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The Ballet Lover’s Companionby Zoe Anderson is a very informative and very enjoyable book. It contains a brief history of ballet and the background behind and a synopsis of the major and minor ballets performed today. It is a good reference work to keep on the shelf, and as the name implies, it’s also a book that one can keep on the night table and read before bedtime. It gracefully threads the line between being overly factual and dull and too witty and superficial. It is not a coffee table book. It has no beautiful photographs of ballerinas. But the writing is a delight and the information is valuable. It will make a great gift for others or for yourself.
Holding on to the Air – An autobiography by Suzanne Farrell and Toni Bentley. Suzanne Farrell is one of the greatest dancers of all times and Toni Bentley is one of the greatest writers of ballet books, so it has a lot going for it but it does bog down a little near the end. Still it’s a very fine read.
Once a Dancer – Allegra Kent details her dance career with lots of anecdotes about herself and other well-known dancers with the New York City Ballet. Like many autobiographies it entertains and bores in equal parts. You can buy a used copy on Amazon for as little as $3.45.
Rene Blum and The Ballets Russes: In Search of a Lost Life – Judith Chazin-BennahumRene – Rene Blum and the Ballets Russes uncovers the events in the life of the enigmatic and brilliant writer and producer who perished in the Holocaust. Brother of Leon Blum, the first socialist prime minister of France, Rene Blum was a passionate and prominent litterateur. He was the editor of the chic literary journal Gil Blas where he met such celebrated figures as Claude Debussy, Pierre Bonnard, Edouard Vuillard, Andre Gide, and Paul Valery. As author Judith Chazin-Bennahum’s research illustrates, Blum actually arranged for the publication of Proust’s Swann’s Way. But Blum’s accomplishments and legacy do not end there: after enlisting in World War I, he won the Croix de Guerre and became a national hero. And Blum resurrected the Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo after Diaghilev’s death. Tragically, he was arrested in 1941 during a roundup of Jewish intellectuals and ultimately sent to Auschwitz. Worth reading.
The Dancer Within: Intimate Conversations with Great Dancers – Rose Eichenbaum – Great interviews with dancers from Ethan Stiefel to Liza Minnelli. Most books like this are filled with lots of fluff and very few nuggets. This book is all nuggets. Highly recommended.
Masters of Movement: Portraits of America’s Great Choreographers – Rose Eichenbaum – The author is a former dancer and her interviews show it. No matter how experienced a dancer you are, you will learn something of value when you read this book. Highly recommended.
TAP! The Greatest Tap Dance Stars and Their Stories 1900-1955 – Rusty Frank – This book collects the voices and memories of thirty of America’s best-loved tap-dance stars, including Shirley Temple, Fayard Nicholas, Fred Kelly (Gene Kelly’s brother), Hermes Pan, Peggy Ryan and Donald O’Connor. Fascinating reading and appended with the most comprehensive listing of tap acts, recordings, and films ever compiled.
Bravura!: Lucia Chase and the American Ballet Theatre – To many people, Lucia Chase (1897-1986) was the American Ballet Theatre, and her reign as the queen of American ballet lasted for more than four decades. It was Chase who brought Nureyev, Bujones, Kirkland, and eventually Baryshnikov to ABT. Under her leadership, the company worked with such legends as Agnes de Mille, Anthony Tudor, Jerome Robbins, and Twyla Tharp. Her drive, ambition, tenacity, and money kept the doors open even during the lean years. Combining unique personal insights as Chase’s son along with experience garnered from his own professional dance and administrative career, Alex Ewing offers the definitive story of one of the true pioneers in the world of American ballet.
Meet the Dancers: From Ballet, Broadway, and Beyond – Amy Nathan – In this book, dancers from many backgrounds talk about their different paths to success in ballet, modern, jazz, Broadway, and hiphop. They also share advice and helpful tips, such as: practice interpreting the music and the mood of a movement, even when you’re doing a standard warm-up exercise and try to be in the front row at auditions so you can see what’s going on and so the judges know you’re eager to be seen. For ages 9-12.
The Unmaking of a Dancer – Joan Brady – This is the biography of a woman who grew up in California and trained and danced with the San Francisco Ballet and then with Balanchine in the fifties. It is probably the best written ballet biography but it’s all about the hardships, backbiting and tears of ballet with very few of the joys. Nonetheless the writing is truly superb and there is much that is worth reading from both a human and historical perspective in this book.
Dancing on my Grave – Gelsey Kirkland wrote this autobiography and it ranks as the steamiest, most interesting book written by a ballet dancer ever. She was a principal dancer with the New York City Ballet and the ABT in the 1970s and a long time dance partner (as well as lover) of Mikhail Baryshnikov. Although the book near the end becomes somewhat like a journey into The Bell Jar when Kirkland has a mental breakdown, it does make for wild reading. This is sex, drugs and ballet.
