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Balanchine biography by Jennifer Homans?


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#1 Ray

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Posted 12 April 2013 - 03:05 AM

The Guggenheim Foundation just announced that Jennifer Homans, author of Apollo's Angels, received a Fellowship. Because the last line of her bio on their website says she's working on a biography of Balanchine, I assume that that's what she's using the money for. Good for her; a new bio is overdue, I think. For all its virtues, I'd hardly call Taper's exhaustive.

#2 sandik

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Posted 12 April 2013 - 11:58 AM

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.

#3 dirac

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Posted 12 April 2013 - 01:27 PM

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.

#4 Neryssa

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Posted 17 April 2013 - 07:40 PM

[size=3][font=tahoma,geneva,sans-serif]


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.[/font][/size]

#5 Dale

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Posted 18 April 2013 - 05:57 AM

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.

#6 bart

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Posted 18 April 2013 - 06:02 AM

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.

#7 kfw

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Posted 18 April 2013 - 07:23 AM

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.

#8 dirac

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Posted 18 April 2013 - 11:31 AM

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.

#9 sandik

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Posted 18 April 2013 - 02:07 PM


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!

#10 Neryssa

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Posted 24 April 2013 - 02:30 PM

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.

#11 pherank

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Posted 30 April 2013 - 03:08 PM


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).

#12 Ray

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Posted 03 May 2013 - 06:01 AM

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.

#13 sandik

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Posted 03 May 2013 - 08:10 AM

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.

#14 dirac

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Posted 05 May 2013 - 01:01 PM

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.

#15 ViolinConcerto

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Posted 05 May 2013 - 02:04 PM

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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