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I always hoped that Arthur Mitchell would publish an autobiography. I wonder why he did not.

Neryssa

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That's a good question, Neryssa. Certainly such a book would have been well worth a read. I wonder if anyone ever put the question to him in an interview?

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It certainly would have - I'm sure Mitchell was approached at one point (just assuming). I wonder why male dancers from that 1950s/1960s City Ballet generation are less likely to publish their memoirs? Not just because Balanchine preferred to choreograph for women? I have found this generation of dancers to be more reticent about discussing their careers and personal lives - which is a bit refreshing but unfortunate for the archives.

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I don;t want to speculate but the men who did write memoirs (Jacque d'Amboise, Eddie Villela) were both straight. Male dancers from that era who were not might have wanted to keep their private lives private. 

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 I don;t want to speculate 

I think you just did. :)

Autobiographies don't necessarily have to address private lives in any detail. Artists sometimes write memoirs of their professional lives and doings that spend little or no time on such matters - Linda Ronstadt's "Simple Dreams - A Musical Memoir" being one recent example. (I'm sure her publisher wasn't too happy about that.) Mitchell could certainly have produced a very solid and valuable book without going into his sex life, so if such concerns were indeed holding him back that's most unfortunate.

 

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11 hours ago, dirac said:

I think you just did. :)

Autobiographies don't necessarily have to address private lives in any detail. Artists sometimes write memoirs of their professional lives and doings that spend little or no time on such matters - Linda Ronstadt's "Simple Dreams - A Musical Memoir" being one recent example. (I'm sure her publisher wasn't too happy about that.) Mitchell could certainly have produced a very solid and valuable book without going into his sex life, so if such concerns were indeed holding him back that's most unfortunate.

 

True. Moss  Hart's Act One is such a book -- a great autobiography that does not talk about his personal life at all. Don't think Paul Taylor's Private Domain discusses his private life either.

But it was a different time I guess -- Sir Frederick Ashton, Merce Cunningham, Stephen Sondheim (!!!), Jerome Robbins, Erik Bruhn among other giants did not pen their autobiographies. Their reasons for not doing so will I guess remain private forever.

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Shostakovich said several times that he would one day write his autobiography and explain everything but never did, perhaps never really intending to.  Mitchell, Ashton and Cunningham may have felt they really didn't have anything to say or any talent for making anything they had to say about themselves interesting. Isn't it terribly difficult to find some way to grab hold of your past and overcome all its resistances? 

The most interesting memoirs I've read have been minor or narrow ones, like Calvino's "Road to San Giovanni", or Tolstoi's "Boyhood," or that of Penelope Fitzgerald by way of her short novels. Coetzee's "Boyhood" was also good because it was so direct and simple. I did like this opening by Jack Robinson, whose "Robinson" [Crusoe] was just reviewed on a Times podcast. It may offer a method of sorts.

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It’s not hard, de Saupicquet once told me, to gain entry into other people’s lives: they generally leave the spare key under the plant pot by the back door, the usual place. But once you’re in, it hits you that they have gone out, and you have no idea when they’ll be coming back.

 

Edited by Quiggin

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8 hours ago, Quiggin said:

Shostakovich said several times that he would one day write his autobiography and explain everything but never did, perhaps never really intending to.  Mitchell, Ashton and Cunningham may have felt they really didn't have anything to say or any talent for making anything they had to say about themselves interesting. Isn't it terribly difficult to find some way to grab hold of your past and overcome all its resistances? 

The most interesting memoirs I've read have been minor or narrow ones, like Calvino's "Road to San Giovanni", or Tolstoi's "Boyhood," or that of Penelope Fitzgerald by way of her short novels. Coetzee's "Boyhood" was also good because it was so direct and simple. I did like this opening by Jack Robinson, whose "Robinson" [Crusoe] was just reviewed on a Times podcast. It may offer a method of sorts.

 

I liked Graham Greene's "A Sort of Life" very much, and it's also a "narrow" kind of autobiography.

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Isn't it terribly difficult to find some way to grab hold of your past and overcome all its resistances? 

A wonderful way to put it, Quiggin. Ashton, for one, did sit for interviews with Julie Kavanagh and he knew that she was going to write a candid biography. He had mixed feelings about it but one feels that in the end he did want the story told even if he himself couldn't or wouldn't do it. Others like Robbins and Cunningham who were working right up to the end may have felt that they weren't done yet. I can't imagine Balanchine ever trying to write a book himself; I'm sure he would have said he wasn't a writer and wouldn't try to be one.

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Mitchell would have had so much to write about - The path to becoming a dancer as an African American male during the New York City Ballet's incredible history from the mid-1950s to the late 1960s. He danced with Diana Adams, Tanaquil Le Clercq, Allegra Kent, Violette Verdy, Patricia McBride, and Suzanne Farrell, etc. He probably could have written an entire chapter on Agon. The final chapters could have addressed the Dance Theatre of Harlem and its' prominent dancers, teachers, and struggles all in the context of the civil rights era and why the government should have subsidized such an important company. A major opportunity was missed here by not publishing a book (someone else could have written it, e.g., "as told to." It is a major loss.

 http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/culturemonster/2010/07/talking-with-dance-theatre-of-harlems-legendary-dancer-arthur-mitchell.html

Edited by Neryssa

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Thank you for the link, Neryssa. Among other things, I would have been interested to read about how Le Clercq came to teach at DTH and her time there. As you say, a major loss.

