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Dueling Balanchine Bios: Gottlieb vs Teachout

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My take on Ballet Maker is that Gottlieb came in very late in Balanchine's life, and so he has to rely on the stories told by those who were there earlier. He's read much more widely than I have (even some unpublished manustcripts), and I'm glad to read the telling passages he's chosen. There's enough "new" facts there for my interest, but what really makes his book a good read is Gottlieb's perceptive commentary. Unusually and (I feel) accurately empathic, Gottlieb's seamless narrative gets the reader inside Balanchine's skin to a remarkable degree. Isn't that what a biographer is supposed to do? In so encompassing the life of a complex and sensitive person of such large talent and great accomplishment, this little book is immense.

But if it's still not enough, there's a five-page critical appendix on sources, forty-eight named specifically, for further reading. Gottlieb's own Vanity Fair article is not mentioned there. (BTW, I got that issue of the magazine free soon after its publication just by calling and inquiring how to obtain back issues! So if you want to read it, give that a try.)

There's so much here, the only other thing I want is a good index, but there's none at all.

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Of the two I think Gottlieb's book has the better pictures. In particular, there are two of Balanchine and Tanaquil LeClercq I have never seen before. In the first one its looks like they are on a beach somewhere, she is gazing off into the distance, he is gazing at her. She looks so young, fresh and happy. The other picture I find so striking is a staged group portrait later in the book, all of the people standing around the piano are looking at Balanchine, he himself is seated on the piano bench with Maria Tallchief seated behind him, she also is gazing at him, but Balanchine has eyes only for LeClercq seated on the other side of him on the bench. She looks stunningly beautiful in her La Valse costume. Her arms are crossed and she looks at no one, spendid in her isolation.

Teachout's book includes a funnyand for me poignant comparison Balanchine made between Tallchief and LeClercq:

"She (Tallchief) was like a tiger" he told an dancer years later, "and after awhile you get restless and tense living with a tiger all the time. Then I found Tanny-she was like flower."

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Just thought a link to this article ought to be kept here in this thread too.

Moscow Times: Ballet Master November 26, 2004

It's natural, when two books on the same subject come out at the same time, to weigh them against each other. But determining which of these profiles is more worth reading is a bit like choosing between two exceptional dancers. By limiting yourself to just one, you miss out on what the other has to offer. While Teachout's "All in the Dances: A Brief Life of George Balanchine" benefits from the standpoint of an independent observer, Gottlieb's "George Balanchine: The Ballet Maker" draws on years of collaboration to paint a more personal portrait of the artist.

(article has both books' covers imaged should you want to check out the photo on the cover of Teachout's book).

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Re indexing: That's still the way it is (not only in my experience, but according to others I checked with when I learned that I either had to do the index myself, or had to pay the publisher about $2,000 for them to do it). Everything within the covers of the book is the responsibility of the author -- that means paying for the permissions for photos. The publishers graciously provide the paper, the ink, and the cover.

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Really? Your book was at a university press, wasn't it, Alexandra? Maybe that's why.

I know those people do these kinds of things - blindly assuming your own university or some academic fund will "subvent" those costs. (I.e. it's all funny money.)

But really, as far as I have experienced, in trade publishing you're not paying for the images.

Indexes I don't know about. But I doubt Ms Daneman had to pay for the index to her Fonteyn bio.

It's true everything within the covers is the author's work, but nonetheless some substantial editing can occur, and - I'm keeping my fingers crossed - the author doesn't have to pay for that yet.

<Thanks for your PM, Alexandra, I'll get back to you later.>

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We're getting way off topic, but yes, even with trade presses, I know many people who've had to pay for the images and the index. These are people who've written for small presses, but also some of the very major ones. Some have had to pay for copy editing. The author also has to pay for any changes made after the copy edit. In the one European country I know -- Denmark -- the publisher pays for such things, but does it through grants.

Back to Teachout and Gottlieb, has anyone read both? (I've read neither.) Laura Jacobs, writing in the Washington Post today, came down heavily on the side of Gottlieb. (Not to imply that these gentlemen were intentionally dueling.)

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I've read both and enjoyed both. Gottlieb's is more informative, Teachout's is more fun to read.

As for indexes, the most egregious example I remember was "5000 Nights at the Opera: The Memoirs of Sir Rudolf Bing." This was published by Doubleday (not exactly a University or small press) in 1972 with no index, making the book almost worthless.

