Neryssa

Balanchine & the Lost Muse: Revolution & the Making of a Chore

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I hope this has not been posted before sweatingbullets.gif :

Balanchine & the Lost Muse: Revolution & the Making of a Choreographer by Elizabeth Kendall is listed on Amazon (Release date: July 2013) Description:

Here is the first dual biography of the early lives of two key figures in Russian ballet: famed choreographer George Balanchine and his close childhood friend and extraordinary ballerina Liidia (Lidochka) Ivanova.

Tracing the lives and friendship of these two dancers from years just before the 1917 Russian Revolution to Balanchine's escape from Russia in 1924, Elizabeth Kendall's Balanchine & the Lost Muse sheds new light on a crucial flash point in the history of ballet. Drawing upon extensive archival research, Kendall weaves a fascinating tale about this decisive period in the life of the man who would become the most influential choreographer in modern ballet. Abandoned by his mother at the St. Petersburg Imperial Ballet Academy in 1913 at the age of nine, Balanchine spent his formative years studying dance in Russia's tumultuous capital city. It was there, as he struggled to support himself while studying and performing, that Balanchine met Ivanova. A talented and bold dancer who grew close to the Bolshevik elite in her adolescent years, Ivanova was a source of great inspiration to Balanchine--both during their youth together, and later in his life, after her mysterious death just days before they had planned to leave Russia together in 1924. Kendall shows that although Balanchine would have a great number of muses, many of them lovers, the dark beauty of his dear friend Lidochka would inspire much of his work for years to come.

Part biography and part cultural history, Balanchine & the Lost Muse presents a sweeping account of the heyday of modern ballet and the culture behind the unmoored ideals, futuristic visions, and human decadence that characterized the Russian Revolution.

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This sounds like something a collector of Balanchiniana can't do without. Here's the AMAZON LINK

Reminder to everyone: Don't forget that you can order directly from Amazon by clicking the box at the bottom of each Ballet Alert page. That way Ballet Alert earns a small share from each sale, which helps us remain on-line. I have just cllicked and put this book it in my Cart. Thanks, Neryssa, for the Heads Up..

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Kendall does great work, and this should be fascinating.

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The pre-1925 part of Balanchine's life would be a good read, especially with new archival research.

But I don't think Balanchine was "abandoned", maybe that's just the blurb writer. Wasn't he supposed to go to military school but there wasn't a spot that year for him, so when his sister didn't get into St Petersburg Imperial Ballet school, he took her place. Balanchine's account of the boat accident where Liida Ivanova disappeared sounded as if it happened to someone he knew but wasn't that close to – although "Cotillion" is supposed to reflect something of this loss. Maybe all Balanchine's inner life (as is everyone's according to Proust) takes place three steps removed from its original stimulus.

Anyway it be be interesting to see how this all gets put together.

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Kendall does great work, and this should be fascinating.

You think so? Without further comment: http://www.pointemag...-2012/soul-star

"Maybe Somova is that rarity in the ballet world: A well-adjusted, happy young woman who happens to have gorgeous technique..."

Really...? speechless-smiley-003.gif

Anyway.....back to B and Ivanova....

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Kendall does great work, and this should be fascinating.

You think so? Without further comment: http://www.pointemag...-2012/soul-star

Kendall's scholarly work has been varied and thoughtful, especially when she's examining dance in the first part of the 20th century. I haven't seen anything specific from this project yet, but she's got the skills and the access to materials -- I'm looking forward to seeing what she's done.

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NY Times article on the book is here:

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/30/books/balanchine-the-lost-muse-by-elizabeth-kendall.html

Has anyone read the book yet? I believe it has been out for a month or two.

I bought it at the Diaghilev exhibition in D.C. a month ago and am only two thirds of the way through it because, as with most dance books I read, I'm only reading a few pages of the time, the better to savor it. But from what I've read so far, La Rocca's praise and criticism are right on target. Kendall frequently makes way too much of little evidence. She forces theories. On the other hand, her evident love for the material, and her deep research, make the book a joy to read.

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NY Times article on the book is here:

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/30/books/balanchine-the-lost-muse-by-elizabeth-kendall.html

Has anyone read the book yet? I believe it has been out for a month or two.

I bought it at the Diaghilev exhibition in D.C. a month ago and am only two thirds of the way through it because, as with most dance books I read, I'm only reading a few pages of the time, the better to savor it. But from what I've read so far, La Rocca's praise and criticism are right on target. Kendall frequently makes way too much of little evidence. She forces theories. On the other hand, her evident love for the material, and her deep research, make the book a joy to read.

