Helene

Different Drummer: The Life of Kenneth MacMillan

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I'm not sure whether or not I'll be bothering with this book as MacMillan already has a very factual biography written by Edward Thorpe and although it was written whilst KM was alive, this second one will be written while Lady MacMillan is alive and is likely therefore to be just as overly respectful of his memory as the Thorpe book is. I seem to remember in Lynn Seymour's autobiography how she related a very dark episode concerning KM that seemed to indicate an innate viciousness rather than the popular (and carefully nurtured) persona of the tortured artist. What would interest me would be an explanation as to why many of his more worthwhile earlier works have been totally neglected (perhaps discarded?) at the expense of later seedier things such as Different Drummer and Judas Tree. By the way, Judas Tree gets yet another revival this autumn as part of the celebrations of the 80th anniversary of MacMillan's birth and this is just part of a series of events to mark the occasion, including a panel of psychoanalysts offering a seminar on KM and his ballets.

I don't seem to remember much being done to mark the 100th anniversary of Ashton's birth.

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It is a conundrum with bios, especially when the living have censorship power, explicit or implicit. By the time the relevant people have died, so have so many who could balance the record, instead of having a post-death waterfall of information, a lot of which can no longer be verified in first person.

I've had a hard time taking Macmillan The Leader seriously after reading Seymour's book, and she wrote it in 1994 while nearly all of the parties were alive: Gable, de Valois, Ashton, Macmillan, Soames among the major ones. But she always could be dismissed as "Crazy Lynn".

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It is a conundrum with bios, especially when the living have censorship power, explicit or implicit. By the time the relevant people have died, so have so many who could balance the record, instead of having a post-death waterfall of information, a lot of which can no longer be verified in first person.

I've had a hard time taking Macmillan The Leader seriously after reading Seymour's book, and she wrote it in 1994 while nearly all of the parties were alive: Gable, de Valois, Ashton, Macmillan, Soames among the major ones. But she always could be dismissed as "Crazy Lynn".

I do not believe in the "Crazy Lynn". She was definitely unconventional in some ways, but I can say having spent a number of weekends in her home when a girlfriend of mine was nanny to her twins. Miss Seymour's home was a model of really good housekeeping on her part, the boys were very happy, bright and balanced and she appeared to be exactly the same and also a little serious.

The sadness was that MacMillan's era of Director of the Royal Ballet was his undoing and the undoing of the Royal Ballet, from which despite having some better dancers than he had at his disposal, it is going downhill due to its current repertoire of destruction.

I hope this book does not include an element of the myth making. MacMillan was a creator of about six fairly important one act ballets and a number of one or two act ballets which were in error, produced as three act works and that is a consensus among friends across Europe and in the USA.

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Here's a biographical note from Parry's publisher:

http://www.faber.co.uk/author/jann-parry

I've only read a couple of her reviews that I can recall. Is anyone familiar with her work in greater detail? Do her reviews or shorter pieces have qualities which might suggest a good, well-researched, thoughtful book?

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Here's a biographical note from Parry's publisher:

http://www.faber.co.uk/author/jann-parry

I've only read a couple of her reviews that I can recall. Is anyone familiar with her work in greater detail? Do her reviews or shorter pieces have qualities which might suggest a good, well-researched, thoughtful book?

Being based in London, I should be able to answer the question. With no regrets, I can say that I have not read Jann Parry for many years along with a fair number of other writers on ballet in London newspapers.

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I do not believe in the "Crazy Lynn".

I don't either, but, unfortunately, I've heard her dismissed too often.

Her's is my favorite memoir, because she's got such a unique voice. As horrific as the "Romeo and Juliet" story ended up being particularly because of Macmillan, the one that left me chilled to the bone was her description of moving to post-war London to study at the school and being told to "pull up her socks".

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I think that there is a kind of stereotype amongst Royal Ballet dancers and Lynn Seymour didn't fit that stereotype at all. I remember going to a talk she gave for the Ballet Association many years ago where she came across as exceptionally articulate and blisteringly honest (one could describe her dancing as the same) and I would believe totally anything she has to say regarding her time with the RB because she was such a very straight talking woman.

As for Jann Parry, I would describe her as a 'house critic' for the RB (there’s more than one) and I very much sympathize with Leonid's reaction to her reviews.

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Leonid wrote

"I hope this book does not include an element of myth making".

I think you may be disappointed as I suspect that myth-making is what it is all about, hence the seminar at Imperial and all the other hoopla!.

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"[C]ommissioned by Deborah Macmillan" is all I need to know. Was the earlier bio not reverential enough?

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An authorized biography of this kind isn't necessarily a whitewash or an exercise in glorification, although of course it can be. It depends on what kind of a deal the writer has cut with the person doing the authorizing, and what that person has in mind. It is true that there is usually a tradeoff – in exchange for special access to papers and friends, a writer may agree, or there may be an informal understanding, that certain subjects won't be emphasized and certain views not taken. It's even more likely that the authorizer will seek out a writer who is already in tune with his views. I'm sure it's not an accident that Julie Kavanagh had nothing to say about the aftermath of Nureyev's death, for example, or that Meredith Daneman is kinder to the Arias family than would seem to be called for, given what we know about the tribe. Journalistic politesse - be good to your sources. :)

The (relatively) recent biography of Laurence Olivier by Terry Coleman is a case in point. The work was undertaken with the approval of Olivier's widow, Joan Plowright, and in a number of respects the book is very much The Plowright Version. But this has its value, as does the access Coleman had to Olivier's papers and the family.

