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I wonder if someone could suggest a book or two that they would consider a definitive treatise on ballet history. I have navigated my way through Jennifer Homans Apollo's Angels and have felt somewhat lost along the way. (I say this not as a criticism of her work).

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pherank   

Hello Altongrimes - there isn't really a "definitive" work that makes everyone happy. The Homans book is liked about as well as any - except for the ending section (she took a lot of flak for that part).

You could try to locate this one at your library:

 

Ballet in Western Culture: A History of Its Origins and Evolution
Carol Lee
https://www.amazon.com/Ballet-Western-Culture-History-Evolution/dp/0415942578

 

You really just have to read books that focus on particular eras and people, such as Lynn Garafola's Diaghilev's Ballets Russes to piece things together in your own mind. 

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sandik   

When I taught dance history, I often used Susan Au's "Ballet and Modern Dance" as a primary text, with a lot of supplemental readings.  It will give you a basic timeline to start with.

 

A few other suggestions:

 

Dance as a Theater Art, Selma Jeanne Cohen  (an anthology of original source texts from major individuals)

Theater Street, Tamara Karsavina (memoir that gives a flavor of theater life in St Petersburg and then with Diaghilev's company)

The One and Only: The Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, Jack Anderson (history of the main descendant of the BR touring in the US)

Dance to the Piper, Agnes deMille (memoir of her early training, creation of Rodeo, first success with Oklahoma)

Balanchine, Bernard Taper (major biography)

Frederick Ashton, David Vaughan (major biography)

Repertory in Review, Nancy Reynolds (methodical discussion of Balanchine choreography)

Shapes of Change, Marcia Siegel (clear description and analysis of iconic works, ballet and modern)

Time and the Dancing Image, Deborah Jowitt (series of essays combining social and dance history)

misc critical anthologies -- anything by Arlene Croce, Deborah Jowitt, Marcia Siegel

 

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7 hours ago, sandik said:

When I taught dance history, I often used Susan Au's "Ballet and Modern Dance" as a primary text, with a lot of supplemental readings.  It will give you a basic timeline to start with.

 

A few other suggestions:

 

Dance as a Theater Art, Selma Jeanne Cohen  (an anthology of original source texts from major individuals)

Theater Street, Tamara Karsavina (memoir that gives a flavor of theater life in St Petersburg and then with Diaghilev's company)

The One and Only: The Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, Jack Anderson (history of the main descendant of the BR touring in the US)

Dance to the Piper, Agnes deMille (memoir of her early training, creation of Rodeo, first success with Oklahoma)

Balanchine, Bernard Taper (major biography)

Frederick Ashton, David Vaughan (major biography)

Repertory in Review, Nancy Reynolds (methodical discussion of Balanchine choreography)

Shapes of Change, Marcia Siegel (clear description and analysis of iconic works, ballet and modern)

Time and the Dancing Image, Deborah Jowitt (series of essays combining social and dance history)

misc critical anthologies -- anything by Arlene Croce, Deborah Jowitt, Marcia Siegel

 

This is truly wonderful ! I am so grateful that you would take the time to construct such a list ! They are like presents under my tree ! What a feast must surely be contained within. Thank you !

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doug   

Sandra Hammond's Ballet Basics (shorter) and Robert Greskovic's Ballet 101 (longer) are also good.

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pherank   

I'll second what Sandik has said - that many of the autobiographies and biographies are wonderful, and give a real flavor for the times, and life of a dancer.

 

I also recommend that people start with Karsavina's Theatre Street, and then read:

Choura - Alexandra Danilova

Split Seconds - Tamara Geva

Balanchine and the Lost Muse - Elizabeth Kendall

I Remember Balanchine - Francis Mason [a compendium of reminiscences from all kinds of people associated with Balanchine]

Thirty Years, The NYCB - Lincoln Kirstein

Balanchine Variations, and More Balanchine Variations - Nancy Goldner [analysis of Balanchine masterworks]

Stravinsky and Balanchine - Charles M. Joseph [both biography, and analysis of Stravinsky's music and Balanchine's choreography]

I Was a Dancer - Jacques d'Amboise

Prodigal Son - Edward Villella

Holding On To Air - Suzanne Farrell with Toni Bentley

Winter Season - Toni Bentley

I, Maya Plisetskaya - Maya Plisetskaya

 

EDIT: The first few books all deal with life at the Mariinsky school during the time of the last Czar, and at the time of the Russian Revolution. You could be the dullest person in the world, but if you lived through those times, your story would still be fascinating.

