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"The Master's Muse" by Varley O'ConnorNew novel about Le Clercq and Balanchine


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#46 California

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Posted 19 February 2012 - 09:24 AM

This time I looked more closely at the three superb photos, two of which I've never seen before. In one, Leclercq (wearing a Western Symphony costume???) holds a glove and looks to the side. Balanchine, to her left, has an almost identical pose, looking like a Georgian prince, his elegance and grandeur softened by that sweet and silly western bow tie. (Was this a formal dress version of the string ties he wore so often at the studio?)

The third photo is something everyone who cares about Leclercq (and Balanchine as well) HAS to look at .... (Can anyone find a photographer credit for this one?)


I'm looking at the print edition. The photo credits are in very tiny type and easy to miss.
(1) Balanchine with the strange tie: AFP Photo/Intercontinentale. Still Life by Lucas Zarebinski
(2) LeClercq in The Concert: Gjon Mili/Time Life Pictures/Getty Images
(3) Balanchine and LeClercq at home: Gordon Parks/Tme Life Pictures/Getty Images [This credit is on the inside margin opposite the photo.]

#47 California

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Posted 19 February 2012 - 09:44 AM

It's terribly sad to see all this battling over a literary investigation into LeClercq's life when the reason for her greatness is almost entirely inivisible - two video clips totaling less than 10 minutes are accessible publicly. One 8-minute clip of her dancing with Jacques D'Amboise in Robbins' Afternoon of a Faun and another 1:22 minute clip of her dancing La Valse with Nicholas Magallanes. Whatever viideo clips exist in the NYC Library at Lincoln Center continue to be denied public viewing, and my question is why? Doesn't NYC Ballet, which clearly owns copyright, wish to promote their great ballerina and enhance their prestige? It's more than frustrating to see this lack of initiative - the one thing people want to experience is ballet in the only medium that resonates. Yet ballet organizations continue to act in their worst self-interest by denying the public access to this visual record.


I'm looking at some of the entries at the nypl.org on-line catalog. It does appear some things which includes LeClercq are available for public viewing at the library.
Symphony in C: http://nypl.biblioco...2_symphony_in_c
Serenade: http://nypl.biblioco...136052_serenade

But for some holdings at the Dance Collection, viewing restrictions are not just about the Balanchine Trust copyrights. Many of the older holdings are home movies, e.g., and various conditions were attached to the viewing. Copyrights attach not only to the choreography but also to the music, sets, costumes, etc. It appears that permissions for educational/research purposes at the Library are generous, but those don't extend to public distribution via DVDs or on-line.

In addition to the Faun and Valse clips you mention, I do recommend the Balanchine biography, still available on DVD (originally shown on PBS). It has fairly lengthy clips of her in Western Symphony and Concerto Barocco (which appears twice), as well as very brief clips from a few other things.

#48 Neryssa

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Posted 19 February 2012 - 12:52 PM

The third photo is something everyone who cares about Leclercq (and Balanchine as well) HAS to look at .... (Can anyone find a photographer credit for this one?)


The third photograph is one of a series of Le Clercq and Balanchine at home during December 1958 taken by Gordon Parks. One can find them at Life magazine photo archives:

http://images.google...87a9886b39.html

http://images.google...941451f398.html

Search Balanchine and New York City Ballet for a variety of photographs at: http://images.google.com/hosted/life

#49 dirac

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Posted 19 February 2012 - 10:36 PM

I suppose the only thing one can do is: NOT buy such books - maybe not even read, review or mention them; and if one does, point out the inaccuracies and bad literary devices. I wonder if Ms. Brubach's well-intended "Talk" piece will stoke curiosity.


This has just given me a nightmarish image of bookshelves full of series of novels based on Balanchine and his wives just like the seemingly endless supply of fiction based on Henry VIII.


I suppose the only thing one can do is: NOT buy such books - maybe not even read, review or mention them; and if one does, point out the inaccuracies and bad literary devices. I wonder if Ms. Brubach's well-intended "Talk" piece will stoke curiosity.


I don't think Brubach's article will deter anyone interested in reading the book, particularly as Brubach has nothing really devastating to say about it. She admits that the writer gets some things wrong but did her homework and didn't or couldn't point to any particularly outrageous passages. She seems to object to the enterprise on principle, which casts too wide a net - some good works of fiction have been written by "going into the heads" of public figures as biographers cannot do. (I do not say this book is one of those.)