Philip Ziegler's Mountbatten is a fine example of the type – Ziegler held to the view that his subject was a great man but he was also diligent, thorough, and honest, and the material was there for the reader to reach her own conclusions. The family wasn't too happy.

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Philip Ziegler's Mountbatten is a fine example of the type – Ziegler held to the view that his subject was a great man but he was also diligent, thorough, and honest, and the material was there for the reader to reach her own conclusions. The family wasn't too happy.

The Ziegler was the Official biography of Mountbatten to which the Mountbatten family contributed. I personally find that the Ziegler did not sufficiently denigrate Mountbatten who was and is, generally held in low

esteem by the British public of a certain age. One is not suprised that, "The family wasn't too happy.", but it could have been worse, as there was much more to reveal.

The Daneman and the Kavanagh books do not either capture the Dame Margot and the Rudolf Nureyev that their colleagues and her admirers knew. The goodness, kindness and great artistry alone are their stories. There is no psychologist qualified to link Dame Margot's or Mr Nureyev's private life to their artistic life.

Not one of the biography's of Dame Margot or Rudold Nureyev give an analysis of the growth in roles over a long period of time nor do the exhibit any real knowledge of the ballet art. Most authors like most critics have learnt about ballet from the outside to the inside and can never grasp the inside to the out in any depth. I am also sure that there has not been a single biographer who is qualified to give a psycholigical analysis of any famous dancer, but it seems to me that they pretend they are.

I think you hit the nail on the head when you say, "It depends on what kind of a deal the writer has cut with the person doing the authorizing, and what that person has in mind. It is true that there is usually a tradeoff – in exchange for special access to papers and friends, a writer may agree, or there may be an informal understanding, that certain subjects won't be emphasized and certain views not taken. It's even more likely that the authorizer will seek out a writer who is already in tune with his views."

I think this is a biography that not that many balletomanes in England will want to buy as I believe they are interested in a number of the MacMillan ballets but not the man who created them and perhaps that is the right thing as it is his oeuvre that is significant not the man and these two aspects as I am sure this biography will show, are clearly divisible.

I will order it from my local library

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The Ziegler was the Official biography of Mountbatten to which the Mountbatten family contributed. I personally find that the Ziegler did not sufficiently denigrate Mountbatten who was and is, generally held in low esteem by the British public of a certain age. One is not suprised that, "The family wasn't too happy.", but it could have been worse, as there was much more to reveal.

Yes, leonid, I am aware that “Mountbatten” was the official biography, which is what I meant when I characterized it as an example of the authorized biographies about which I was writing. :)

I am also sure that there has not been a single biographer who is qualified to give a psycholigical analysis of any famous dancer, but it seems to me that they pretend they are.

It’s very difficult to know well even those closest to us, much less dead strangers, but it does no harm, within limits, for a biographer to offer informed opinions on the personality of her subject as long as she’s not straying from the known facts. The Daneman and Kavanagh books aren’t perfect by any means but certainly anyone interested in Fonteyn or Nureyev should read them.

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An authorized biography of this kind isn't necessarily a whitewash or an exercise in glorification, although of course it can be.

Not at all. I have no interest in reading one commissioned by Deborah Macmillan, though.

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I have no interest in reading one commissioned by Deborah Macmillan, though.

Well, that’s a decision all prospective readers will have to make for themselves, of course. I’m definitely curious enough to read it, myself. New ballet bios are so thin on the ground. Looking forward to this one!

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Under the unfortunate heading of "No more fairies", Clement Crisp describes MacMillan as "The man who modernised classical ballet" in the first review I've come across of this book published in the weekend Life & Arts supplement of the Financial Times.

What follows is a kind of précis of KM's life and difficulties already familiar to us through Thope's earlier biography but adding that this new book benefits from interviews with KM's wife and daughter. Everything Crisp writes is respectful and he gives us a clue as to his relationship with KM when he tells us he was instrumental in finding him psychiatric help after the critical mauling of Anastasia.

Crisp especially singles out the odious Judas Tree for praise referring to its 'complex and layered meanings about Christ, womankind and betrayal" whereas to me it simply left an extremely bad taste. I suppose that is what is meant when people refer to a diversity of opinions.

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Although Rupert Christiansen is basically an opera critic, I've often enjoyed his writings on dance much more than the other UK ballet critics. Here's what he has to say about the new biography in The Spectator and I wouldn't contradict a word of the following.

Some of his best ballets — notably Song of the Earth, Requiem and Gloria — confront the truth of mortality with a poetic lyricism that grows out of and into the music; some of his worst — Different Drummer, for example, the adaptation of Büchner’s Woyzeck after which Jann Parry’s rivetting biography is aptly named — seem invested with the B-picture sensibility of a bodice-ripping sado-masochist.

A link to the entire review

http://www.spectator.co.uk/books/5316796/d...-the-dark.thtml

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There's a very interesting interview with Jann Parry, by Ismene Brown, at the ArtsDesk today - among other things it knocks on the head the idea that there was a critical 'conspiracy' against MacMillan (at last!).

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