Thanks KFW - good to know. It was obviously of great importance that Kendall find more (and actual) evidence to support her assertions. But I think we all realize how hard that must be, as so much was destroyed in those years. It IS interesting how many Mariinsky members seem to have found Ivanova's death suspicious. There had to be enough implausibilities to the official report to make people have doubts.

I have another subject for her to tackle: Tamara Toumanova (and Mama). That could be a great book. Alas, we have nothing to read (and let me know if I'm wrong about that).

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I've finished the book, yeah!

I'll admit to taking vicarious 'pleasure' in reading about life in Russia of the 1920s - I'm both fascinated and horrified: there is so much to be learned from those events, and those people, but the available records are few, aside from remembrances of the survivors, most of which are bitter and mournful.

Overall, this is an excellent piece of research, and there's little doubt it was an arduous task to cobble together useful and believable information, and weed out the hearsay. I do think that this book should be regarded as an important source of information for English language readers. I'm wondering if there is, or will be, a Russian language version of this book (and what Russian readers think about this work).

A couple of oddities I would like to mention:

Kendall has a tendency to question people's statements without giving the reader an adequate sense for why that person's statements are unreliable. We need to see evidence; otherwise, the author comes off badly. As an example:

"Geva wrote later that Georges's father and brother traveled from Georgia for the wedding, though this seems unlikely given the distance, the ruined railways, and the Georgian Balanchivadzes’ poverty. And where were Georges’s mother and his friends in a school chapel wedding? No one has left an account of it except the bride. Georges’s friends heard about it only afterwards; they’d barely known about Geva.

But for Georges, who did not advertise psychic events, this mariage was an ultraprivate affair, and in private terms a masterstroke."

So we should assume that Geva needed to lie about her wedding details? Sorry, why precisely? (Or is that being saved for Kendall's next book?). Why state that the marriage was "ultraprivate", but then question why there were few witnesses?

We get no clue as to why Geva's comments on the wedding aren't reliable until in the final portion of the book, Kendall adds, "This account comes mainly from Geva's memoir, Split Seconds, which contains so many questionable details and blurred contexts that we can’t know if it’s accurate."

But why not make that point from the beginning and display something of the inconsistencies in Geva's text? Otherwise, it's just Kendall's opnion with nothing to back up her claim. One person's word against another's: I can get plenty of that on YouTube.

A stylistic nitpick: Kendall uses contractions throughout her writing, and first names for 'characters', which I find a little odd in a mostly academic-toned work. It comes across to me as a stylistic affection - I'm not seeing how contracting phrases is even necessary in this type of work. The book is not conversational in tone, so why the informal style of written English given the subject matter?

Also, the ending struck me as being a bit abrupt, but I suppose Kendall wanted to leave off without going into matters that are much written about already by others.

I especially liked the section dealing with sexual politics during the post-revolution era. And it was interesting to learn how Balanchine was, for the most part, forced out of dance performance into choreography by the 'powers that be'. Also, the time spent on Lidochka Ivanova's story: her death, and her life, was a worthwhile effort in my opinion. It is worth celebrating a short, but exceptional life.

Take a look at this online dissertation on Balanchine's early life (cover is in German but text is English):
http://www.diss.fu-berlin.de/diss/servlets/MCRFileNodeServlet/FUDISS_derivate_000000007745/Early_Life_and_Works_of_George_Balanchine.pdf

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Kendall has a tendency to question people's statements without giving the reader an adequate sense for why that person's statements are unreliable. We need to see evidence; otherwise, the author comes off badly. As an example:

"Geva wrote later that Georges's father and brother traveled from Georgia for the wedding, though this seems unlikely given the distance, the ruined railways, and the Georgian Balanchivadzes’ poverty. And where were Georges’s mother and his friends in a school chapel wedding? No one has left an account of it except the bride. Georges’s friends heard about it only afterwards; they’d barely known about Geva.

It would have been helpful if she had said the first time she cited info Geva's bio that it had a number of factual issues, but in this case, she's given five reasons why the account is suspect.

But for Georges, who did not advertise psychic events, this mariage was an ultraprivate affair, and in private terms a masterstroke."

...

Why state that the marriage was "ultraprivate", but then question why there were few witnesses?

Could she have meant that "ultraprivate" to Balanchine meant that he wasn't interested in talking about it? In the Taper, it was clearly a marriage to address troubling times: even though they were a couple, they were very young, and they'd not have married then in calmer times.

