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"Portrait of a Danish Dancer"

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I’ve had the rare pleasure of reading Alexandra's book, “Henning Kronstam; Portrait of a Danish Dancer” and it is wonderful. The book is crammed with information; with Alexandra's writing style I never felt I was plowing my way through an encyclopedia. The narrative flowed and my interest did not waver. Kronstam emerges a fascinating man. He was a silent Dane not given to letting others know much about him. An artistic genius, his style was all but lost in the era of the Ballet Boom and the following changes in the art. The book tells about his exciting entrance to Royal Danish Ballet, his dancing career, his dramatic excellence, the dancers of his era, and the nurturing of the Bournonville tradition. It continues with his career as artistic director and ballet master, and his influence on the dancers fortunate enough to be coached by him (there are many insightful quotes by his protégé’s). He was a man of great detail and it is fascinating to read about those tiny details he’d add or subtract from a ballet in order to make it perfect. I highly recommend to book.


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Originally posted by atm711

I am reading the book and enjoying it very much---but, for me, it is a slow read---because I read EVERY footnote and whenever Alexandra zeroes in on a particular ballet---I search out my videotapes to refresh my memory!

That's how I read the book (substituting Web sites and photos in books for the videos I don't have). It's a rich story and Alexandra does a wonderful job with it.

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I haven't yet finished the book yet, but here are a few impressions. The book's subtitle "Portrait of a Danish Dancer" is appropriate in more ways than one. It's hard enough to write about a dancer that you can expect most of your readers will have seen in one medium or another, but to describe the qualities of a dancer that many of your prospective readers haven't seen is an even taller order. The text and the photographs, taken together, are so vivid that I almost came away thinking I had seen him. And they complement the text in a very direct way. When you read that Kronstam's interpretation of the Poet in "La Sonnambula" changed radically over the decades in which he performed it, you can see those changes in the pictures (and it's not just a matter of him getting older). You get an idea of his range comparing the pictures of him in his classical roles, with a back so straight he looks as if he had swallowed a tentpole, with those showing him in modern parts – hunched, twisted, crouching on the stage as if to the manner born. The backstage intrigues, the last of which ended so badly for Kronstam and some of which are reminiscent of the Nixon White House, are presented in clear detail without degenerating into dirt-dishing. And there is the pleasure of getting to know, or having the illusion of getting to know, a fascinating artist and man. (I was even pleased to note that he had the same reaction I did to the second part of "Angels in America"! :()

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I haven't know whether I should say anything or not :confused: But I just had to thank all of you -- first of all for reading it. It's not a short book!!! And second for posting about it.

I know it's awkward -- Leigh says the same thing every year around the time of Dance as Ever's performance. All comments, or questions, are welcome, positive or negative. It's very nice to know that, after working on it for 9 years, people are actually reading it!

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I have thoroughly enjoyed "Portrait of a Danish Dancer". Not only it is a wonderful accounting of Kronstam's development and achievements as a dancer, director and human being. It is a rich and varied insight into what makes this artist who he is. It feels intimate without being invasive into his life

and work.

It was particulary interesting to me since the company I had followed for many years ,The Australian Ballet's former director Maina Guilgud became the director of The Royal Danish Ballet for a "short" time. It is so much clearer to me why that partnership would and couldn't work.

The details that are available to the reader are ones which I would love to see in other biographies. It is a little sad that this fine

and gifted artist didn't have world recognition that he might have had. He served the art not the other way around. Of course it is all the more touching the way he chose instead to devote his passion and talents to the preservation of a great tradition. I never fully appreciated the need for keeping purity in each technique. I would guess that this book will serve as a guide for

generations to come to study the importance of preserving the Bournonville approch to dance.

Thanks to Alexandra I will always look at the Danish tradition and company with a more complete understanding and appreciation. I look forward to seeing the season at the Kennedy Center this March which will be an opportunity to observe firsthand. I recommend this book to anyone including those who wish to understand ballet in general as well as specifically a Danish approach. I think it is a work that can reach a broad audience. I have sent it as a Christmas gift to my nephew, who studies Acting. It is intriguing that Kronstam was so attracted to acting and theater but chose ballet instead. I am glad he did!

Oh yes, the photos in the book are wonderful. As I read this book and other ballet books I constantly keep referring to the photos to see if I can visually place the action in context. This book allowed this indulgence frequently. It also doesn't hurt that Kronstam is drop-dead gorgeous.

