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Favorite books by dancers


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#16 Alexandra

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Posted 12 May 2002 - 01:18 PM

Thank you for that sympathetic assessment, Paul. At the time, she did seem so whiny and bitter that I think people got caught up in that, and not in her side of things. (Sometimes people want to write their own stories so they can put forth their side. Sometimes it would be better not to do that, but to let someone else do it for you. for another self-destructive autobiography, try to find Lynn Seymour's!)

Paul's list of Gelsey's real demons is right on, I think. Many dancers have some of the same, of course, to varying degrees, but her striving for perfectionism, her insistence on perfectionism, and the very fine microscope with which she viewed her own dancing must have been intolerable. I think she was, or could have been, a very great artist. The saddest thing about her very sad appearance on LA Law more than a decade ago was that you could still see the genius in the bits of dancing they showed, and that she wanted to be seen dancing Giselle -- off pointe, but Giselle, nonetheless, a magnificent Giselle. It's one of the saddest stories in dance history, I think, right up there with Emma Livry's.

#17 Cabriole

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Posted 13 May 2002 - 04:53 AM

Not all by dancers, but maybe worth considering:

Dance is a Contact Sport by Joseph Mazo (out of print)

At the Ballet: Onstage, Backstage by Sandra Lee and Thomas Hunt (gorgeous photos of SFB)

Suki Shorer on Balanchine Technique

#18 glebb

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Posted 13 May 2002 - 05:00 AM

'Dancing on my Grave' is a turn off and I wonder if it is the most widely read dancer bio for the general public. Gelsey and Misha were sort of 'People Magazine' stuff back then.

As far as redemption goes, for me, Gelsey's second book: 'The Shape of Love', is inspiring.

I am with Alexandra when it comes to 'Dancing in Petersburg' by Kschessinska.

Imagine being in the company of the Tsar. That level of luxury and sophistication is unfathomable to me. Also there is the power that she wielded.

Then to have to flee to another country and start at zero (okay, she still had her house on the French Riviera). One had to be brave to survive the revolution and start over.

I doubt I read this in her book, but I remember hearing that at the end of her days, she collected payment for class in a cigar box.

#19 dirac

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Posted 13 May 2002 - 10:51 AM

I was always amazed that Kschessinska could actually dance under the weight of all those jewels. Must be nice to always have a Grand Duke or two on tap, not to mention the heir to the throne. I can't say I feel terribly sorry for the members of the Imperial circle -- it was a most unsympathetic regime -- but she did show guts after the Revolution(s).



I think what Paul said about drugs being a release for Kirkland is right on the money. I felt torn reading her book -- she's intellectually curious, independent, talented, all wonderful qualities mitigated by those terrible insecurities. Not to mention lousy copy editing -- I will forever cherish the reference to "fulsome breasts." (I'd add that "The Shape of Love," although very different in tone and content, shows a Kirkland very similar in key respects to the one on display in the first volume.)



Also, Paul, not all the ballerinas were that discreet -- check out Melissa Hayden. I wish she'd write a book!

#20 PK

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Posted 13 May 2002 - 02:25 PM

And how about Edward Villella's Prodigal Son? Real interesting about being a guy loving ballet back when he was a teenager-and all the challenges.Even more interesting later years-and enlightning on how he passes his teachings on now.

#21 Morris Neighbor

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Posted 13 May 2002 - 05:14 PM

I agree with Paul that dancers face extraordinary tensions at a young age. Fortuantely, most of them find support systems, usually among fellow dancers. From all I have read and heard, these conditions have improved markedly in the past decade or so; there are even dancers who marry and have children in mid-career.

But I cannot think of another dancer who chose to air her dirty linen so gaudily as Gelsey. I was toiling in the book industry (in a cubicle adjacent to FF) when Dancing on My Grace came out, and I do remember tales of the publication party: her publisher invited all her former colleagues at NYCB and ABT, plus other dance world luminaries, and they all refused. The invitation to Peter Martins, whom she portrayed as a callous, two-faced satyr, has to set a high mark in chutzpah.

As for Chris d'Amboise's book, I knew the agent who placed it, and he was very pleased that the editor who took it under her wing was the late Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. Disregarding modern publishing practices, Mrs. O. actually read manuscripts and gave authors extensive editorial notes. And the (at the time) quite young Mr. d'Amboise greatly benefited from her guidance. It's certainly an unusually eloquent, vivid account of a dancer coming of age.

#22 Nora

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Posted 13 May 2002 - 05:52 PM

Farrell Fan -- the sequel to Dancing on My Grave was called The Shape of Love. I enjoyed it, probably because it was devoid of all the sensationalism of Dancing on My Grave. It's all about dancing, and that is why it's out of print. I had to borrow a yellowed copy from a friend. It's worth the read if you are interested in how she built a part.