So we should assume that Geva needed to lie about her wedding details? Sorry, why precisely? (Or is that being saved for Kendall's next book?).

Geva is not Kendall's subject, and even if she had been, there's enough psychoanalyzing in biography. If a bunch of what Geva wrote in the memoir is suspect, why would the reason for this be something for which Kendall owes an explanation? If it were the only thing in Geva's memoir that was suspect, but Kendall had contrary evidence for it, Kendall wouldn't owe an explanation for that, either.

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It would have been helpful if she had said the first time she cited info Geva's bio that it had a number of factual issues, but in this case, she's given five reasons why the account is suspect.

It's a can of worms though to suggest that Geva made up a story regarding her wedding day. And for me, as a reader, I instantly want to know more, but we don't have much to go on. Mentioning that Georgia was a long ways from St. Petersburg, or that the railways were a mess, doesn't preclude the presence of those two people (and Andrei, aged 12, had earlier traveled on his own to Georgia, and obviously survived). And if Geva's version isn't credible, then what is the more credible version?

Geva is not Kendall's subject, and even if she had been, there's enough psychoanalyzing in biography. If a bunch of what Geva wrote in the memoir is suspect, why would the reason for this be something for which Kendall owes an explanation? If it were the only thing in Geva's memoir that was suspect, but Kendall had contrary evidence for it, Kendall wouldn't owe an explanation for that, either.

I disagree that Kendall owes no explanations - that goes to the heart of what historical biographies attempt to provide: some facts and "truths" about a subject.

A couple of other spots that confused me:

"But Maria shouldn't worry about Aunt Mila or him, writes Andrei: the family was taking care of both [in Georgia]. "Better worry about yourself and Zhorzhik [George]," Andrei says, then adds with younger-brother wistfulness, "I can't believe I haven't seen him for five years! And during that time…I've become an artist." Was Maria herself really taking care of Georges, as Andrei implies, doing his laundry, bringing him food? Had she seen his school graduation performance? Had she traveled to Pavlovsk for his lezginka or his semi-failure in Swan Lake? If not, why not?"

> Good questions at the end, but how is Andrei implying that Maria is "taking care" of George (who is at the Mariinsky Theatre school). It would make sense for Andrei to tell his relatives to "take care of" themselves in very troubled times.

…"A postscript at the end of the letter only deepens the mystery surrounding this inscrutable family: "I'm very sorry about Babusia," Andrei writes, "maybe she's happy now." This seems to mean that Babusia, who we assume was Maria's mother and so his and George's grandmother, has died in Petrograd. maybe Maria has been preoccupied with nursing her. But how odd for Andrei to write like this about a grandmother's death--as if he wasn't personally involved. Balanchine, the brother on the spot, never even mentioned a grandmother."

> How does this signal that Andrei didn't feel personally involved? Is Kendall assuming that Andrei needed to write a formal letter on the subject? And how do we know that he hasn't already?

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II'll admit to taking vicarious 'pleasure' in reading about life in Russia of the 1920s - I'm both fascinated and horrified: there is so much to be learned from those events, and those people, but the available records are few, aside from remembrances of the survivors, most of which are bitter and mournful.

Overall, this is an excellent piece of research, and there's little doubt it was an arduous task to cobble together useful and believable information, and weed out the hearsay

Likewise, I loved being immersed in St. Petersburg life, and I'm grateful to Kendall for her work. Apollo's Angels author Jennifer Homans, who reviews Kendall's book in the current NY Review of Books, will interview her at the New York Public Library on Tuesday, December 10.

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Pherank, many thanks for the link to Kattner-Ulrich's dissertation. Too bad this hasn't been widely advertised.

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Pherank, many thanks for the link to Kattner-Ulrich's dissertation. Too bad this hasn't been widely advertised.

Pretty interesting, no? Being a dissertation, I can understand that it isn't widely known, but due to the wonders of the Internet, we can have a look-see.

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Reading Kattner-UlrichI had a strange sense of deja vu, as if I were reading portions of Kendall without the speculative aspects.

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However, Kattern-Ulrichl states,

No longer the art form that had all but died out in Western Europe and had stagnated in czarist Russia, he created an entirely new direction in the art of dance, one whose ramifications extended far beyond his own company of dancers.

Ballet had died in Paris and Copenhagen? In Monte Carlo before Rene Blum was sent to a concentration camp?

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However, Kattern-Ulrichl states,

No longer the art form that had all but died out in Western Europe and had stagnated in czarist Russia, he created an entirely new direction in the art of dance, one whose ramifications extended far beyond his own company of dancers.

