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Farrell Fan

Premature autobiographies

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From the NY Times, November 24, 2002:

"After 16 years as a principal dancer with the New York City Ballet, and a dancer with American Ballet Theatre for nine years before that, Robert La Fosse is retiring. This event is something of a milestone for the New York dance community. Mr. La Fosse has performed here with, and for, most of the great ballet names for a quarter century, and he was one of the last of a handful of dancers still onstage who were central figures in the dance boom of the 70's and early 80's."

True enough, but Robert La Fosse wrote his autobiography,

"Nothing to Hide," fifteen years ago. Perhaps nothing was hidden, but much lay necessarily unrevealed.

Similarly, Peter Martins' "Far from Denmark," was published in 1982, when Balanchine was still alive and Peter was still dancing. Although he'd already choreographed several ballets, his elevation to NYCB Ballet Master in Chief was far from reality.

The state of ballet and publishing being what they are, I can't imagine any great clamor to bring out updated versions of these books and others like them, let alone sequels. So a lot of first-person dance history will probably go unrecorded.

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The state of publishing being what it is, I think the only biographies or autobiographies we're likely to see are premature ones -- and they'll be getting younger. It's obviously easier to sell a book when the dancer is at the height of his or her career, and that's often when they're so young that there's not much to write about.

One of the many things that's missing these days are little fan books -- anyone remember those? They'd be short, 24 pages, maybe more, mostly photos, a few facts about personal life, training, how they got into the company, that kind of thing. But I think there isn't even a market for that now. It's partly that the Boom is over, but partly that publishing houses are now owned by megaconglomerates and the idea of selling 1,000 or even 5,000 or 10,000 of anything is not what they think of as having a good time.

Martins may well have another biography done -- he should, I think; he's directed a major company for nearly 20 years. But it's harder to write a post-performance biography of someone whose career ended with his or her last performance.

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Those were great little books, if we're thinking about the same ones. Some years ago I got rid of several of them in a fit of housecleaning fervor, and I've regretted it ever since. I still have a few, including Alan Kriegsman's book on Suzanne Farrell, written just after she returned to NYCB. Excellent text, and photos I haven't seen elsewhere, and a volume on Verdy with text by Haggin, I think.

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I have one of those short bios which no amount of housecleaning has made me discard. It's only 20 pages and was written by C.W. Beaumont on Fonteyn and published in 1948. The photos are particularly interesting---all taken before her 'nose' job--much more dynamic face which emphasized her Brazillian roots.

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A good idea, but Kenneth Branagh beat everyone to it – he composed a biography, "Beginning" when he was well under 30 –27, I think.

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There have been LOTS of early bios, including LaFosse's (as noted earlier in the thread) and Nureyev's, which was done when he was about 25. (Although according to John Percival, he tried to get out of it when he finally got a job.) That's why I want a Rule. Picture books before 35, word books after :)

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"Perhaps nothing was hidden, but much lay necessarily unrevealed. " (Farrell Fan)

i read this (past tense) as 'Perhaps nothing was hidden, but much lay UNnecessarily REVEALED.'

;)

thought you might find that funny...as i did.

(yes, i HAVE read the book.)

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you're quick on the draw today, farrell fan! nice to 'meet' you. :(

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C.W. Beaumont's books are great!

We have, I believe 3 of them, at our school library, I was shocked to find when I checked one out that it had been on the shelf for more than 20 years!!! It says something about how illiterate young dancers can be even to their own art form. So I understand why the stopped publishing them, but I do agree they are great!

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Nobody's mentioned Darci Kistler's little paperback autobiography, which came out something like 5-10 years ago.

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I managed to miss Darci's autobiography. Wonder if any copies survive?

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A sadly significant exception to the under-35 rule is Diane Solway's excellent biog. of the late Eddie Stierle, Dance Against Time. It's not an autobiography but certainly premature.

R

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Kistler's "autobiography" is really a children's book about her career. It's sold at the NYCB gift bar.

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