The next group is all about Balanchine and NYCB dance culture. And finally, Plisetskaya's book deals with the post-revolution, Stalinist period at the Russian ballet.

Edited by pherank

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for information on Balanchine I would recommend, in addition to the "direct" biographies, the autobiographies of d'Amboise and Villella (cited above), and Allegra Kent's autobiography"Once a Dancer".  All give nuanced views of  GB by his finest dancers.  The Charles Joseph book cited above is also very fine, somewhat muscially technical, and contains important information about the aesthetics and principles formulated by GB and Stravinsky. 

Also Elizabeth Kattner-Ulrich's "The Early Life and Work of George Balanchine."   Yuri Slonimsky's article in Ballet Review:  "Balanchine:  The Early Years" and Elizabeth Souritz' "Soviet Choreographers in the 1920s" are wonderful in giving context to Balanchine and Soviet dance in the post-revolutionary period .  I am wary of Kendall's book because it is both speculative and not a primary source.  Goldner's books can be a useful list if you have seen the works she describes from her viewpoint.  Joseph Mazo's "Dance is a Contact Sport" is quite an unusual and good read about GB and the NYCB for one full year (1974). 

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pherank   
4 minutes ago, DanielBenton said:

Also Elizabeth Kattner-Ulrich's "The Early Life and Work of George Balanchine."

 

Yes! Good inclusion Daniel Benton.

 

This all makes me wonder, who will write the history of ballet in Asia (Japan, Hong Kong, China, Korea, etc.)? The Australian segment is part of the Ballet Russes story, of course.

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sandik   
5 hours ago, doug said:

Sandra Hammond's Ballet Basics (shorter) and Robert Greskovic's Ballet 101 (longer) are also good.

 

(hits self on head) Absolutely 101!  And Hammond!

 

This is what happens when I post off the top of my head at night.

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cobweb   

Another vote here for Robert Greskovic's Ballet 101. Super readable (unlike Homans) and comprehensive. 

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lmspear   

I fell in love with this book when I found it in the library way way back when.  There were many reproductions of lithographs of the romantic era ballerinas.  

 

Parmenia Migel, The Ballerinas. From the Court of Louis XTV to Pavlova (New York: The Macmillan Co., 1972)

Edited by lmspear

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Watch me as I stagger out the door with this sky high pile of books on ballet history ! I can only wonder at the great reservoirs of creative oxygen contained within ! How your generous recommendations have already ignited that creative engine within me ! What a treasure of vast proportions is this Ballet Alert. 

Edited by altongrimes

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sandik   
4 hours ago, lmspear said:

I fell in love with this book when I found it in the library way way back when.  There were many reproductions of lithographs of the romantic era ballerinas.  

 

Parmenia Migel, The Ballerinas. From the Court of Louis XTV to Pavlova (New York: The Macmillan Co., 1972)

 

Oh, me too!  This was so useful to me when I was first teaching dance history.

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Ditto to Sandik's list--my college students also used many of these texts. For something visual, if you can find a copy, I HIGHLY recommend "Ballet Russes" DVD, on such places as netflix.

Edited by Stage Right

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sandik   
2 hours ago, Stage Right said:

Ditto to Sandik's list--my college students also used many of these texts. For something visual, if you can find a copy, I HIGHLY recommend "Ballet Russes" CD, or such places as netflix.

 

Hadn't thought about the video connection.  Look for the "Magic of Dance" series from the 1980s, hosted by Margot Fonteyn.  (you'll have a terrible time finding it -- the rights to the excerpts got caught in the demise of Time Life video)  It's not a chronological examination, but there are some fabulous clips of performances that just don't show up in other places, including a demonstration of the old-school theater technology from the theater at Drottningholm.

 

"Ballerina," an A&E series hosted by Natalia Makarova, (back when A&E actually had arts programming) is another great collection of clips, many with NM but also some old film. 

 

"Dancing," a PBS series hosted by Twyla Tharp, has some excellent baroque dance material in it.

 

"A Portrait of Giselle" with Anton Dolin, is full of clips of different performances, as well as Dolin interviewing all kinds of legendary Giselles.