Ballet had died in Paris and Copenhagen? In Monte Carlo before Rene Blum was sent to a concentration camp?

I suppose the very first sentence could be considered controversial, since it is entirely Western in viewpoint: "In 1924 a small unknown group of young ballet dancers left St. Petersburg for what was to be a four month educational tour of Germany." They were obviously not "unknown" in Russia (and Kendall's book explains all that), but unknown in the West/Europe. It looks like Kattner-Ulrich did publish the dissertation (I don't know if anything was altered before publishing though):

http://www.amazon.com/Early-Life-Works-George-Balanchine/dp/383813690X

Her statement "no longer the art form that had all but died out in Western Europe" is definitely begging for more details - she must be referring to the post-Diaghilev Ballet Russes era, when companies were certainly struggling, and then WWII. And perhaps she was thinking of Balanchine's remark about how nothing was going on for him, so he would go to America. But I agree with you: that kind of broad, sweeping statement is not a good idea.

[Edit] I do like Kattner-Ulrich's listing of the various early Balanchine ballets, as well as the "Correspondence from George Balanchine to Serge Diaghilev (1925 - 1927)". And, the whole section describing the troupe's experiences dancing in Berlin (p100 and beyond) are quite fascinating. If enough people read the dissertation, it would merit its own thread. ;)

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Her statement "no longer the art form that had all but died out in Western Europe" is definitely begging for more details - she must be referring to the post-Diaghilev Ballet Russes era, when companies were certainly struggling, and then WWII. And perhaps she was thinking of Balanchine's remark about how nothing was going on for him, so he would go to America. But I agree with you: that kind of broad, sweeping statement is not a good idea.

Massine was choreographing his first big symphonic ballets in the early 30's, and while the Ballets Russes had its own squabbles and split, it was two companies supporting choreographic talent. "L'Epreuve d'Amour" from 1936 is the last Folkine ballet for which the rights can still be obtained from the estate. The bio of the estate's site states,

1936 marked a Renaissance for Fokine. It began by working with Rene Blum’s Ballet de Monte Carlo. He choreographed three new ballets: Les Elements to music by Bach, Don Juan, and the comedy L'Epreuve d’Amour with designs by Andre Derian to a newly discovered Mozart score. The London papers described the ballet as :a triumph of charming chinoiserie". Fokine also staged most of his Diaghilev repertoire for the company, as well as some of his later successes including Les Elfes, and Igroushki.

While Kirstein and Balanchine were still in Europe, Folkine had already made his way to the US and had started his own school and company, which lead to:

In the summer of 1934 a return engagement of the Fokine Ballet to Lewisohm Stadium caused a sensation. After 15,000 seats and 2,000 standees were admitted, there were still thousands trying to get in. The police had to be called to control the crowds. On 8 August 1934 the New York Times had a headline on the front page that read “POLICE CALLED AS 10,000 TRY VAINLY TO SEE FOKINE BALLET AT STADIUM”.

Those were the days.

Folkine was also invited by Lucia Chase to be one of the first choreographers for Ballet Theatre in the '40's.

Nothing going on for Balanchine didn't mean ballet had all but died.

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In the summer of 1934 a return engagement of the Fokine Ballet to Lewisohm Stadium caused a sensation. After 15,000 seats and 2,000 standees were admitted, there were still thousands trying to get in. The police had to be called to control the crowds. On 8 August 1934 the New York Times had a headline on the front page that read “POLICE CALLED AS 10,000 TRY VAINLY TO SEE FOKINE BALLET AT STADIUM”.

Those were the days.

Folkine was also invited by Lucia Chase to be one of the first choreographers for Ballet Theatre in the '40's.

Nothing going on for Balanchine didn't mean ballet had all but died.

LOL - Yes, those were the days.

Having read many of the pages in the Kattner-Ulrich dissertation (but not all by any means), I can tell that she is purposefully focusing on Balanchine's relationship to the theatre scene in Germany (no doubt because she was at the Berlin Free University to do the research). And she spends some time discussing how little ballet was appreciated by 1920s Berlin - very different to the scene in Paris. The Ballet Russes apparently did not fare well in Germany. I really like some of this dissertation - I would like to see it improved, to deal with some of the weak points we mentioned, but there's some really great information in there too.

And that's my feeling about Balanchine and The Lost Muse as well, there are a few assertions that trouble me (or just confuse me as to their meaning), but it is a great story, and there's an awful lot of worthwhile information to wade through, and consider. It inspires me to learn still more...

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