It is true that Tanaquil Le Clercq was a very private person; had her friend Holly Brubach decided to write a novel about her, I could see how that might be considered an act of betrayal. But when a writer comes upon the circumstances of a life that take hold of her, and that excite her imagination to the boiling point, she doesn't say to herself, "No, I won't do it, because she wouldn't have wanted me to do it, and neither would her friends have wanted it." Literature doesn't work that way. The novelist forges ahead, does her research, and writes. If the resulting book is good, it accomplishes something very special — it aligns a person's inner and outer life in a harmonious and satisfying whole. Moreover, it connects something important in that person's life to something important in the lives of many readers.


Just so, joelrw. Glad to hear from someone who's read the book.

#50 kfw

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Posted 20 February 2012 - 05:44 AM

some good works of fiction have been written by "going into the heads" of public figures as biographers cannot do. (I do not say this book is one of those.)


And that's just it. As Brubach makes clear, the book may turn out to be good fiction, but it can't possibly get in to LeClerq's head, because no one could do that even when she was alive. As soon as it tries to do that, it's no longer about LeClerq.

#51 sandik

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Posted 20 February 2012 - 10:51 AM

I’m reading the last of these postings while listening to the radio on President’s Day -- my local NPR station is running a compilation of interviews with authors who have written books about the presidents, some scholarly and some more conversational. One of them (his topic was Lincoln) remarked that people who write about public figures often write from their personal point of view (Lincoln as a Christian, Lincoln as an agnostic, Lincoln as an educated man, Lincoln as a rustic). It’s a stretch to go from a US president to a ballerina, but it seems that, as gooey as this book sounds, it’s more about the author, or what the author hopes to find in the subject, than about the nominal topic.

#52 dirac

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Posted 20 February 2012 - 12:04 PM

As I said, going into people's heads is part of the novelist's task and writers have been doing it with impunity for some time now. As Quiggin says, the results aren't always edifying, but sometimes they're pretty good. If you want to be critical of an individual book, fine, but saying writers should never ever do this and suggesting as some have here that if they do their motives are invariably suspicious is going a bit far. Le Clercq has been dead for just over a decade. It's not a hundred years, but it's not a big rush, either.

This type of writing goes back all the way to Shakespeare.


Yes, but Shakespeare wrote about Richard III 100 years after his death, and it was a history play. Toibin wrote about James eighty years later, and another example of this genre, "Summer in Baden Baden" by Leonid Tsypkin, which stalks Anna & Fyodor and describes their long and sensuous swims together, was written 100 years after Doestoevky's death.

Tanaquil Leclercq's end date was 2000, she was not a significant historical figure, and she led a rather private life after her illness. That in part what makes this a somewhat tasteless exercise - also that, given the situation, the outcome would only be bad soap opera or 1950's B movie.

Biographical novels most often seem like boxing matches with the facts when they're not being surogate autobiographies. They only work when the writer writes at the level of Toibin or Tsypkin - after that there's a steep falling off.


People weren't holding off writing about Richard out of respect for the departed - like most dethroned kings after a new regime has taken over he became a sort of non-person at best, villain at worst, and there was that whole princes in the tower business. Thomas More wrote his History of Richard when the memory of his reign was still fairly fresh and More wasn't flattering, for obvious reasons (and even so he wound up dropping the work). The history plays weren't novels, true, but nobody was writing those in Shakespeare's England. (joelrw: I'm not sure if the comparison really holds with Le Clercq, whether you're using it positively or negatively, although I see what you're gettting at.)

#53 kfw

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Posted 20 February 2012 - 01:10 PM

As I said, going into people's heads is part of the novelist's task and writers have been doing it with impunity for some time now.


Getting into LeClerq's head is precisely what this novelist can't do. If even a friend of 23 years can't do it, how could someone who never met her?

#54 puppytreats

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Posted 20 February 2012 - 01:22 PM

If the resulting book is good, it accomplishes something very special — it aligns a person's inner and outer life in a harmonious and satisfying whole.


This seems like wishful thinking or a writer's neat conclusion. It lacks logic or a basis in evidence. Indeed, how can a stranger, even a researcher, do anything but print his own theories, assumptions, opinions, and conclusions? How can a reader trust the result?
Furthermore, why must outer and inner lives be "aligned"? Life is not so neat.

Posted Today, 01:10 PM

"

n 20 February 2012 - 12:04 PM, said:

As I said, going into people's heads is part of the novelist's task and writers have been doing it with impunity for some time now.

Getting into LeClerq's head is precisely what this novelist can't do. If even a friend of 23 years can't do it, how could someone who never met her?"


This may be historical fiction, but it can only ever be seen as fiction, as a fantasy.

