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Ostrich

Recommended autobiographies/biographies

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I am looking for well written, informative life stories of (ballet)dancers, preferably autobiographies. I have read Fonteyn's, Bussell's, Kirkland's and Peter Martin's autobiographies, otherwise only biographies(which can be frustrating because they often contradict each other). I am particularly interested in whether Pliesetskaya's autobiography is worth reading. Thanks.

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Seeing that you are from South Africa perhaps you would be interested in reading Vergie Dermans biography. It is very interesting and it describes her career as well as her life outside of ballet. It is called Vergie Derman Dances with the Royal Ballet, it has a close-up of her face on the cover. For an autobiography, I would recomend Elaine Fifields, I don't remember the name, her life was quite unconventional.

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Karsavina's memoir, Theater Street, is something of a classic. I read it many years ago and loved it.

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I think many people wished that Plisetskkaya had had an editor (or a more aggressive editor); she really wrote it herself, it seems. But I found it interesting.

I always vote for Kschessinska's "Dancing in St. Petersburg." And then there's Tamara Geva's "Split Seconds" (well, have you ever known anyone whose father's job was providing the gold cloth used to wrap members of the Royal Family for their funerals?) and Danilova's memoire, "Choura."

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How about Prodigal Son, Edward Villella's story? Or, the utterly fascinating and sincere Holding On To The Air, Suzanne Farrell's autobiography written with Toni Bentley's help? There's Allegra Kent's autobiography Once a Dancer for yet another in-depth look at life in the New York City Ballet. In Maria Tallchief, Tallchief wrote about her life and I found it quite interesting as it references the earlier years of NYCB and a younger Balanchine. Then, there's Moira Shearer, Portrait of a Dancer by Pigeon Crowle, Nureyev: a Biography by Peter Watson (and many other Nureyev bios, but I thought the Watson book was very thorough), and Erik Bruhn, Danseur Noble by John Gruen. Evelyn Hart: An Intimate Portrait by Max Wyman is a wonderful biography revealing the bittersweet life of a dancer driven by her quest for perfection in ballet and the sacrifices that such an obsession requires. Dancing from the Heart: A Memoir is Frank Augustyn's (National Ballet of Canada) fairly recent autobiography written with Barbara Sears and I enjoyed it very much. I also second the choice of Geva's Split Seconds which Alexandra suggested. It's a book I couldn't put down, it was so compellingly written and I marveled at Geva's facility for recall. I've read and enjoyed so many others, but this is a goodly list, so I'll stop now!

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I was fortunate to come across a copy of "To Dance" by Valerie Panov. Very interesting read. Can be a bit slow in parts, but gives an unusual perspective of what dancing in the former USSR was like. If you find a copy, read it.

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I remember speeding through Karen Kain (National Ballet of Canada)'s autobiography, "Movement Never Lies". She writes candidly about her partnerships with Frank Augustyn and Nureyev, her experiences at the ballet school, the Moscow international ballet competition, and working with Erik Bruhn, Alexander Grant, Reid Anderson, and James Kudelka. Like her dancing, the book is infused with wit and grace. The book is also filled with beautiful photos.

I second Marga's recommendations, especially "Holding on to the Air".

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Distant Dances by Sono Osato is a wonderful book about a 1/2 Japanese 1/2 German (?) -American who danced with the Ballet Russe in it's later years. I haven't read it in a long, long time but I remember that it was very well written, and had a bit of a different twist, as Ms Osato was never a "star."

I, Maya Plisetskaya I also liked; I see why many would have liked some stronger editing in there, but I think getting that strong sense of an authentic (and extremely autocratic) voice makes any potential confusion or boredom worth while.

(Of course I second many, many of the previous suggestions as well)

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In addition to all the very good suggestions above, Ballerina by Antoinette Sibley.

Diane Solway's book on Nureyev is well-written and quite thorough (you can skim if it's too thorough!!!)

My all-time favourite is Choura (Danilova.)

I am very much looking forward to reading Deborah Jowitt's new book on Robbins.

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I don't believe anyone mentioned this here. Actually the autobiography is written in Russian (I don't know whether it has been translated). It was written by Gabriella Komleva (Kirov). The title, (if translated into English word for word) would be Dance -- Happiness and Pain. (Sorry, I'm not very good at translating).

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Excellent suggestion all! Especially Choura by Alexandra Danilova, I read her autobiography 5 times and still enjoy reading it. Wonderful book.

Winter Season: A Dancer's Journal by Toni Bentley is a wonderfully informative book about the hard work it takes being a dancer in a world famous ballet company. In this case New York City Ballet. She speaks about Balanchine, Farrell and Martins among others.

I just finish reading Henning Kronstam: Portrait of a Danish by Alexandra Tomalonis. A wonderful book with lots of informations. I think you would enjoy it.

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Karsavina's memoir, Theater Street, is something of a classic.  I read it many years ago and loved it.

Absolutely -- I've read it several times!

I'd also recommend deMille's Dance to the Piper, as much for its fabulous details about early Hollywood as her wonderful descriptions of life on the road with the Ballet Russe while she was choreographing Rodeo.

