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Gina Pazcoguin's "Swan Dive"

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With all due respect to traditional, Christmastime ballet afficionados, I've never loved Balanchine's Nutcracker. Sure, the music is glorious and there's some nice dancing, but it's a lot of showbiz: the growing tree, the costumes, the decor and the cute children (I do like the Angels and the Candy Canes). There's not a lot of adult dancing in it. The majority of the  first act is the party scene: highly trained dancers pretending to be at a Christmas party, some pretending to be servants, then you get them pretending to be mice with their bodies hidden. They might as well be sitting near the fountain waving a rose. I can see why corps members tire of it. If you are reading a behind the scenes story, you're going to get behind the scenes info.

Snow is great, Flowers, too, the SPF ppd, (Hello? a ballet where the lead ballerina doesn't appear in the first act?) a few divertissements... It's mostly NOT about the dancers, not in the way 4T, Concerto Barocco or Agon is. No one is pretending in Concerto Barocco, they're just dancing, it's all them and their artistry.

I much prefer Baryshnikov's Nutcracker. He had a lot more dancing in the first act.

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I haven't read Pazcoguin's book, but I wanted to weigh in on the artistic merits of Nutcracker. I love it. Sure, the overall narrative arc is lopsided and lacking. But Snowflakes, Waltz of the Flowers, and the variations for Sugarplum and her Cavalier are beautiful. I enjoy all of the divertissements, really all of them, the exception being that after many viewings Arabian gets tedious (shoutout to Emily Kikta, who brings it back to life).  The party scene does get long, but I find it to be a beautiful vision of a happy family life. Today few of us choose to live our lives in this very traditional fashion, but it's a beautiful and poignant vision nonetheless. And I enjoy seeing the generational shift in action, both in the narrative of child and parent, as well as the actuality of child and adult dancers, where you can see the children gradually and awkwardly taking on the steps shown to perfection by the adults. But, for me the part I love most and one of my favorite pieces of Balanchine ballet is the whole section after the party scene, the battle scene, and up to the end of the first act. There is a beautiful and plaintive violin solo (really beautiful!). Mother comes looking for Marie with a candle in the dark house. You can feel the cold of the snowy winter outside. The music swells with mystery, everything becomes something that it wasn't just a minute ago, and the stage fills with shadowy combatants. A brutal battle ensues, with a mix of adorable children, proud and noble mice, a heroine saving her own prince, and a glorious ride through gathering snowflakes. And the incredible music carrying everything along. I find this whole narrative beautiful and compelling.

ETA: Further thoughts. There is no adult dancing, and come to think of it no dancing at all, in that transformation-battle scene. But it is a very effective piece of theatre, accompanied by beautiful music. 

Edited by cobweb
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Yes, beautiful description @cobweb. Thank you. 

I also think it's worth noting just how generous Gina Pazcoguin is in the On Pointe series when she greets a group of children performing with her in the Nutcracker. She's warming up backstage for Arabian and they come by. She asks if they're nervous and gives them encouragement. It's a very sweet backstage scene.

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On 8/2/2021 at 2:27 PM, Terez said:

Great to read all these comments. I'm going back and forth about buying this one. I'm so enjoying Gavin Larsen's Being a Ballerina, I'm afraid Pazcoguin's book might be a rough jolt in terms of voice and presentation. Maybe I'll wait a few months between the two reads. 

I really enjoyed Pazcoguin's book and read it very quickly.  For all of you on the fence about buying it, you can get it at the library!  It's candid, passionate, sincere, has an authentic insider quality to it, and right from the beginning, you're convinced of GP's love of ballet.  I learned a lot.  Her description of dancing on Broadway was fascinating.  I do wish she had written more of the post Martins era.  Her descriptions of interactions with Martins were shocking!  I'm so glad he's gone. 

I had already read Being a Ballerina, and found it disappointing and often boring.  She never really talked about details, which ballets she loved/hated to dance, who her favorite choreographers were, did she have any dance idols.  She didn't even say much about her partners or other dancers. I didn't get a real sense of who she was. Readers who liked GL's book could easily dislike GP's.

GP's profanity didn't bother me as such, although given that English is such a rich language I sometimes wondered why she couldn't find substitute words for the Fs.

Nanushka said:

Again, I guess it's a matter of what one turns to particular books hoping to find. For me, the primary appeal of a dancer memoir is not in its prose style; if the prose gives pleasure, that's a bonus. I'm reading the book for the candid insights about a dancer's experience.

Agree that I'm looking for candid insights and a sense of who the author is, why they dance, what they love,.

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I Just finished Swan Dive and I really enjoyed it--in fact, a lot more than I though I would based on the excerpts. I think it's definitely worth reading, particularly for those who know Gina and/or NYCB.  The language can be a bit profane, but once I got into the book, it really didn't bother me. I borrowed it from the library, and I although don't think I need a personal copy, Gina's  a very engaging storyteller and I'd love to hear more from her.,

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I'm number 32 of 40 on the waiting list for Swan Dive at the San Francisco Public Library. It turns out it might not such a long wait as I originally thought since, digging deeper into the record, I see that the library has ordered something like 83 copies! In comparison they purchased/leased 10 copies of Rachel Cusk's Second Place and only two of Susan Bernofsky's well-reviewed (except by Joy Williams in Bookforum) biography of Robert Walser, the last two books I've requested. Anyway I look forward to reading Swan Dive, at least from the intriguing excerpts. 

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8 hours ago, Quiggin said:

I'm number 32 of 40 on the waiting list for Swan Dive at the San Francisco Public Library. It turns out it might not such a long wait as I originally thought since, digging deeper into the record, I see that the library has ordered something like 83 copies!

83 copies! Whoah. The New York Public Library has 12 print copies, 34 ebooks, and 5 audiobooks for a grand total of 51 copies. Note that the NYPL only serves The Bronx, Manhattan, and Staten Island. Brooklyn and Queens have their own library systems. Brooklyn has 6 print copies, 5 ebooks, and 3 audiobooks. Queens appears to have 1 print copy. That's a grand NYC total of 66 copies.

On a per-capita basis, SF is the hands down winner: there's one copy of Swan Dive for every 10,610 San Franciscans vs 1 copy for every 133,333 New Yorkers. We salute your enthusiasm.

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4 minutes ago, Kathleen O'Connell said:

That too! Tossing a bouquet across the footlights to the other coast 💐

I second that!  83 copies blows my mind.  The Boston Public Library has 3 print copies and 3 eBooks.  .  I see now that are are more than 20 reserves for the book, but several weeks ago  I was #1 and the only one reserving  a print copy.

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A closer look at the order list shows there may be some duplications, so  that number should perhaps be readjusted to 30-40-50 copies? But there are also three electronic resource vendors providing online copies – Alexander Street, Axis and Overdrive.



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