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This is just to say that now I have a copy of it: a belated (amazon.fr isn't that quick...) Christmas gift from my husband! I received it just today, and already spent much time admiring the photographs. Now I just regret they don't exist as posters, as I'd be glad to put many of them on the walls of my apartment! :cool:

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I'm grateful for the book for without it I'd have never known the artist -- he's a splendid example, in fact maybe the epitome, the flower of a great tradition: his reticences are very much in keeping with Bournonville's, but also the places where he goes overboard are ALSO so much in keeping with the choreographer who created all those freaky trolls and Neapolitan fishermen and birdsellers and lemonade-hawkers. In a way he reminds me of Allegra Kent -- such integrity, such fidelity to the world of the imagination, the artist's calling.

The photographs are SO well-chosen -- and they do the job Alexandra can't, of providing the first-hand evidence of the nobility of his style. She mostly has to quote reviews written by others, and mostly translated from the Danish, to fill out and back up her argument about his importance and the example he set -- but the pictures show you what she means, and what Nikolai Huebbe means when he praises Kronstam as pure gold -- there it is in the image -- pure gold, heartbreakingly beautiful....Check out the cabriole in efface he's in the middle of, as the prince in Sleeping Beauty, or the Apollo on the cover -- it's not just that he's tremendously gifted by Nature, what a beautiful figure he has -- but look how his body is working! Look at the rotation of the standing leg, the inner thigh coming forward. And in the character and grotesque roles, the intelligence that's gone into the distortions -- what an imagination he had, and you can see what the characters he played offered him, the chance to be sniveling, or stupidly vicious, or swaggering or spiteful or overwhelmingly vengeful, or foppish, whatever -- a wonderful spectrum of characters and emotions he'd never have been able to experience if he'd just been "himself" in the small-town capital of Copenhagen -- but that no other ballet repertory would have offered him, either.

The quotes, too -- it all adds up to make you see a wonderful artist, someone whose imagination was almost too powerful for him to stand -- my favorite quote from him comes late in the book: "You’re lost before you enter [the stage] in the big roles. You're very alone, this excitement and this anxiety -- this breathlessness..... I accept the mystique in the art of ballet because it is there. Not the purely technical and the basics -- that's something you work on -- but those who suddenly transform all this knowledge into an experience. It is mystical, it is something that is built into the talent..... Presence, that's what you buy the ticket for, to see it. Otherwise you might as well watch television or go to the movies and see the same movie every night. But what we long for is the unexpected."

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Actually, I just realized some of the implications of saying Kronstam reminds me of Allegra Kent --

If you haven't read the book or don't know much about Kronstam, you should know that he was one of the great, the very greatest, interpreters of the role of the poet in Night Shadow, or Sonnambula -- i.e. the counterpart to the sleepwalker, which was one of Allegra Kent's greatest roles..... And I couldn't offer a better example of he depth of Alexandra's insight than her paragraph on the OLDER Kronstam's interpretation of the role -- so I'll quote the paragraph:

"While some dancers have a fixed idea of a role and keep to that idea as they mature, Kronstam deliberately aged his characters as he aged. in this case, age brought richer pathos to the ballet. Rather than the tragedy of a young artist slain before he can begin his life's work, the tale of unfulfilled promise that Kronstam danced at twenty, his portrayal of the Poet when he was in his late 30's and early 40's deepened to something at once individual and universal. His older poet was a man who had never fulfilled that early promise, never found his muse. Perhaps he is acclaimed -- he must have been, to have been invited to such a gathering -- but he has yet to create a truly great work. The Sleepwalker thus represented not just an unconsummated love, but an unworshiped muse, and the notion of an artist in maturity, cruelly cut down seconds after he has finally opened his soul and could realize his full potential, was immensely poignant."

"The opportunity to grow up in a part, to develop it, was one of the reasons that Kronstam chose to remain in Copenhagen rather than laucnch a jet set career. 'I did Sonnambula for twenty years. Then you really get into the role, and you really know what it's about......."

"It's often said that a dancer finds something new in a role every time he or she dances it, but Kronstam had a different idea. 'You don't find new things in the ballets, ' he said; ' you find new things in yourself, because it's yourself that changes.' (p145)

He's a deep , honest man, and the book is very good company.

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Let me mention , since no one has yet, what I think of as the "understory"--that is, Alexandra's brilliant delineation of Kronstam's battle with manic depression. [One can see, for instance, how his control of his affect--the province of an accomplished stage artist--led people to misunderstand his state(s). ]There is also, underlying the dance story, the sensitive portrayal of his private life. This book is dignified, but deep. Not that there is any such thing as " just" a dance book, but this biography transcends the cateogy. (Every psychiatry resident should read it.) If there is a down side, it's that it induces a kind of melancholy. You read about Kronstam, and then you go out at night and see what's missing in whatever is in front of you.