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My favorite is Bronislava Nijinska's "Early Memoirs", it has the sweep of a Russian novel. If you have ever wondered how Vaslav Nijinsky danced, read this book for the wonderful descriptions by his sister.

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Thank you for mentioning Nijinska, ATM. Her memoirs are one of the most interesting ballet books I've ever read.

When the book first came out, I recall reading that a second volume was planned, but nothing has ever been published. Does anyone know anything about that?

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Unfortunately, Ari, her daughter Irina died a short time ago and she was supposed to do it. I don't know anything about the other editor of "Memoirs", Jean Rawlinson, so maybe there is still hope for the next volume.

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Toni Bentley has more than one wonderful book (Winter Season was mentioned earlier in the thread): Costumes by Karinska is superb, and has tons of little-known information.

Allegra Kent's Once a Dancer is fascinating and unlike any other dance book.

Split Seconds (Tamara Geva) is great: Geva was erudite, witty, and brilliant, and later had a career in straight theatrical plays.

Lynn (Lynn Seymour) is interesting...

Distant Dances is excellent. Sono Osato was better known on Broadway, where she WAS a star (in On the Town, among other shows)

Merrill Ashley's Dancing for Balanchine is quite interesting on Balanchine roles and their demands--

and there is a Tudor bio (Shadowplay: The Life of Antony Tudor)

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Allegra Kent's Once a Dancer is fascinating and unlike any other dance book.

Well, of course, since Allegra Kent herself is fascinating and unlike any other dancer! :wink: I enjoyed that book immensely.

I enjoyed Merrill Ashley's book more than I enjoyed her dancing. It brims over with photos, and the fact that she discusses technique in addition to her own story makes it doubly informative.

Another from (in part) the pen of Toni Bentley is Suzanne Farrell's autobiography, which was honest and moving.

Not so honest (IMHO) was Gelsey Kirkland's "Dancing on My Grave," which others have liked, but I would not recommend as a favorite.

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Allegra Kent's Once a Dancer is a ravishing book - the best autobiography to come out of the NYCB, in that it's a full and vivid portrait of Kent, rather than a book you'd refer to if you wanted to know about dance or Mr B.

A book that's not been mentioned on this thread yet (methinks) are Fokine's Memoirs of a Ballet Master.

I like to read it with a solid dose of irony, like when he's talking about Chopiniana

- Chopin's music should never be tampered with - oh, btw, Glazunov added a countermelody to the pdd Waltz, but it's a beautiful countermelody B)

- while making the piece he'd not thought of succes and the audience at all, and it turned out a huge success

- he didn't want any virtuoso steps in the piece. :rolleyes:

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Two books I love are Ten Dancers and Dancer's Shoes. Not exactly bio's but they include lot's of information and pictures. Ten Dancer's in particular has wonderful photos and both career and personal information. Dancer's profiled include, Peter Martins, Patricia McBride, and a very young Patrick Dupond :wink:

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"Not so honest (IMHO) was Gelsey Kirkland's "Dancing on My Grave,"

Carbo, what exactly do you mean by that? I read the book and would be interested to know.

Thanks for all the help, everybody - lots to choose from!

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Evasive. Nothing in her book addressed the fact that for a few years at ABT, she regularly cancelled at the last minute -- with no explanation offered. She'd generally be back on stage a few days later, so they probably were not injury-related. I remember well all those tickets I'd bought to see her "second" performance of a piece, and then hawking them outside the Met, since I was so angry that I would not have been able to enjoy anything on the program. (This was in the days when advance purchase was necessary if you weren't able to get Standing Room at 10:00). Only once did the book ever so obliquely allude to this pattern of hers, when she mentioned that there was some trepidation that she might cancel out of the Live from LC broadcast on which she and Baryshnikov danced Theme & Variations.

In addition, she presented herself as the innocent victim of dance world heavies out to do her in. True to a degree, I'm sure, but she was not so blameless in her own tragedy. And it was a tragedy.

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I have only one other autobiography to add to the list but would like to comment on a few already mentioned.

Twyla Tharp's "Push Comes to Shove" is a great one too. She writes quite a few pages about her experiences with Baryshnikov - and Gelsey Kirkland.

I completely agree with Carbro's assessment of Kirkland's book. I found it tough to read because she portrayed herself as such a victim. I thought she was a LONG way from recovery when she wrote it, thus making it very painful to read, especially because I have a sister who'd behaved similarly earlier in her life and had received a similar diagnosis as the one Kirkland states in her book that she was given.

I loved all of de Mille's books. I read "Dance to the Piper," "And Promenade Home," "Speak to Me, Dance with Me," and "Where the Wings Grow". I didn't read "Reprieve". I think she wrote it after having a stroke. I'd like to read it someday.

I also loved Panov's "To Dance". I read it just before reading Plisetskaya's autobiography. They make excellent companion volumes. I highly recommend reading one right after the other because together you get a very full picture of dancers working under the Soviet Union, especially those with any amount of Jewish heritage.

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of course, Alexandra's Henning Kronstam biography is a must - and lots of fabulous photos! The web site www.kronstam.com has a "sample" chapter and twenty lovely photographs!

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