#55 Bonnette

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Posted 20 February 2012 - 01:49 PM

Although we won't be able to arrive at a consensus about the issues raised in this thread, one thing seems clear: This is a novel, pure and simple, not a "novelization" based on solid research - the vaunted "hundreds of hours of documentaries and NYCB footage" do not exist, and neither Le Clercq nor her friends were talking; so, barring mediumistic intervention, there is no basis for the author's claim that Le Clercq's authentic essence has been tapped. This is what concerns me about the book - not its form, but its claims. These strike me as offensively opportunistic, even shameful. I would not have had such a strong reaction if the novel had been marketed as essential fabrication, rather than distilled essence - but then, who would have bought it?

#56 dirac

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Posted 20 February 2012 - 04:12 PM

Obviously O'Connor or any other writer cannot literally read the thoughts of the dead, no matter how self-revealing or not they chose to be when living. That is where the powers of a novelist and the imaginative liberty permitted the writer by the form in which s/he has chosen to work come into play.

#57 garybruce

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Posted 20 February 2012 - 04:40 PM

California writes:
I'm looking at some of the entries at the nypl.org on-line catalog. It does appear some things which includes LeClercq are available for public viewing at the library.
Symphony in C: http://nypl.biblioco...2_symphony_in_c
Serenade: http://nypl.biblioco...136052_serenade

Thanks for that research effort, California.I'ts wonderful seeing that at least two major ballets with her are viewable at the library - all that's necessary is a trip to NYC from Florida :-) BTW, the problem with the Balanchine DVD - which I've seen and own - is that it only offers tiny flashes of her dancing.

Of course, Le Clercq herself never saw fit to produce a DVD of her dancing while she was alive, when the Trust would have been hard put to deny her request. I suspect the public may never see more than what's out there now. It took more than 50 years for the two clips to surface, so I guess we will have to be satisfied with what we've got in our lifetime.

#58 kfw

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Posted 20 February 2012 - 05:05 PM

Obviously O'Connor or any other writer cannot literally read the thoughts of the dead, no matter how self-revealing or not they chose to be when living. That is where the powers of a novelist and the imaginative liberty permitted the writer by the form in which s/he has chosen to work come into play.


Yes. The writer is not "going into people's heads," but instead writing out of her own imagination about LeClerq. But as Brubach noted, because LeClerq was remarkably unrevealing, the author has very little even to base that on.

#59 joelrw

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Posted 20 February 2012 - 05:12 PM

Although we won't be able to arrive at a consensus about the issues raised in this thread, one thing seems clear: This is a novel, pure and simple, not a "novelization" based on solid research - the vaunted "hundreds of hours of documentaries and NYCB footage" do not exist, and neither Le Clercq nor her friends were talking; so, barring mediumistic intervention, there is no basis for the author's claim that Le Clercq's authentic essence has been tapped. This is what concerns me about the book - not its form, but its claims. These strike me as offensively opportunistic, even shameful. I would not have had such a strong reaction if the novel had been marketed as essential fabrication, rather than distilled essence - but then, who would have bought it?


There is an author's note in the book which describes more fully the extent of Ms. O'Connor's research. It includes at least one very important interview with someone who was on the European tour, and this has a major ramification in the book; viewing all of Le Clercq's available performances, both online and at the Lincoln Center Performing Arts Library; viewing hundreds of hours of documentaries and performances relating to Balanchine, his ballet predecessors, Le Clercq, Robbins, etc.; reading almost every book in English related to Le Clercq and Balanchine; Le Clercq's two books; examination of dozens of photographs, etc. The quote "hundreds of hours of documentaries and NYCB footage" does not mean hundreds of hours of Le Clercq dancing!

I think this thread has reached a point of diminishing returns. Arguments on both sides of the issue have been pretty much exhausted, and all I can add at this point is, when it comes out, read the book! Or rather, hesitate to criticize it if you decide not to read it. You can take it out from a library if you don't want to contribute to the author's wellbeing, but don't assume that the book isn't as good as Toibin or Tsypkin, or anyone else on the basis of ignorance.

#60 Neryssa

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Posted 20 February 2012 - 05:18 PM

Obviously O'Connor or any other writer cannot literally read the thoughts of the dead, no matter how self-revealing or not they chose to be when living. That is where the powers of a novelist and the imaginative liberty permitted the writer by the form in which s/he has chosen to work come into play.


I think most of us are quite aware of what literature particularly great literature can achieve - forgive me for thinking that O'Connor's novel will not be listed in the literary canon of this century. I am quite open-minded about novelists such as Mona Simpson writing autobiographical novels (Anywhere But Here) because she is a fine writer but Simpson is really the exception and even she didn't succeed with A Regular Guy which is about her brother Steve Jobs. Just because somebody can write a novel about a particular topic doesn't mean (s)he should. Nothing seems to be off-limits these days, for example: Seth Grahame-Smith's Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter
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