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Favorite books by dancers


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#16 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.

#17 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.

#18 BryMar1995

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Posted 15 May 2002 - 01:35 PM

White Swan, Black Swan (Ramdom House, 2001), by Adrienne Sharp is a collection of inter-related stories about dancers and being in dance culture. When I first picked it from the bookstore shelf I thought it would be terrible or tacky, but I was hooked from the first sentence. I had to buy it. The author is credited with having studied at Harkness House for Ballet Arts, but her book flap bio doesn't credit her with having danced in any companies. Nevertheless, she does write fiction about dancers with an insider's view. Although the stories are for the most part fiction, all the characters and events ring true to my experience, and are based on or taken from people I seem to know or have known. Several of the stories use Godunov, Ashton, Fonteyn and Nureyev as focal points, and Adrienne Sharp takes the liberty of saying out loud what most people in the dance community only whispered about. Her literary candor is both courageous and enlightening. Her stories sometimes have a sharp edge, but they are also genuinely moving and sympathetic. Mainly, she just tells some the truths about being a dancer, and she does it with skill, inspiration, and compassion. The book was harshly (and in my opinion, unfairly) criticized in a "Dance Magazine" review. It's true that the work is for mature readers, and it does show dance culture from its most hopeful to its most desperate. But it also reveals the very human side of being a dancer, and she includes everyone, from the stars and the heroes we look up to right over to the lowliest dancer in the corps de ballet.

Rick

#19 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.

#20 BalletNut

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Posted 14 May 2002 - 04:28 PM

Becky, I absolutely agree that Kirkland's book, true or otherwise, is a good read, very entertaining. The problem is that when it's the only exposure that people have to ballet or to Balanchine, it gets taken as the truth. After all, it is being marketed and presented as an autobiography , which, unlike the novel or even some genres of non-fiction, is, by definition, the true story of the author's life. Now I'm not diminishing the personal relevance of her experiences, nor am I denying that the things she experienced were true to her, but the truth in that book is lopsided, and is best understood in relation to other people's experiences. In other words, Dancing On My Grave represents The Truth According To Gelsey Kirkland, if not necessarily the truth according to the other people she mentions in her book.

#21 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.

#22 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

#23 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.

#24 Farrell Fan

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Posted 09 May 2002 - 05:39 PM

This is my personal Top Ten list:

Toni Bentley, Winter Season
Auguste Bournonville, My Theatre Life
Alexandra Danilova, Choura
Suzanne Farrell with Toni Bentley,
Holding on to the Air
Tamara Geva, Split Seconds
Tamara Karsavina, Theatre Street
Allegra Kent, Once a Dancer...
Robert Maiorano, Worlds Apart
Bronislava Nijinska, Early Memoirs
Paul Taylor, Private Domain

These books vary greatly in length, ambition, and literary quality. They're just those I like best. What are your favorites?

#25 Farrell Fan

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Posted 10 May 2002 - 07:44 AM

I agree with Paul Parish about I Remember Balanchine generally and the William Weslow chapter in particular. The ending of that chapter packs a tremenous wallop. I remember wanting to read it aloud to anyone who'd sit still for it.

#26 Farrell Fan

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Posted 12 May 2002 - 08:47 AM

I'm glad Manhattnik mentioned Chris d'Amboise's book. It's called Leap Year and has a foreword by none other than Lincoln Kirstein.
The book is a very lively account of a year in the life of an NYCB dancer -- at the State Theater, Saratoga, Copenhagen, and on a mini-tour of New York State. It's very enjoyable, except perhaps to residents of Buffalo. "Buffalo must be the armpit of New York," writes Chris. It was published by Doubleday in 1982 and I'm sure has long been out-of-print. There must be copies around though, possibly including Manhattnik's.

As for Dancing on my Grave, Gelsey Kirkland did put ballet on the bestseller lists, and I don't think anyone else ever managed to do that. But the main reason I hated the book was that she blamed everyone for her problems except herself. Most astonishingly, she seemed to blame Balanchine for turning her on to drugs. I remember her account of her relationship with Patrick Bissell, a dancer I'd admired since his SAB days, as being both nasty and heartbreaking. I went to my bookshelves just now to refresh my recollection about the book, but couldn't find it. I must have gotten rid of it because it was so depressing. Gelsey was a beautiful, uniquely talented dancer. Let's hope she'll be remembered for that rather than this book.

Incidentally, there was a sequel, also written with Dancing on my Grave's co-author Greg Lawrence (her husband at one point, I believe), which was all sweetness and light. Probably because of that, I've forgotten the title. The book told about Gelsey's teaching at the Royal Ballet. Mr. Lawrence went on to write Dance with Demons: The Life of Jerome Robbins, which emphasizes the nasty aspects of its subject.

#27 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.

#28 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.

#29 Farrell Fan

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Posted 16 May 2002 - 04:23 PM

Okay, I read the whole thing. (See an earlier portion of this thread.)

Alice Patelson was at SAB from 1964 to 1970, and in the NYCB corps from 1970 to 1975. Her career was marked by knee, foot, hip, and back injuries, and was finally ended by what she describes as "muscle weakness." She was unable put on her coat or move a chair without assistance, despite a month's stay at a rehabilitation hospital. During her NYCB days, she had a mild and inconclusive flirtation with a dancer she calls Ted, and after she had to stop dancing, she hit it off with an anonymous professor from her unidentified college. This is how the book ends: "He was thirty-five and was eight years older than myself. I felt that he was a mature and sensitive man. While we were dining and talking, an overwhelming feeling came over me, and this evening turned out to be the beginning of a love affair that was to last for many years."

Alice's father and uncle ran the Joseph Patelson Music House behind Carnegie Hall. George Balanchine was a customer. That's all we're told. While she was at NYCB, Balanchine talked to her a few times, smiled at her, and was always understanding when she couldn't dance because of her injuries. Violette Verdy was nice to her. So was Peter Martins, then a recent addition to the company. She admired the recently-returned Suzanne Farrell. In short, this book, Portrait of a Dancer, Memories of Balanchine, is singularly unrevealing. As set down here, there's nothing individual, unusual, surprising, or even particularly interesting about Alice's experiences in class, rehearsal, onstage, or at home. It was published by Vantage Press, a vanity publisher.

#30 Becky

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Posted 12 May 2002 - 06:03 AM

What do you all think of Gelsey Kirkland's 'dancing on my grave'?

I couldn't help but read it because it was really sex drugs and rock n roll..... no sex drugs and ballet! Although it did make an impact on me, looking at the mistakes she made.

Becky


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