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As for indexes, the most egregious example I remember was "5000 Nights at the Opera: The Memoirs of Sir Rudolf Bing." This was published by Doubleday (not exactly a University or small press) in 1972 with no index, making the book almost worthless.

Another example is Plitsetskaya's autobiography, particularly since she bounces from topic to topic, uses patrynomics extensively, and titles her chapters in mysterious ways.

One thing in Gottlieb's book that I had forgotten originally was that he wrote that Balanchine and LeClerq had agreed to split up before she contracted polio, which puts Balanchine's dedication to her in a different light.

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And lets make sure this is linked here as well:

From the NY Times Sunday book review (by Benedict Nightingale, chief theater critic for The Times of London) - Nov 28, 2004

'All in the Dances' and 'George Balanchine': Making Sound Visible

The point about Balanchine, as both Teachout and Gottlieb emphasize, is that he was an excellent musician himself. Indeed, both quote Martha Graham: ''The music passes through him, and in the same natural yet marvelous way that a prism refracts light, he refracts music into dance.'' Not everything worked well -- Gottlieb recalls a hilarious episode in which Balanchine tried to create a ballet with some elephants that kept bellowing out their loathing of Stravinsky's music -- and the old accusation that he was ill at ease with narrative still sometimes surfaces today. But even those who found him too abstract had to marvel at the unstoppable inventiveness with which, as Teachout puts it, he made sound visible.
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As I was reading some books about Diaghilev lately I got the feeling too that part of his magic was that he was a quit proficient pianist himself and could read scores easily.

Certainly in the early years, before success began to breed more success, as it usually does, that must have been a way to show people he was really into it.

<Alexandra: every book contract I have signed has a clause saying changes after proofs are a no no. Those are hugely expensive, and so every publisher of every stripe will want to deter authors from doing that.>

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Didnt Mr B always say "My wives left me?" It's typically cryptic -- was he also talking about his muses (Farrell, Adams, etc.) who also "left" him by launching personal lives apart from him? But I've read the Gottlieb book and one of the things that's most striking is that for someone so patriarchal Mr. B's wives sounded like incredibly strong-minded, independent women. It gives me ideas about why none of his marriages ever worked out -- in the studio these women were his "muses", women he could shape and mold according to his imagination. But offstage, Maria, Tamara, Vera, Alexandra, Tanny, Suzanne, Diana, Allegra ... they sounded like handfuls! :D

I liked the Gottlieb book better, IMO it's more creative. The Teachout seems to be more derivative.

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Mr. B's wives sounded like incredibly strong-minded, independent women. It gives me ideas about why none of his marriages ever worked out -- in the studio these women were his "muses", women he could shape and mold according to his imagination.

They may have totally respected his authority in the studio, but I suspect their strong personalities were reflected in their movement and this is part of what inspired him. I don't think any of them could be described as bland dancers, do you?

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I finished the Gottlieb book this week. It was broad. However, I did enjoy reading it. It was certainly a fast read and correctly titled "A Brief Life of George Balanchine". There was some new to me information, but mostly it was a very basic understanding of Mr. B's life.

It also has a few terrific images within. I fell fast in love with Mr. B sitting at the piano between Maria Tallchief and Tanny. Not to mention the other wonderful artists. So much talent in one photo. Excellent portrait.

Edited to merge two separate posts by 32tendu on this topic. --carbro

Edited by carbro
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Regarding the Vanity Fair article discussed earlier in this thread, Gottlieb does mention it in the back of the book, thanking Graydon Carter for allowing him (Gottlieb) to "cannibalize" it. Those who are familiar with said VF piece will note that huge swatches of it can be found in "Ballet Maker" --the section on the rise of Farrell, for example, seems virtually identical.

If I had to recommend one of these books to a newcomer, someone not necessarily looking for a formal biography, I think I would go with Teachout's. Yes, there's much to take issue with, but that makes it lively. Teachout's bibliography is not as thorough as Gottlieb's, but I enjoyed his comments more. It's a very minor point, but Teachout's book gets Tanaquil Le Clercq's name right-- as Le Clercq, not LeClercq.

I did like Gottlieb's anecdote concerning Balanchine's view of the untimely death of John Cranko. :thanks:

Gottlieb appeared on Charlie Rose last night to discuss the book (he's the second of three interviews). It may be repeated today or tomorrow in some areas. No news, but an enjoyable chat.