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Thank you all again -- especially for mentioning the photos :)

I've put a few new ones up, and if I may humbly suggest, they look ever so much better if you switch your browser to full screen view :)

The first photo now is the one Paul mentions above, a cabriole from Sleeping Beauty (a solo made for Somes by Ashton that found its way to Denmark). Several dancers told me that this photo was tacked up on several American and French dancers' dressing room mirrors as an ideal.

Kronstam as Florimund

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I just clicked on it, the picture apeared, and I had the same response as before -- tears just spring to my eyes, it's so beautiful, the waist, the rotation, the feet, the ribs, shoulders, the HANDS! hte turn of hte head, the gaze, the intake of breath......everything you want to see is there -- it's pure gold.......

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Paul, I feel exactly the same.

This photo and the quotation which you mentioned, late in the book, is as pure a distillation as I have found of why I love ballet so.

Convoluted syntax, but you all know what I mean!

It is a wonderful, wonderful book----

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I think that Part II of the book is also extremely important in preserving, by Kronstam's narration, so many of the great roles in the repertory. (Which may well otherwise have been lost). One feels one has not only seen Kronstam dance, but has seen the Ballets performed as they should be and as I will probably never have a chance to see them. Kronstam's way of looking at his roles and these ballets taught me by extension what amounts to a new way of looking at ballet in general. His voice and spirit, as they appear in these pages, are very beautiful.

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The cabriole photo is remarkable - but I have always focussed on how much Kronstam seems to be enjoying what he is creating. Like a kid on a swing. Not so much "look at me" as "yessss".

As someone who saw Kronstam dance and admired him as a person and a truly great dancer, I consider Alexandra's book a pure gift. For those of us who wanted to follow his career from afar, there were the rare RDB tours and very little press (and no Ballet Alert!). The book gave me such a warm and complex picture of his life and his work. The photographs were wonderful, depicting not only his performances and some corners of his personal life but also his teaching and his rehearsal time. For some reason I can't describe, I also love the rehearsal photo of Hoopla with Murray Louis - Kronstam's concentration, even in the random moment captured by the camera, is so evident. The use of Kronstam's own words throughout the book made it almost seem an oral autobiography - especially fun were the times when the dry humor peeks through the darkness.

What I find so touching is how the book is reaching people who were not fortunate enough to see Kronstam during his lifetime, even inducing melancholy (a lovely turn of phrase). You see, Alexandra - maybe you were wrong. You told Kronstam that 50 years after death dancers are either a few photographs in a book or a book - but maybe Henning will have a different legacy, reminding future dancers and ballet lovers how to truly bring their life into their art - "this breathlessness" of creation.

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I've said it before elsewhere, but I'll say it again, because I think it bears repeating. Even though I could and did see other male dancers live and on television, Kronstam was my TV hero (take that, Marshal Dillon!) even more so than Erik Bruhn. Not that I didn't like Bruhn; far from that. Kronstam was just such a more approachable dancer on the small screen and his personality read large there. Bruhn was best onstage, but by the time I'd seen him so, I'd already been convinced that the Danish dancer I most admired as a role model for what to do and how to act was Kronstam.:)

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Nancy Dalva of Dance Insider reviewed the January 18th performance of Davidsbundlertanze, using an anecdote from Alexandra's book. Dalva cites Alexandra's passage describing Kronstam coaching Thomas Lund. Kronstam tells Lund that Ashton didn't like smiling during performance, preferring a polite face, a mild face: "Look at the mirror and try to make happy eyes." Dalva then uses this imagery to describe the particular power of Kyra Nichols' performance. For the full review,


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Thank you, Glebb. :) I didn't want to bump the thread back up myself, but since you did, I'll take the opportunity to thank the people reading this who came to the book signing two weeks ago. There were several Ballet Alertniks there (but I was also very pleased that about two-thirds of the people there I didn't know, and when they came to have the book signed, some said they'd never heard of Kronstam but saw the book in the window and were ballet fans, and so.....)

The Barnes and Noble Event Coordinator was quite pleased at the turnout -- they had very low expectations, apparently. She kept saying, " This was great! You had so many people!" And, since my agent had had to press to get the signing, I asked her to please remember this the next time someone came along with a dance book! So you all did something for The Cause :)

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