structured and publishable narrative, which most non-writers cannot do for themselves in the same way most people can't argue for themselves in court -- it's a different skill altogether.

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Well I guess I was trying to respond to the spirit of this topic's subtitle, which asks who we think needs a "real" biography.

I understand, Ray. A bio is always welcome alongside a memoir. I just thought that Tallchief's was actually more forthright than many others.

I would suggest, though, that the fact of a book's being ghostwritten is less important than whether or not the ghostwriter has done his job. The goal of a ghostwriter is to make the voice of the memoirist more clear, not less so, and to help the person produce a well structured and publishable narrative, which most non-writers cannot do for themselves in the same way most people can't argue for themselves in court -- it's a different skill altogether.

I agree. I guess I'm enough of a nerd that I want a hefty, scholarly bio of MT"s life and times (like we have for Robbins and Diaghilev).

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I agree with Ray. In the NYCB Week 8 thread ("A Midsummer Night's Dream), there was a discussion of dancers who reached the American public beyond the ballet audience, and Tallchief was one not mentioned. She intersected Balanchine's creative life at a critical period, from Ballet Russe (post WWII incarnation) to Ballet Society to NYCB, through the transition to Suzanne Farrell, as well as his personal life. It's such a rich period.

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I agree with Ray. In the NYCB Week 8 thread ("A Midsummer Night's Dream), there was a discussion of dancers who reached the American public beyond the ballet audience, and Tallchief was one not mentioned. She intersected Balanchine's creative life at a critical period, from Ballet Russe (post WWII incarnation) to Ballet Society to NYCB, through the transition to Suzanne Farrell, as well as his personal life. It's such a rich period.

Helene's response reinforces that for me a biography has to be about more than just the person (and her "voice") to be interesting. Which isn't to say that memoirs can't illuminate, entertain, and explain; we just have too many of them in the dance field (in proportion to good biographies).

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I guess I don't see any area of 'disagreement' here. :blush:

I was not, in fact, disagreeing initially. I didn't say that a memoir was the same as a bio, or that the two fulfill the same purpose. The two do share in common, as I said, the shaping of a narrative out of a life, which requires the writer(s) to make decisions about what gets in and what stays out. A biographer takes a different view and presumably a more objective one (not always the case; some biographers take the role of advocate -or prosecutor). Nowhere did I say that Tallchief's memoir rendered a biography unnecessary, only that hers was more forthcoming than others I've read. I trust this clarifies things. :bow:

There is hardly a ballet biography written it the last 20 years that isn't flawed in some way or other.

You should try Alexandra's bio of Kronstam, if you haven't already, leonid. I think you'd really like her approach.

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Jacques d'Amboise should write an autobiography. That could be a terrific book.

A couple of years ago at a NYCB guild seminar, he read from the autobiography he'd been working on. As I remember it was a very amusing anecdote about Lincoln Kirstein inviting Jacques and Carolyn to dinner and then disappearing. I agree that Jacques's autobiography would be great fun. I hope he's still working on it.

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Thanks, Farrell Fan. I hope he's still working on it, too.

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Most of the formats we've been talking about -- biography, memoir, ghost-written memoir, etc. -- focus on the major figures but exclude the experiences, points of view, and contributions of those who are not so well known. If every star in the world had a biography, we would learn a lot about stars. How much, however, would we learn about the full complexity of the ballet world?

What about an oral history project focusing on less well-known participants, a kind of "history from the bottom up." An example would be a project devoted to NYCB during it's transition from City Center to Lincoln Center, or the effect on the company of Balanchine's illness and death. Similar topics could be devised for almost every major company in the world.

There are plenty of former students, corps members and behind-the-scenes people who might add tremendously to our knowledge of the period or the person, if given the chance to open up in front of a well-trained, well-prepared interviewer. The material gathered, organized, and conserved might teach us things about ballet we don't always think to ask about.

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I agree. I guess I'm enough of a nerd that I want a hefty, scholarly bio of MT"s life and times (like we have for Robbins and Diaghilev).

And I'm such a greedy girl that I want them all -- the hefty and scholarly as well as the selective and gossipy!

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I want more autobiographies from NYC ballet dancers (principals, soloists and corps) from all periods (when Balanchine was alive):

Patricia "Patty" McBride and Pat McBride

Arthur Mitchell

Karin von Aroldingen (perhaps an impossibility)

Violette Verdy (I remember a very thin biography decades ago)

Conrad Ludlow (perhaps like McBride, he is too nice and modest to consider the idea)

Best,

N.

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Now what I want is more time to read all this stuff!

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I want more autobiographies from NYC ballet dancers (principals, soloists and corps) from all periods (when Balanchine was alive):

So do I! As you may know, von Aroldingen wrote about cooking with Balanchine, and shared some of their recipes, in three separate issues of Ballet Review (Winter 2003, Spring and Summer 2004).

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She sure did. I'd like to read a memoir of hers, although by me she could skimp on the food stuff, frankly. I know Balanchine was fond of cooking analogies but enough already. (Also, some of the recipes were annoyingly vague. What kind of spices, Karin? How much? Inexpert cooks need to know.) Ashton was devoted to his garden, but I don't imagine BR ever thought of having Alexander Grant write "Trimming the Topiaries for Fred," as potentially enlightening as such a piece might have been......

Thanks for pulling up this old thread, Neryssa. I would love to read a book from Verdy.

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I want more autobiographies from NYC ballet dancers (principals, soloists and corps) from all periods (when Balanchine was alive):

Patricia "Patty" McBride and Pat McBride

Arthur Mitchell

Karin von Aroldingen (perhaps an impossibility)

Violette Verdy (I remember a very thin biography decades ago)

Conrad Ludlow (perhaps like McBride, he is too nice and modest to consider the idea)

Best,

N.

Absolutely, Neryssa, to all those, especially Patty McBride and the indispensable Verdy

In addition to that, Diana Adams, as many people have said;

Melissa Hayden

Patricia Wilde

LeClercq of course though there are some books about her

Kyra Nichols!

Nadia Nerina, as said earlier

Svetlana Beriosova

Irina Kolpakova

...

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A biography of Catherine Littlefield is long overdue flowers.gif

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A biography of Catherine Littlefield is long overdue flowers.gif

Yes it is. Several colleagues have worked on projects over the years that have dealt with Littlefield tangentially, but I don't know of anything that puts her in the center of her story. And yet, she was a major player in the early life of ballet in the US.

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1. Yuri Soloviev - what an incredibly talented dancers and such a tragic life. Would love to read more about him and what he went through.

2. Henry Danton - born in 1919 and still teaching and staging ballets at 96, his career has spanned through nearly the entire 20th century as well as nearly every continent. Although not as famous as many listed, he has worked with nearly everyone, in schools all over the world, and has such incredible stories and insight that I don't know if a single volume would do it justice.

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Pierina Legnani - if anyone can find enough detail about both her life and career, it should be written into a book. In fact, I could probably do that if I get into the right situation to do so...

And of course, Petipa! Although I have heard that Professor Roland John Wiley is currently writing Petipa's biography, anybody here know anything about that?

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2. Henry Danton - born in 1919 and still teaching and staging ballets at 96, his career has spanned through nearly the entire 20th century as well as nearly every continent. Although not as famous as many listed, he has worked with nearly everyone, in schools all over the world, and has such incredible stories and insight that I don't know if a single volume would do it justice.

His article in a recent issue of Ballet Review on staging the Sugar Plum Fairy variation was fascinating.

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