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Got around to reading the Gottlieb last week and thoroughly enjoyed it...

I still stand by my thinking that the Teachout is better for neophytes who draw a blank on names like Danilova, Geva, Lifar, Dolin, etc.... and those others who might get turned off by Gottlieb using words like 'internecine" in the first paragraph ...

Teachout might perhaps inspire them to go on and read the biographies of the dancers involved, so that when they read Gottlieb quoting them, they already have a picture in their minds of the personalities involved and the historical import.

And yes, that Ray Schorr photo on page 146 is a jaw-dropper! Wow! And just how did they get all those people to agree to that? There's the anecdote I'd like to read about! Actually, that photo is a good example of the difference for the reader between Gottlieb & Teachout... if one doesn't know who all those people are in that photo, and their relationships & rivalries with each other, one wouldn't find it particularly interesting... Teachout would have given the background to make your eyes pop... Gottlieb apparently assumes the reader knows it.

I've also been trying to figure out that p86 photo of Zorina! I guess, specifically, I'm trying to picture the moment after and the moment before the photo.

Gottlieb's writing about Kirstein made him more human, and made it clear that in addition to being a godsend, he could be a handful. One almost gets more of a sense of Balanchine as a manager than one does in other biographies.

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dirac and Amy, I couldn't help but wonder whether you'd taken into account very much Mindy Aloff's review of Teachout's book in the 24th October Los Angeles Times. Ari quoted quite a bit here - http://ballettalk.invisionzone.com/index.php?showtopic=17835 - and I think it seems a little more scathing for being a little compressed for a newspaper column, but doesn't she make points worth considering?

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Laura Jacobs said a lot worse for the Washington Post. And both are largely correct. It's just that where they put a minus I will put the occasional plus. I'm not saying Teachout's book is better as biography or commentary, and I probably ought to have made that clear. But if I knew someone totally new to ballet who wanted to read something short and sweet, I'd probably recommend Teachout and tell him to move on to Gottlieb if he liked what he read.

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Jack, I'm sorry, I could only read the quoted blurb.

It's been a while now since I read the Teachout, but I didn't feel that the book was disrespectfully trashing Balanchine's character in the "politically correct light of our times"... rather, I remember Teachout being in awe of Balanchine, and that he went to some effort to humanize the deity. I can't say I remember Balanchine suffering as a result of Teachout's lens. The blurb seems to imply that Aloff felt Balanchine didn't have character flaws. I'm sure that there were contemporaries to Balanchine who would have considered his romantic life something of a character flaw. I even think perhaps that we in 2005 are less likely to consider a character flaw his need to marry his muse no matter what her age than people in the 1950s/60s.

Perhaps that's not the part of the article you were referring to?

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Gottlieb doesn't shy away from this "character flaw" either. In fact, I found his book more candid and it gave me a greater understanding of Mr. B, warts and all. For instance, Gottlieb theorizes that Mr. B's inability to find lasting love with any "muse" or woman perhaps stems from his extremely lonely childhood. Gottlieb also touches upon some episodes that show a less-than-pleasant Mr. B, including the incident with Erik Bruhn. If anything, I think Gottlieb's mini-biography is less hagiographical than Bernard Taper's much longer biography. There, I think Taper really did whitewash or brush aside any implication that Mr. B was less than a saint. But from Gottlieb's book I got a picture of a flawed, perhaps lonely person who definitely had feet of clay.

And this is going way way off topic, but recently i saw "Dancing for Mr. B" and that also gives us a good picture of Mr. B the man, warts and all. Particularly painful is Allegra Kent's interview, where she ends up biting her lip, near tears, as she says, "I really liked the way I danced sometimes." Gives a hint of the power Mr. B held over his ballerinas.

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In Taper's defense, his book grew out of a long profile in The New Yorker, and so it's natural that his view would not be of the "warts-and-all" kind. You could argue that the true interest of his book lies in the fact that it is largely Balanchine's story as Balanchine wanted it to be told. Gottlieb says that the Taper and Buckle books are "complementary" as I recall; he's correct in that you should read both of them, but I think Teachout is more accurate when he suggests neither book is really adequate.

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Another nice thing about Gottlieb is that he gives anecdote variants... so that you are left to guess which was the truth and which made for a good story... sometimes I appreciated being entertained by the hyperbole, and it made me like Balanchine even more rather than less.

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