Ray

Balanchine biography by Jennifer Homans?

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I agree, it's more than time for another look at Balanchine. In some ways, though, I think she really already did much of that work in Apollo's Angels -- I'll be interested to see what else she brings to the project beyond that material.

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I agree, it's more than time for another look at Balanchine. In some ways, though, I think she really already did much of that work in Apollo's Angels -- I'll be interested to see what else she brings to the project beyond that material.

Agreed on both counts. I'm not entirely thrilled that it's Homans undertaking the project, but it's good that someone is doing so and I'm sure she will present an honorable effort. As today's obituaries show, those who were present at the creation are gone or going. Julie Kavanagh got to a lot of people for her Ashton biography just in time. Balanchine's is a different case from Ashton's in that so many people who worked with him have written or talked about him, but there are still many gaps to be filled and of course some that can never be filled - we never did hear enough from Diana Adams, for example.....

Thanks for the news, Ray. Taper's book is indispensable, but it began as a magazine profile and shows it.

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I agree, it's more than time for another look at Balanchine. In some ways, though, I think she really already did much of that work in Apollo's Angels -- I'll be interested to see what else she brings to the project beyond that material.

...Balanchine's is a different case from Ashton's in that so many people who worked with him have written or talked about him, but there are still many gaps to be filled and of course some that can never be filled - we never did hear enough from Diana Adams, for example.....

Thanks for the news, Ray. Taper's book is indispensable, but it began as a magazine profile and shows it.

A good point about Diana Adams. I would say that what we do not know (not just personal things) could fills several volumes.

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Just a little off-topic, Homans has an essay on Tanaquil LeClercq in the May issue of Vogue.

Back to a biography on Balanchine, I would welcome a thorough one - not like the pair of quickies that came out on the 100th anniversary a few years ago. I guess we've all given up on Arlene Croce's book.

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Wouldn't it be wonderful if the book came along with video illustrating Balanchine's actual work? After all this time -- and considering Balanchine's position as one of the preeminent artists of the 20th century -- perhaps those who own the rights (individuals and institutions), plus unions and others who may have claims, could finally cooperate in making a visual "Balanchine retrospective" possible.

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Wouldn't it be wonderful if the book came along with video illustrating Balanchine's actual work?

Yes, or if the book came out not only in print but as an I-Pad app with embedded video, like David Vaughan's Merce Cunningham: 65 Years, his excellent and award-winning update of his coffee table book, Merce Cunningham: Fifty Years.

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A good point about Diana Adams. I would say that what we do not know (not just personal things) could fills several volumes.

I think of people like Holly Howard, too, a dancer and ex-girlfriend of Balanchine's who was never interviewed in depth as far as I know. And some who have spoken were often not especially candid.

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Wouldn't it be wonderful if the book came along with video illustrating Balanchine's actual work?

Yes, or if the book came out not only in print but as an I-Pad app with embedded video, like David Vaughan's Merce Cunningham: 65 Years, his excellent and award-winning update of his coffee table book, Merce Cunningham: Fifty Years.

Oh wouldn't that be lovely!

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Just a little off-topic, Homans has an essay on Tanaquil LeClercq in the May issue of Vogue.

Thank you for mentioning it. I read it at the grocery store the other day. I was underwhelmed but I always have high expectations regarding any mention of Le Clercq. I could see where Homans was trying to go with it. Perhaps tying in the artistic presentation and public perception of catastrophic illness (the mythology of Le Clercq's polio being related in whispers by students at the School of American Ballet; the romantic depiction of death by Ravel and Balanchine in La Valse). All that we imagine in a morbid, romantic sense vs. the excruciating reality of taking care of someone... For example, Homans described her late husband's death from ALS (I think) very well. But it wasn't fair of her to imply that Balanchine immediately dumped Le Clercq after she contracted polio. How I wish writers paid more attention to such important details. I'm still wincing from the obituaries of Maria Tallchief.

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Just a little off-topic, Homans has an essay on Tanaquil LeClercq in the May issue of Vogue.

Thank you for mentioning it. I read it at the grocery store the other day. I was underwhelmed but I always have high expectations regarding any mention of Le Clercq. I could see where Homans was trying to go with it. Perhaps tying in the artistic presentation and public perception of catastrophic illness (the mythology of Le Clercq's polio being related in whispers by students at the School of American Ballet; the romantic depiction of death by Ravel and Balanchine in La Valse). All that we imagine in a morbid, romantic sense vs. the excruciating reality of taking care of someone... For example, Homans described her late husband's death from ALS (I think) very well. But it wasn't fair of her to imply that Balanchine immediately dumped Le Clercq after she contracted polio. How I wish writers paid more attention to such important details. I'm still wincing from the obituaries of Maria Tallchief.