 

I don't think any of these are available for purchase anymore, but you might find them in library collections, or on YouTube.

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On 2/7/2017 at 5:42 PM, pherank said:

Hello Altongrimes - there isn't really a "definitive" work that makes everyone happy. The Homans book is liked about as well as any - except for the ending section (she took a lot of flak for that part).

You could try to locate this one at your library:

 

Ballet in Western Culture: A History of Its Origins and Evolution
Carol Lee
https://www.amazon.com/Ballet-Western-Culture-History-Evolution/dp/0415942578

 

You really just have to read books that focus on particular eras and people, such as Lynn Garafola's Diaghilev's Ballets Russes to piece things together in your own mind. 

 

I loved Homan's book..although her grim epilogue spoiled the whole thing.???

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Quiggin   

Pherank, Shearer's book is worth reading (if you find it at a reasonable price), though she holds odd prejudices against balletomanes and "weak parners." Good sections on working with Balanchine in England. Like all memoirs strong parts and filler to bridge the gaps.

 

I found the Jennifer Homans survey weakly researched and skimpy in the sections I knew something about already, and that there was always an overall end in mind, a schedule and an (uninteresting) ideology to keep to.

 

"I Remember Balanchine" for me best single source on Balanchine – it's Balanchine through many voices, as good a way to treat with that enigma as any.

 

Charles M Joseph book on Stravinsky & Balanchine cited above is excellent, also Sandik's mention of Marcia Siegel as an alternate to Arlene Croce. 

 

Other perhaps helpful sources on my bookshelves:

 

A nice compact French book I found at Moe's in Berkeley "Le Ballet de Cour de Louis XIV" by Marie-Francoise Christout gives a fine background on ballet's origins. Sets, cosumes and scenarios, (Apollo, Le Carnavall, Bourgoise Gentilhomme), a complete immersion.

 

"Russian Avant-Garde Stage Design 1913-1935" (Thames & Hudson) shows the originals of many of the ideas that filtered down to us through Diaghilev ballets and even through Ratmansky ballets today.

 

"Human-space Machine Stage Experiments at the Bauhuas" (Bauhaus Dessau Foundation) - beautiful book, another primary source of avant garde ideas that came to us through Black Mountain College and Cage and Cunningham.

 

"Picasso Theatre" by Douglas Cooper and "Picasso und das Theater" (library copies for me) - Picasso's devious sculptural inventions for some of Diaghilev's most important ballets.

 

Edited by Quiggin

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sandik   
1 hour ago, Quiggin said:

 

"Human-space Machine Stage Experiments at the Bauhuas" (Bauhaus Dessau Foundation) - beautiful book, another primary source of avant garde ideas that came to us through Black Mountain College and Cage and Cunningham.

 

 

 

Oooh, don't know this one -- will have to investigate!

 

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pherank   
2 hours ago, Quiggin said:

Pherank, Shearer's book is worth reading (if you find it at a reasonable price), though she holds odd prejudices against balletomanes and "weak parners."

 

Thanks for the info on Shearer's book, Quiggin. Find a cheap copy has proven daunting - I last looked about a year ago and the prices were just as bad then.
'…though she holds odd prejudices against balletomanes and "weak parners."' I rather thought that was normal.  ;)

I agree with you about the I Remember Balanchine book, and the various Balanchine-related autobiographies, for that matter - people's anecdotes tend to provide a better picture of the personalities, and times, than 'non-fiction' books, and the reader might even feel transported back to another era (yipee!). Reading about the early history of ballet tends to be a less engrossing, more academic experience, imo. So the autobiographies are invaluable.

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Quiggin   

Actually Shearer seemed to be homophobic and her attitude to balletomanes self defeating since they were her fans, albeit over zealous ones (and this was what the 80s). She wanted to seem smart and she was a lot of the time, she just needed a good editor.

Edited by Quiggin

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lmspear   
2 hours ago, pherank said:

 

Thanks for the info on Shearer's book, Quiggin. Find a cheap copy has proven daunting - I last looked about a year ago and the prices were just as bad then.

www.abebooks.com consolidates listings from used book sellers.  Here's the search results for Shearer's book on the site: https://www.abebooks.com/servlet/SearchResults?sts=t&an=Moira+shearer&tn=Balletmaster&kn=&isbn=

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