Winter Season: A Dancer’s Journal — A beautifully written book by dancer Toni Bentley describing a year with the New York City Ballet and Ballanchine. It’s the kind of book you always wished a ballet dancer would write and here it is.
Blood Memory – Martha Graham – The maven of modern dance’s only book, dictated in the months just before her death in 1991 at age 96.
Martha: The Life and Work of Martha Graham – Agnes DeMille – An excellent biography written by Martha’s friend and noted choreographer Agnes DeMille. Described as “eye-opening, riveting, enlightening, and uplifting.”
Life in Dance – Darcey Bussell – Hard to find but interesting autobiography.
Mao’s Last Dancer – Li Cunxin – From a poor village in northeast China, at age eleven, Li Cunxin was chosen by Madame Mao’s cultural delegates to be brought to Beijing to study ballet. In 1979, the young dancer arrived in Texas as part of a cultural exchange, only to fall in love with America-and with an American woman. Two years later, through a series of events worthy of the most exciting cloak-and-dagger fiction, he defected to the United States. This is his story.
Margot Fonteyn: A Life – Meredith Daneman – Margot Fonteyn (1919–1991) earned her title of prima ballerina assoluta with her elegant presence, exquisite musicality and eloquent line. She was Frederick Ashton’s muse, Rudolf Nureyev’s partner and, for more than 40 years, the ideal of the English ballet style. As Daneman relates in this admiring and compulsively readable biography, well before forging her partnership with Nureyev, Fonteyn was a star, Britain’s “Queen of Ballet.” A fascinating life and book.
Margot Fonteyn: Autobiography – Margot Fonteyn – The fascinating autobiography by one of the most fascinating women ever to dance.
Dance Anecdotes: Stories from the Worlds of Ballet, Broadway, the Ballroom, and Modern Dance – Mindy Aloff – a marvelous collection of stories by and about dancers, including George Balanchine, Fred Astaire, Margot Fonteyn, Rudolf Nureyev, Savion Glover, Martha Graham, Bob Fosse, Cyd charisse, Gene Kelly, mark Morris and Lola Montez, and also stars from other arts–such as Akira Kurosawa and Bob Dylan–who have spoken about dancing with wit or illumination.
Vera Volkova: A Biography – Alexander Meinertz – Vera Volkova was central to the European ballet world for almost four decades as advisor, friend and, above all, teacher to iconic figures from dancers Margot Fonteyn, Erik Bruhn and Rudolf Nureyev to choreographers Sir Frederick Ashton and John Neumeier. Now this biography reveals Volkova’s life and legacy. Brought up in Imperial St Petersburg, Volkova was one of the students upon whom Agrippina Vaganova developed her famous system.
Nureyev: The Life – Julie Kavanagh – Rudolf Nureyev (1938–1993) made headlines when he defected from Russia in 1961. His onstage partnership with the Royal Ballet’s ballerina assoluta Margot Fonteyn received legendary acclaim. Formerly a Kirov star, trained by the famed ballet teacher Alexander Pushkin and inspired by Nijinsky and Stanislavsky, he shocked and seduced the West with his charismatic stage presence and his passionate, sometimes rough-edged dancing.
Irina: Ballet, Life And Love – Irina Baronova – Born in St. Petersburg in 1919 and narrowly evading the Russian Revolution, Baronova and her parents escaped to Bucharest, where she learned ballet. Spotted by George Balanchine, she became, at age 13, one of his three famous “baby ballerinas” with the Ballet Russe. As an actress in Hollywood, and then as a star with American Ballet Theatre, Baronova continued to work and play with luminaries Yul Brynner, Clark Gable, Laurence Olivier and Marilyn Monroe.
Leonide Massine and the 20th Century Ballet – Leslie Norton – A biography of Massine and a detailed analysis of his major ballets, including those for Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, and American Ballet Theatre. The work integrates biographical study with an examination of Massine’s works from an array of perspectives such as music, set design, and literary sources, as well as opera and theater of the period.
Getting Closer: A Dancer’s Perspective – Rosalie O’Connor – An intimate look at one of America’s greatest dance companies, a glimpse of unforgettable moments both behind the curtain and onstage during the author’s 15 years with the company
Ballet School of the Bolshoi Theatre – Yelena Bocharnikova – The first book about the Ballet School of the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow. Its authors, Yelena Bocharnikova, the school’s principal, and Mikhail Gabovich, art director, graduated from the school in the twenties and after successful careers on the Bolshoi Theatre stage returned to their alma mater to train new generations of ballet dancers.
In the Company of Stars: The Paris Opera Ballet – Gerard Uferas – For sheer beauty, this book of photographs is a collector’s dream. All the delicacy and elegance of the artists of the Ballet de Opera de Paris backstage, onstage, in the wings, in rehearsal and on tour in Japan have been brought together as a tapestry of the company’s repertoire since 2003.
