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Review by Toni Bentley on front page of NY Times Book Review"Ballet's Magic Kingdom," by Akim Volynsky


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#1 Farrell Fan

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Posted 24 January 2009 - 07:57 PM

I had never heard of Volynsky, but Toni Bentley says "don't worry, nobody has heard of him." This is the first English-language edition of his dance writings and accordng to Bentley he is one of the greatest writers in the history of ballet. The book covers the period from 1911 to 1925 and Bentley's review is both erudite and extremely entertaining. I trust someone who knows how will post a link. It sounds great. :wink:

#2 rg

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Posted 24 January 2009 - 08:31 PM

Bentley should speak for herself.
any number of us have heard of Volynsky.
his writings, in English, are collected in WHAT IS DANCE? for one, since this anthology first came out in 1983.
A now defunct dance journal called DANCE SCOPE included an excerpt from THE BOOK OF EXULTATION, A.V.’s most famous work in 1971.
Alexander Meinertz’s study of Volkova has much about Volynsky.
Balanchine certainly knew of him and even wrote a harsh, negative rev. for a Petrograd theater publication of a program of dances put on by Volynsky’s school.
Any number of studies of Vaganova certainly have mentioned A.Vs. as he was the first person to hire Vaganova as a pedagogue before she left his school to work in and eventually lead the state school of ballet, which as we now know would eventually bear her name.
Issues of Dance Research included earlier translations by this book’s scholar/translator, S. Rabinowitz.
Certainly BALLET’S MAGIC KINGDOM is the most extensive publication of Volynsky in English, but even rhetorically saying no one ever heard of him, is a bit much.

If the moderators prefer to transfer this link to ‘links’ I trust they will do so:

http://www.nytimes.c...e...gdom&st=cse

#3 Quiggin

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Posted 24 January 2009 - 10:09 PM

Laura Jacobs also has a review of the Volynsky book. It's in the current (February/March 2009) Bookforum, seemingly available online in full. It's titled "Barre Code." Here's a snippet:

The collection is full of surprises, such as the reference to the “triple turns” performed by Mathilda Kshesinskaya. Even today, a triple pirouette is risky, and I had no idea that back then female dancers were technically capable of them. It’s also interesting to learn that Pavlova, whom Volynsky elevated above all other ballerinas, performed pirouettes “with a frightened-looking face.” Some of the greatest classical dancers—poets of the art form—have not been great turners. We see this still, though with the heightened technical expectations of our extreme-sports era it goes unforgiven, the poetic being less valued, because less understood, than the athletic.


There's also an excellent article by Wendy Lesser on Flannery O'Conner in the same issue.

#4 kfw

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Posted 25 January 2009 - 05:51 AM

Laura Jacobs also has a review of the Volynsky book. It's in the current (February/March 2009) Bookforum, seemingly available online in full.

Thanks, Quiggin. Here's the link.

#5 leonid17

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Posted 25 January 2009 - 02:15 PM

Bentley should speak for herself.
any number of us have heard of Volynsky.
his writings, in English, are collected in WHAT IS DANCE? for one, since this anthology first came out in 1983.


I was first introduced to both Volynsky and his work through the 1966 book "Era of Russian Ballet" by Vera Krassovskaya which was bought by all of my ballet friends in London. I have not read the Dance Scope article you refer to rg but have read Alexander Meinertz wonderful book on Vera Volkova. Ekizabeth Souritz in her book "Soviet Choreographers in the 1920’s has a good number of detailed references to Volynsky.
Unlike Farrell Fan, I personally do not find the review by Ms Bentley erudite.
In fact, I found Ms Bentley's review irritating as she surrenders herself to making cheap comments such as, "... don’t worry, nobody has heard of him", or "The book is a must for anyone claiming a love of ballet, but it is also the perfect antidote for anyone — I know you’re out there — who still thinks ballet is merely a pretty spectacle with pretty girls (not that it also isn’t) also “Some might call them roving eyes, but I bow to Volynsky.” and " Whoa, boy! A neoprene tux, perhaps? Erudite no and the last comment tacky.

Apart from ballet, Volynsky is a significant figure in the Russian Symbolist movement.

For those who think they might be interested to purchase this book, I googled and found it available as low as almost half-price on two sites.

#6 bart

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Posted 25 January 2009 - 04:37 PM

The abook is available on Amazon at a significant discount, so I just ordered it. Thanks to Farrell Fan and the other posters for making us aware of the book.

By the way, if you decide to order it, and if you access Amazon by clicking the box at the top of Ballet Talk pages, BT gets a certain amount of the Amazon proceeds.