#23 BalletNut

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Posted 13 May 2002 - 09:12 PM

Originally posted by glebb
'Dancing on my Grave' is a turn off and I wonder if it is the most widely read dancer bio for the general public.  


I wouldn't be surprised in the least if it was the most widely read dancer's autobiography in the mainstream. It has all the ingredients for a bestseller, and it reaffirms most people's general distaste for everything ballet. It certainly seems to be the sole source for all the anti-ballet and anti-Balanchine venom I read and hear all over the place. If I had a dollar for every time someone used the infamous "I want to see bones" quote as justification for why Balanchine is the Great Satan, I'd be able to sit in the orchestra every day for the rest of my life. :D

I much prefer Suzanne Farrell's autobiography. She acknowledges Balanchine's shortcomings without constructing him as a demon and herself as a saint. It's interesting, too, to see her write so positively--and honestly-- about the same people who were making Gelsey so durned miserable, such as Diana Adams, Gloria Govrin, Arthur Mitchell, Mme. Doubrovska, Peter Martins, and, of course, Mr. B. Furthermore, as her book was published after Kirkland's, she makes it a point to refute, directly and indirectly, any conclusions one might draw about ballet and Balanchine from reading Dancing On My Grave.

#24 Ari

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Posted 14 May 2002 - 05:56 AM

This thread comes at a convenient moment. :D I've just learned of a book by Alice Patelson called Portrait of a Dancer, Memories of Balanchine. Is anyone familiar with it? Patelson was an NYCB corps member in the 60s. The book was published in 1995 by a vanity press—Vantage— so it's not surprising that it has a very low profile.

#25 Farrell Fan

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Posted 14 May 2002 - 07:08 AM

Ari -- I too was excited a few years back on learning of a book about Balanchine by one Alice Patelson that was new to me. Unfortunately, it turned out to be about Alice Patelson rather than Balanchine, and Ms Patelson was such an uninteresting person and incompetent writer that I couldn't even get halfway through. And it's a slim book.

#26 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 14 May 2002 - 07:43 AM

The discussion in another part of the forum about Tudor's The Planets made me pull out Marie Rambert's Quicksilver, which is a great read and an interesting document of the development of Ballet Rambert, especially the early years when Tudor and Ashton were creating works there.

#27 Farrell Fan

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Posted 14 May 2002 - 08:29 AM

I'm feeling guilty about my dismissive comments re: Portrait of a Dancer, Memories of Balanchine, by Alice Patelson. After all, I didn't read very much of it. I'm going to try again.

#28 Alexandra

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Posted 14 May 2002 - 08:39 AM

Originally posted by BalletNut


I wouldn't be surprised in the least if it was the most widely read dancer's autobiography in the mainstream. It has all the ingredients for a bestseller, and it reaffirms most people's general distaste for everything ballet. It certainly seems to be the sole source for all the anti-ballet and anti-Balanchine venom I read and hear all over the place.


You're right on -- I speak from experience :) When I was pitching my manuscript to publishers, they all cited Kirkland's biography as the hit. They wanted dirt, er, "intimate revelations." I also think there's something -- whether in American readers, or just editors -- that loves the "Ballet done me wrong!" story. After "Dancing on My Grave" I think the most popular one is the Edward Stierle book, which was sold as "Just because he didn't have the perfect body no ballet company wanted him." Ballet is an alien art form, still. It is off-putting to many in this country, and they prefer to reinforce the stereotypes and ideas they already have.

Back to books by dancers, what about Plisetskaya's Memoirs -- I have it but haven't had a chance to read it yet. Everything I've heard is, flawed, but fascinating.

#29 Ari

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Posted 14 May 2002 - 10:04 AM

Originally posted by at:
Ballet is an alien art form, still.  It is off-putting to many in this country, and they prefer to reinforce the stereotypes and ideas they already have.

This wasn't true in the 70s, during the "dance boom." I think people sensed then that ballet was a vital art form and that this was where it was all happening, as we said back then. Nowadays, people (quite rightly) perceive the opposite. Hence the distaste and derision.

The "ballet is unfair because it discriminates against those of us without perfect bodies" feeling is always going to be there, because it's true. It only becomes an evil in the minds of nonballetomanes when there seems to be no reason to dance, or watch, ballet.

#30 Alexandra

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Posted 14 May 2002 - 10:19 AM

Ari, I really think there's a certain element -- even in the 1970s -- which thought of ballet as an alien art form. Modern dance is American. Ballet is European. There is much that's distastefully unAmerican about ballet -- its hierarchies, the notion that one must decide on a career when one is ten, its structure and traditions. That's one school of thought that's wafted and waned since the beginning of this century, but it has a very strong voice in publishing.

Exceptions, as always, of course, the major one for many blessed years was Robert Gottlieb at Knopf. Check any of our threads on great or favorite books and one notices how many were Knopf books.


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