In Classic Style: The Splendor of American Ballet Theatre – Nancy Ellison, Kevin Mckenzie – This over-sized, deluxe volume celebrating the exquisite spectacle that embodies the excellence of American Ballet Theatre, recognized by Congress as “America’s national ballet company,” presents the unfolding beauty, grace, agility, and sheer force of its most recent productions.
Put Your Best Foot Forward: A Young Dancer’s Guide to Life – Suki Schorer – An inspirational gift book for any girl who ever took dance classes and dreamed of being a ballerina. The book is a unique collection of wisdom and illustration, of life lessons set against a backdrop of dramatic full-color photographs of young dancers and whimsical, theatrical watercolors.
In Balanchine’s Company: A Dancer’s Memoir – Barbara Fisher – During her twelve years with Ballet Society and the New York City Ballet, Barbara Milberg Fisher worked under the direction of George Balanchine. She danced leading roles in Swan Lake and Illuminations, and performed in celebrated world premieres. In this memoir, she shares her recollections of Balanchine, his craft and his values, and lends insight into surprising aspects of his personality. Rich in anecdote, insight, and humor, it offers a unique perspective on one of ballet’s giants.
Botany, Ballet and Dinner from Scratch: A Memoir with Recipes – Leda Meredith – Autobiographical tale of life of Leda Meredith who was a principal dancer with the Jennifer Muller/The Works, is now a professor of dance at Adelphi University, and is also a certified botanist. The book comes with recipes. Dancers can do anything.
Mao’s Last Danceris the remarkable true story of renowned ballet dancer Li Cunxin’s journey from an impoverished life in rural China to true stardom on the international stage. The book is a best seller and deservedly so. It has been made into a movie with dancer Chi Cao and the cast also includes Amanda Schull of Center Stage fame.
Choura: The Memoirs of Alexandra Danilova – Ballerina and teacher with a long, distinguished career, Danilova received her training at the Maryinsky School in St. Petersburg. Her commitment to dance led her to Europe and the United States. She was a popular favorite when she performed with the Ballets Russes and the Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo. Danilova has a critical eye and excellent memory; her comments on her personal and working relationships with Diaghilev, Balanchine, Massine, et al. are analytical, informative, and rarely gossipy. In the final chapter she discusses the teaching methods she uses at the School of American Ballet.
So, You Want To Be a Ballet Dancer? – Jennifer Kronenberg has written a brief but highly entertaining and informative e-book about her life as a principal ballerina. Jennifer shares, along with her memoirs, hints, tips and professional advice for aspiring dancers and their parents, hoping to ease them through the hard years of study as well as through the abrupt and challenging transition from student to professional.
Vera Volkova: A Biography – Alexander Meinertz – Vera Volkova was central to the European ballet world for almost four decades as advisor, friend and, above all, teacher to iconic figures from dancers Margot Fonteyn, Erik Bruhn and Rudolf Nureyev to choreographers Sir Frederick Ashton and John Neumeier. Brought up in Imperial St Petersburg, Volkova was one of the students upon whom Agrippina Vaganova developed her famous system. She was the chosen disciple of the controversial Russian philosopher and critic Akim Volynsky whose ideals she carried with her when she fled to the West, escaping the horrors of the Russian Revolution and the struggle to survive in its aftermath. This dramatic account of Volkova’s extraordinary life includes her escape to Shanghai, an unusual marriage and a great love.
Where Snowflakes Dance and Swear: Inside the Land of Ballet – Stephen Mannes – Snowflakes is an intimate view of one full season in the life of one of America’s top ballet companies and schools: Seattle’s Pacific Northwest Ballet. But it also tracks the Land of Ballet to venues as celebrated as New York and Monte Carlo and as seemingly ordinary as Bellingham, Washington and small-town Pennsylvania. It covers a wide-ranging view of the ballet world from the perspectives of dancers, choreographers, stagers, teachers, conductors, musicians, rehearsal pianists, lighting directors, costumers, stage managers, scenic artists, marketers, fundraisers, students, and even pointe shoe fitters–often in their own remarkably candid words. Very well-written.
I, Maya Plisetskaya Maya Plisetskaya, one of the world’s foremost dancers, rose to become a prima ballerina of Moscow’s Bolshoi Ballet after an early life filled with tragedy and loss. In this spirited memoir, Plisetskaya reflects on her personal and professional odyssey, presenting a unique view of the life of a Soviet artist during the troubled period from the late 1930s to the 1990s. Plisetskaya recounts the execution of her father in the Great Terror and her mother’s exile to the Gulag. She describes her admission to the Bolshoi in 1943, the roles she performed there, and the endless petty harassments she endured, from both envious colleagues and Party officials. Refused permission for six years to tour with the company, Plisetskaya eventually performed all over the world, working with such noted choreographers as Roland Petit and Maurice Béjart. She recounts the tumultuous events she lived through and the fascinating people she met-among them the legendary ballet teacher Agrippina Vaganova, George Balanchine, Frank Sinatra, Rudolf Nureyev, and Dmitri Shostakovich.
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