Well put, Neryssa - I think you've covered the important points about the article. I'm not a Homans 'hater', but she does have a tendency to reduce and compress information to the point where the meaning, the life behind the facts, gets distorted and gives people the wrong impression. Le Clercq and Balanchine were married approximately 17 years and almost 13 years of that was during the 'polio era' of her life, so it wasn't like he gave her "the old heave-ho" once she contracted polio. But since Homans devotes (I recall) one single sentence to explaining the end of their relationship, the reader is left with a bad impression about Balanchine. But it was much more drawn out and complicated than that (as relationships are). And Balanchine was somewhat unique in the way that he could maintain cordial relationships, and working relationships, with pretty much every woman he was married to, or had some manner of 'affair of the heart' with. Mr. B was no Don Draper.

I did appreciate what she had to say about chronic disease and its effects on the mind/body relationship, making the body insufferably important and burdensome. I can relate to some of that myself.

As much as I love certain aspects of the Taras and Buckle books on Balanchine, both are lacking in important information. Charles M. Joseph's "Stravinsky and Balanchine", is an excellent study, but it has its particular focus which is necessarily going to steer clear of anything not pertaining to the relatioinship between those two artists. Francis Mason's "I Remember Balanchine" is in some ways, the most important record of the group, because it provides so many first-hand, wide-ranging views and opinions of life with Balanchine. That is the one book that makes it clear how complex it can be to piece together someone's personality, and relationships, and how subjective the whole undertaking is. I sincerely hope that Homans takes the time to create a balanced, and detailed overview of Balanchine's life, and doesn't just leave us with a laundry list of items that fulfill Jennifer Homans' thesis (leaving out all the memories and experiences that seem to conflict with her premise).

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Seconding Bart's idea, I would love to see a dance bio that could include clips. Much as a composer's bio would include quotations from scores.

I do hope Homans is rigorous here. I don't know if my sentiments will be shared here, but I want to see an exhaustive, scholarly tome here, full of facts, footnotes, analysis, and arguments (and counterarguments). A critical account, as objective as possible; not a hagiography. Or if not that a narrowly focused but deep study of a particular aspect of B's life. Not something in between, as many bios are.

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I do hope Homans is rigorous here. I don't know if my sentiments will be shared here, but I want to see an exhaustive, scholarly tome here, full of facts, footnotes, analysis, and arguments (and counterarguments). An critical account, as objective as possible; not a hagiography. Or if not that a narrowly focused but deep study of a particular aspect of B's life. Not something in between, as many bios are.

Your lips to the gods' ears.

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Biographies can be good in different ways. If Homans chooses an approach that's more accessible, that's fine too. It's possible to try to do too much - focus too much on analysis and argument and other things can get lost. Quentin Bell wrote a fine biography of his aunt Virginia Woolf that left such matters more or less alone, for example. Homans is a critic and one would expect her not to take that approach, but we'll see. I share the hope that it's thorough - we don't need another short biography.

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Don't forget that "In Balanchine's Classroom" is still in the works and NEEDS OUR SUPPORT!!! It's by Connie Hochman and has been endorsed by many of Mr. B's colleagues. Check out Dance on Film. I'll try to post better links soon.

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Don't forget that "In Balanchine's Classroom" is still in the works and NEEDS OUR SUPPORT!!! It's by Connie Hochman and has been endorsed by many of Mr. B's colleagues. Check out Dance on Film. I'll try to post better links soon.

This is a Kickstarter campaign?

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Seconding Bart's idea, I would love to see a dance bio that could include clips. Much as a composer's bio would include quotations from scores.

I just bought a knitting course in an online file that had imbedded videos demonstrating the techniques I had just read about. e-bios could very well do this, if the rights could be procured. Many physical books, particularly textbooks and training/prep manuals come with DVD's in a pocket in the back cover.

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But it wasn't fair of her to imply that Balanchine immediately dumped Le Clercq after she contracted polio.

I read the article and in fairness to Homans I don't think she suggested that or intended to. As pherank notes she does telescope the facts somewhat misleadingly in the sentence or two we're talking about (as you say, Neryssa, the article is mostly about other things), so that it's easy to get the impression that the marriage failed much more rapidly than it did. And she does note that the union was in poorish shape before Le Clercq fell ill.

But since Homans devotes (I recall) one single sentence to explaining the end of their relationship, the reader is left with a bad impression about Balanchine.

If Homans had gone into it in more detail he probably would have looked worse. Le Clercq was hurt and humiliated, sometimes in public. (Not to mention the earlier on-and-off Diana Adams complications.) Not his finest hour.