#7 Helene

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Posted 26 January 2009 - 02:25 AM

The review was published in the International Herald Tribune today, and, in my approach, her cutesy approach to serious topics hasn't changed much since she wrote "Winter Season".

#8 bart

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Posted 26 January 2009 - 06:05 AM

her cutesy approach to serious topics hasn't changed much since she wrote "Winter Season".

Yes. It's striking ... overdone ... and (worst!) unfunny. The word "jocular" comes to mind. What audience did she -- or the editors of the NY Times Book Review -- have in mind in taking this kind of approach to such a serious and specialised kind of book?

#9 Farrell Fan

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Posted 26 January 2009 - 09:30 AM

What audience did she -- or the editors of the NY Times Book Review -- have in mind in taking this kind of approach to such a serious and specialised kind of book?

Perhaps a larger audience than Volynsky has heretofore enjoyed.

#10 dirac

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Posted 26 January 2009 - 11:28 AM

Thanks for the link, Farrell Fan. The article was actually posted in the Links on Friday. I know this is confusing but the Times' publication dates on their links no longer conform to the date the articles actually appear in the paper, so reviews in Thursday's paper get posted in the Links on Wednesday, for example. It's potentially confusing but we try to conform the dates in the Links to avoid even greater confusion. :P

I thought Bentley's article was fine. She can gush and she has a tendency to coyness, but I can live with that, most of the time. Those who read the article in the print edition of the Review will note that this article was given choice real estate on the front page. Nice.

I'm somewhat surprised that Laura Jacobs is surprised to read that power pirouettes were not a strength of Pavlova's. Keith Money explores Pavlova's technique in some detail in his book and notes a memorable conversation Petipa has with his young dancer, telling her not to fret about tossing off turns, because her gifts lie elsewhere.

#11 leonid17

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Posted 26 January 2009 - 12:14 PM

What audience did she -- or the editors of the NY Times Book Review -- have in mind in taking this kind of approach to such a serious and specialised kind of book?

Perhaps a larger audience than Volynsky has heretofore enjoyed.


I think you may be overestimating Ms Bentley's effect on reviewing a fairly obscure subject, when anyone who is seriously interested in buying the book, can google to find half a dozen commentaries who one might trust a little more, due to the elevated academic status of the authors. I sincerely hope that the days when one could rely on the New York Times book reviews is not over. But it may well be over if Ms Bentley's literary style as exhibited in this instance, is to become a typical example on the NYT bill of fare for the treatment of other serious and important new books when reviewed.

#12 leonid17

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Posted 26 January 2009 - 12:58 PM

I'm somewhat surprised that Laura Jacobs is surprised to read that power pirouettes were not a strength of Pavlova's. Keith Money explores Pavlova's technique in some detail in his book and notes a memorable conversation Petipa has with his young dancer, telling her not to fret about tossing off turns, because her gifts lie elsewhere.


In the earliest part of Pavlova's career on the stage, she had progressed because she looked as if she belonged there and that her ethereal qualities were described as being of the style of Taglioni who was a great inspiration for Pavlova who later had prints of the dancer adorning her London home. In 1902, after seeking advise from Enrico Cecchetti who she had met in Moscow, she decided to employ him as her personal teacher in St. Petersburg in an effort to improve her stamina. In the summer of the following year, she and Vera Trefilova decided to travel to Milan to study with Caterina Beretta the teacher of Pierina Legnani, to strengthen their execution, especially pirouettes and fouettes sur le pointe. This indomitable pair made they same journey the following year to study again with Beretta. Thereafter, Cecchetti was at various time her teacher of choice to give her lessons that would enable her to have the stamina to give as many as eleven performances a week. I can tell you from a good number of members of her company that I met, interviewed and knew, that Pavlova had no weakness in pirouettes or come to that fouettes. Pavlova hated what she called vulgar display of multiple turns en pointe. Ninette de Valois said that when she saw Pavlova (late in her career) she only ever performed two pirouettes and perfectly, but she added, that remarkably Pavlova made it seem as if she had done many more.

#13 dirac

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Posted 26 January 2009 - 02:01 PM

Money's book is wonderful, BTW. I really recommend it.

#14 atm711

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Posted 27 January 2009 - 04:16 AM

Any review that publishes that familiar, gorgeous photo of Spessivtseva for the general public has my undying admiration. :wink:

#15 dirac

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Posted 27 January 2009 - 03:30 PM

Wasn't that nice? Lovely photograph, and it took up most of the page.


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