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"Mr. B - George Balanchine's 20th Century"

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Don't know if it's quite the emphasis on Balanchine – "aptly melodramatic" – that I was looking forward to. Seems more along the line of Picasso "mistress" biographies than say Hilary Spurling's solid and slightly dull Matisse ones. Hope to be surprised.

Edited by Quiggin
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Homans has been getting on my nerves ever since that very early piece of hers in The New Republic where she complained that Ashton was twee. (Okay, maybe he is sometimes, but not the way she described.) But like you I hope to be surprised.

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2 hours ago, nanushka said:

There's an excerpt in the current issue of The New Yorker:


I'm struck in that excerpt by the detailed reporting on Balanchine's moods, thoughts, and emotions while touring the Soviet Union. I hope the book (which I pre-ordered) includes detailed explanations of her sourcing -- interviews at the time? dancers' memories now? journals (did he keep one?)? Apollo's Angels has brief endnotes, but I hope we see more in this one.

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I'm guessing dancers, family, and friends, both in the US and Russia, and some of the material I recognize from old interviews. As for her larger conclusion about what the trip meant to Balanchine, I don't know. Thanks for the link, nanushka. I look forward to reading the book, a new bio of Balanchine is needed.

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I enjoyed the New Yorker excerpt very much. I'd read much of the information before from other sources, but some details were new to me and Homans pulled things together nicely. Quite a stark reminder of the state of the Cold War at the time. The end of the piece was disappointing to me. It seemed like a lot of speculation and psyche diving on the part of Homans. There is no way to know what she states as fact. "...a mirror broke in his mind. He could no long hold a nostalgic reflection of himself....." 

I don't care how many people she spoke to, these are conclusions that she can't be certain of. To me it comes off as pretentious. 

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Looking at the excerpt, the final paragraph says, 

Soon after landing at Idlewild, Balanchine made a trip to Washington, D.C., for a debriefing at the State Department. By all accounts, the tour had been a personal and political victory, but Balanchine was unmoved.

Maybe the speculation about his mental state, the broken mirror in his mind, etc, could be from the debriefing report? 

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Details of the Georgian trip and his family were interesting to me. The after dinner scene with his brother Andrei waiting for Balanchine's approval for his compositions and Balanchine withholding it was pretty brutal.

I do question this overarching idea and wonder how it works out in the book:


... he had set his own path away from the Marxist materialism of the Bolshevik Revolution, and quietly built, in N.Y.C.B., a village of angels and a music-filled monument to faith and unreason, to body and beauty and spirit. It was his own counter-revolutionary place, an alternative vision of the twentieth century.

Was NYCB then a reactionary space? Was Balanchine in fact not continuing in the US the ideas he learned from revolutionary Soviet ballet masters like Meyerhold and Goleizovsky in his not so beautiful and non-angelic ballets like The Four Temperaments, Agon and Episodes? It was perhaps not an alternative place but the original place in exile.

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There is a New York City Center "Studio 5" presentation on Nov 14, featuring Homans talking about her new book and excerpts from Agon and 4T's performed by current NYCB dancers. I would absolutely LOVE to be there, but unfortunately, life dictates that I cannot. I would love to hear any reports!

Edited by cobweb
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A New Yorker "LIfe and Letters" article from the Sept. 12, 2022 edition - taken from Homans' new book, Mr. B: George Balanchine's 20th Century:

The Return
Touring the Soviet Union, George Balanchine confronted his homeland's fate.
–Jennifer Homans


[I've never really understood why the The New Yorker insists on changing the titles for articles when posted online - seems like that only creates confusion for readers.]

"On October 9th, after three days of rehearsals, N.Y.C.B. opened at the Bolshoi Theatre—elegant, Old World, plush red and gold, with crystal chandeliers—to a house packed with Soviet brass, including Yekaterina Furtseva, the Minister of Culture, a tough and cultivated woman neatly dressed à la Ninotchka, whom Balanchine grew to like. Nikita Khrushchev, the U.S.S.R.’s leader, was notably missing from his private box. As the evening began, the audience solemnly stood for the Russian national anthem, followed by “The Star-Spangled Banner,” with Robert Irving at the podium conducting an orchestra of Soviet musicians. Balanchine had chosen a program of four ballets, all plotless: “Serenade,” “Interplay” (by Jerome Robbins), “Agon,” and “Western Symphony.” For this momentous opening night, he wore his Sunday best: a Mississippi riverboat gambler’s pegged pants with a rodeo rider’s silver-embroidered shirt and string tie"

Edited by pherank
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I'm pretty sure the psychological reporting is drawn from the Bernard Taper biography. I'd have to compare them closely to be sure of it, and I don't have a copy on me, but from my memory most of what I read in the New Yorker excerpt seems like a poetic elaboration on what Taper wrote. And he based that on interviews with Balanchine. 

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