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If Homans had gone into it in more detail he probably would have looked worse. Le Clercq was hurt and humiliated, sometimes in public. (Not to mention the earlier on-and-off Diana Adams complications.) Not his finest hour.

I don't disagree with what you are saying - but Homans doesn't give any details - so I just thought that was one of the weak points in her article.

Balanchine did not approach marriage in the same way that the average North American did, or does. Hardly a shock to me that his marriages were a failure. I've been feeling that this self-destruct tendency was built in to his "love" relationships - Balanchine relied upon 'new love', change and transformation to fuel his artistic impulse. Does that make him a good Christian? Perhaps not. (Would he care?) But I don't find it very interesting to judge a person according to the surrounding national culture's moral standards. It's more interesting to try to figure out that individual's 'localized' value system, and learn where it all might have come from, and what kind of influence they had on others. Balanchine lived his life like, well, a theatre person. A Russian theatre person. So many of whom seem to have married multiple times and had multiple divorces. And, had lovers on the side. I always thought it was interesting that Balanchine did not think much of the 'free love'/youth movement period of the 1960s when it would seem that these things might appeal to him. But his values were, I think, quite an interesting and unusual mix. And that's one of the reasons why he's endlessly fascinating - so many different facets to his life and personality.

And, since the larger issue in this thread is how Homans treats the subject of Balanchine, or for that matter, the people associated with him, I have to wonder if the Vogue article is a good indication of how things are going to go. But we will of course have to just wait and see.

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What I find distasteful about Balanchine's treatment of LeClercq wasn't that they eventually grew apart and divorced, but that Balanchine, usually such a private man, chose to make his courtship and falling out with Farrell so public. While he was married he (without Farrell's permission) chose to "announce" his engagement in the press to Farrell, and then threw a hissy fit when things didn't work out as planned. The whole thing (including the quickie divorce from LeClercq) happened with Farrell and Balanchine talking to the presses in a way that must have been humiliating for LeClercq. It was just a very poor moment for a man who considered himself tactful and discreet.

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What I find distasteful about Balanchine's treatment of LeClercq wasn't that they eventually grew apart and divorced, but that Balanchine, usually such a private man, chose to make his courtship and falling out with Farrell so public. While he was married he (without Farrell's permission) chose to "announce" his engagement in the press to Farrell, and then threw a hissy fit when things didn't work out as planned. The whole thing (including the quickie divorce from LeClercq) happened with Farrell and Balanchine talking to the presses in a way that must have been humiliating for LeClercq. It was just a very poor moment for a man who considered himself tactful and discreet.

One tends to become a different person where love is concerned. ;)

There's little doubt that love, or at least love gone bad, turned Balanchine into a worse person any number of times. But the news is filled with reports of people doing terrible things because their love relationship went wrong.

RE: Balanchine's treatment of Farrell and Mejia - it reminds me of the incident where Serge Lifar literally barred Balanchine and Danilova from entering the POB so as to maintain his power over the French dance establishment (he wasn't about to let Balanchine appear as an alternative). I'm pretty sure that was one of Balanchine's most humiliating and maddening moments, aside from his 'secret' dismissal from the Ballet Russes in favor of Massine. So some 30 years later, Balanchine in a fit of rage has both Farrell and Mejia banned, locked out, of the NYCB/SAB buildings. He did of course eventually come around with regards to working with Farrell, but he couldn't bare to deal with Mejia in person. But it was Balanchine who got Mejia and Tallchief together (in Chicago for the Chicago City Ballet). And given the way that men, and I suppose artists, tend to think, Balanchine must have felt that was a far more important gesture to Paul Mejia, than making 'nice'.

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But it was Balanchine who got Mejia and Tallchief together (in Chicago for the Chicago City Ballet).

And got Mejia out of town. :)

Respectfully, pherank, it seems to me you're setting up a sort of "North American" strawman, standing over biographical subjects like a nanny with a wooden spoon, ready to pounce when they get out of line and indifferent to nuance. It is true I don't think artists have a Get Out of Comment Free card to brandish when it comes to personal conduct, but it's also true that private lives get awfully messy sometimes even when the intentions of everyone involved are good.

I'm not sure that the Vogue article gives us much guidance as to what Homans' approach will be, because Homans had other themes to develop here, but if she does decide to treat in detail of Balanchine's private life I'm sure she can be trusted to be honest and fair to all concerned even if I don't end up agreeing with her on this matter or other.

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I didn't find Homans particularly credible in her last tome in the way she dismissed aesthetics that weren't to her taste, and I have no reason to believe any of her other work will be more balanced. I'll have to wait for the book to see if I'm wrong.

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