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Walter Terry

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I recently received a book called "I Was There", a collection of Walter Terry's writings. He covers dance in all its aspects throghout the 20th centure, from the [Henry] Ford Ballet especially established for the 1940 World Fair (yes, really) to Nureyev dancing Graham in 1976. It's a fascinating book. I am constantly dipping into it and reading "just one more" item. I am not very familiar with the development of American ballet, so it is very illuminating. Also interesting is the social - cultural commentary. He was a great supporter of American ballet, and in his early days the term "American ballet" was obviously oxymoronic.

As I had never heard of him before, I would like to know how Walter Terry is perceived today in retrospect. Is there a writer who held opposite opinions to his? Did anyone meet him? Thanks for any replies.

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I have that book too, GWTW :) As in most cities, in New York there's often a divide between the daily critics and the weekly/monthly ones, and Terry was definitely a newspaper critic (later, after the Herald Tribune folded, he wrote for Saturday Review). He was of the era when American dance was new and struggling and, IMO, he was often more of a booster than a critic. So one needs to read between the lines with those glasses on. But sometimes I think he had real insight -- he and John Martin were the two American critics who understood the Danish Ballet, to my mind; many others looked at it and said, "ha, doesn't look like Balanchine/Petipa, nothing there, but aren't they adorable," and Terry looked beyond that and I found his (and Martin's) writing on the Danes in the 1950s more useful than most other English/American writers.

Others on Terry? Especially ATM and Kurneval, since you were reading him when he was writing.

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Guest Malcolm

Hi Alexandra, I was about to respond... until I realised that I got Terry mixed up with another dance writer with the same first name -- Walter Sorell. :eek: I don't suppose Sorell and Terry were writing around the same time?

Terry's books are a little hard to find in my corner of the world. If they're not out of print, then they've gone missing in the public libraries. But he seems to have written an awful lot -- books on ballet dancers as well as biographies of Martha Graham and Ted Shawn -- so I would definitely like to read his writing. Someday.

Sorry for not exactly answering your question, Alexandra :)

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Originally posted by GWTW

Did anyone meet him? Thanks for any replies.

GWTW, I had the pleasure of meeting Walter Terry when I was a dance major at Adelphi University (1965-1969) and the director of the Dance Dept., Harry Bernstein, invited Mr. Terry to speak to us.

He was a very respected dance writer and to this day I read excerpts from his books.

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Welcome, Malcolm! Walter Sorrell and Walter Terry were writing at the same time. (I believe Sorrell just died a few years ago. He was a good friend of a close colleague of mine.)

Sorrell did more scholarly writing, essays and books more than criticism, although I believe he covered European dance for a now-defunct American publication called "Dance News." I think his book "Dance in Its Time" is excellent -- odd to read a book where individual dancers are never mentioned!

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Unless I'm mistaken, Walter Terry was the critic at the New York Herald Tribune who was called up to military service for World War II, whom the great Edwin Denby substituted for until the end of hte war, when Terry returned and took over his old job. (And Virgil Thompson, a SUPERLATIVELY great music critic, had a hand in hiring them bth.)

Terry is one of those people I've always wanted to read but have never found a copy of. I can certainly believe he's a pleasure to read a little of every day. I reread a little Denby every few days.

If you don't know Denby's books, "Looking at the Dance" -- which is made up MOSTLY of short pieces he wrote for hte Herald Trib -- and the more reflective essays in "Dancers, Buildings, and People in hte Street" -- are IMO the best things ever written in English and they're very easy to get hold of in paperback, and you owe yourself hte pleasure of his company....

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You're not mistaken – Denby did fill in for Terry. I have Terry's Ballet Guide, which I found in a used bookstore, at home and have found it useful. His stuff is mostly out of print, I believe, but I've seen copies used and in libraries.

In addition to the volumes Paul mentions, there is a Denby collection, "Dance Writings and Poetry" edited by Robert Cornfield, that includes the material -- can't recall offhand if it's all the material -- in Denby's books along with some miscellaneous pieces. Denby was a poet, in every sense. But that's for another thread. :)

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Thanks for your replies. My book is second hand. I think it was bought at the Strand in NYC.

I haven't read any of Denby's writing but it sounds like his style was completely different from Terry's.

Alexandra, I like your term "booster" but I quite like the way he "boosts". His agenda is very much in the open and although I find it hard to believe that once upon a time there was an area in which America was not top gun (

;) ), there must have been a need for this boosting. Now that I think about it, Terry's writing style is very 'Americana' - open and warm and lively and no-nonsense. Interesting how someone's writing style can reflect the style of dance that person likes.

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I read Terry mainly as an antidote to John Martin. There is a funny cartoon by Alex Gard that explains it all. It depicts Terry and Martin observing a ballerina in an ungainly bent-over pose. Terry has a copy of "Ted Shawn" in his pocket and Martin carries under his arm a copy of "My Life by Isadora Duncan". I am glad for Terry that he survived the War, but I was sorry to see Edwin Denby go.

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