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On 10/11/2018 at 12:19 PM, dirac said:

Autobiographies don't necessarily have to address private lives in any detail. 

I always found amusing that, among the myriad of Markova's books out there, both from herself and from other authors, her private life seems to be a complete untouched subject...quasi a mistery.

Edited by cubanmiamiboy

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On 10/20/2018 at 11:59 PM, dirac said:

Thank you for the link, Neryssa. Among other things, I would have been interested to read about how Le Clercq came to teach at DTH and her time there. As you say, a major loss.

I would love to know more about Le Clercq's teaching too.  I've never read anything about it. I've only heard snippets about her teaching in the documentary (Afternoon of a Faun) but Arthur Mitchell and Pat McBride Lousada did not elaborate - 

I wonder if there is anything at his archive at Columbia University: https://exhibitions.library.columbia.edu/exhibits/show/mitchell/arthur-mitchell-artist 

 

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On 10/25/2018 at 3:18 AM, cubanmiamiboy said:

I always found amusing that, among the myriad of Markova's books out there, both from herself and from other authors, her private life seems to be a complete untouched subject...quasi a mistery.

True. My guess is there just wasn't that much to talk about.

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8 hours ago, Neryssa said:

I would love to know more about Le Clercq's teaching too.  I've never read anything about it. I've only heard snippets about her teaching in the documentary (Afternoon of a Faun) but Arthur Mitchell and Pat McBride Lousada did not elaborate - 

I wonder if there is anything at his archive at Columbia University: https://exhibitions.library.columbia.edu/exhibits/show/mitchell/arthur-mitchell-artist 

 

The documentary was certainly disappointing in that respect. I had hoped to hear something from her students about the kind of teacher she was (and more about her post-Balanchine years generally). 

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An interview with Gayle McKinney Griffith, a former dancer and ballet mistress in Mitchell's DTH from early days.

Quote

“Arthur had a vision that, for us, surpassed all of our dreams at that time. He broke open the doors for us to come rushing in and showing our talents. It was multifaceted and we could do so many different things that, ordinarily, you wouldn’t see,” she says.

“He challenged us, and we broke those barriers. I’m very grateful for that, I’m very thankful I had him in my life.”

“It was like he was throwing seeds,” McKinney Griffith says, looking back on how Mitchell and the dance company left both a societal and cultural impact that is still felt today.

 

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On 10/26/2018 at 9:25 PM, dirac said:

The documentary was certainly disappointing in that respect. I had hoped to hear something from her students about the kind of teacher she was (and more about her post-Balanchine years generally). 

Although I am very grateful for this fine documentary, I have a few criticisms of it and your point is one of them.  Maybe I should discuss this on another thread but I hope Holly Brubach's biography of Le Clercq is more detailed - and factual. I have my doubts.

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On 10/19/2018 at 11:03 AM, Neryssa said:

Mitchell would have had so much to write about - The path to becoming a dancer as an African American male during the New York City Ballet's incredible history from the mid-1950s to the late 1960s. He danced with Diana Adams, Tanaquil Le Clercq, Allegra Kent, Violette Verdy, Patricia McBride, and Suzanne Farrell, etc. He probably could have written an entire chapter on Agon. The final chapters could have addressed the Dance Theatre of Harlem and its' prominent dancers, teachers, and struggles all in the context of the civil rights era and why the government should have subsidized such an important company. A major opportunity was missed here by not publishing a book (someone else could have written it, e.g., "as told to." It is a major loss.

 http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/culturemonster/2010/07/talking-with-dance-theatre-of-harlems-legendary-dancer-arthur-mitchell.html

This is all assuming he WANTED (or felt like he could) write about all that (or "as told to" all that). I agree it's a shame he never published anything, but perhaps it's the historian in me - we simply can't expect such riches from our sources. OTOH, if his archive is safely with Columbia, suffice to say, scholars will pull out of it things Mitchell never would've dreamed of speaking about. 

The autobiographical archive is fetishized in the field of history & generally overvalued, though it is of course valuable. 

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On ‎10‎/‎29‎/‎2018 at 7:57 AM, Neryssa said:

Although I am very grateful for this fine documentary, I have a few criticisms of it and your point is one of them.  Maybe I should discuss this on another thread but I hope Holly Brubach's biography of Le Clercq is more detailed - and factual. I have my doubts.

A thread has been started on Brubach’s book, here. I do find it odd that Brubach is even embarking on such a work, given her previous emphasis in print on Le Clercq’s desire for privacy and her reserve even with good friends (or people who thought they were good friends, possibly). That said, I will certainly read the book and I’m glad Brubach has begun before even more of Le Clercq’s contemporaries join the majority and become unavailable for comment.

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