DM Recommends

September 30, 2009

They Made Our World Larger

Biographies of dancers who forged new paths


Fernando Bujones:
An Autobiography

By Fernando Bujones with Zeida

Cecilia-Méndez. Doral, FL: Higher Education & Technology Consultants, 2009. 342 pages. $35 + shipping.


Completed by Bujones’ longtime friend and coach after his death in 2005, this volume recounts a major American success story. The book charts the dancer’s youth in Cuba and Florida, and his dazzling success at ballet competitions (the chapter on winning the gold at Varna was published in Dance Magazine first) and on international stages from Brazil to Copenhagen. Much space is devoted to Bujones’ brilliant and controversially abbreviated career at American Ballet Theatre in the Baryshnikov era, with the evidence laid before us like a legal brief. Bujones’ final years, directing the Orlando Ballet with much success, found an artist at peace with himself. The portrait emerges of an appealing superdancer, a generous spirit, and all-round nice guy. Copious photographs. —Allan Ulrich



Bravura! Lucia Chase
and the American Ballet Theatre

By Alex C. Ewing. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2009. 384 pages. Illustrated. $36.


She helped found a major ballet com­pany, she ran it with flair, and she danced in landmark works. But, in truth, we know little about Chase and her accomplishments. So this compelling book, part dance history, part family chronicle (Alex C. Ewing is the subject’s son), fills an aching gap on the dance bookshelf. Chase’s inherited wealth and fascination with Russian dancer Mikhail Mordkin generated Ballet Theatre, and she lent it financial and moral support through its first four decades. She sought the finest dancers (Markova, Makarova, Barysh­nikov) and choreographers (Fokine, Tudor, de Mille) for her com­pany; and that tradition happily continues. —A. U.



Martha Hill and the Making of American Dance

By Janet Mansfield Soares. Wesleyan University Press, 2009. 422 pages. Illustrated. $35.

In 1923, when Kansas State Teacher’s College needed a dance director, it turned to young Martha Hill. In 1929, when Martha Graham set Heretic, she included Martha Hill as a dancer. By 1932, Hill was commuting weekly between teaching at NYU and at Bennington College in Vermont. She had gradually formed a concept of modern dance as a communal art that also allowed for the individual to build her own point of view.


Hill’s pioneering continued for the rest of her long life. Semesters at Bennington eventually became a summer school with a panoply of brilliant choreographers: the historic Bennington School of the Dance. Then came the American Dance Festival at Connecticut College and finally the stormy birth of the Juilliard dance department, which is now at Lincoln Center. Here the broad program envisaged by Hill won out over Juilliard president Peter Mennin’s efforts to eliminate dance. As biographer Soares observed, “Though others might have developed loftier ambitions for themselves, Martha served whatever was good for the cause of dance.” So does Soares in her warm and intelligently detailed study. —Doris Hering



Roman Jasinski: A Gypsy Prince from the Ballet Russe

By Cheryl Forrest and Georgia Snoke. Tulsa Ballet, 2008. 336 pages. Illustrated. $24.95.

Food, or the lack of it, shadowed Czeslaw Roman Jasinski’s early life in his native Poland. It also shadowed his nascent dance career after he left Warsaw for Paris. Many years later, he still recalled the three-month span when he ate spaghetti (sans sauce) every day while he awaited a promised job.


His most positive experiences at that time (1928–32), with its vagabond journey from one temporary dance job to another, came from the dance professionals he met: Bronislava Nijinska, George Balanchine, Lubov Egorova, Boris Kniasev, Olga Spessivtzeva, and Serge Lifar. Gradually his career took shape. In 1932 he began 15 productive years as a principal with the new Ballets Russes de Monte-Carlo.


Moscelyne (Moussia) Larkin, a teenager of American Indian descent, was accepted into the company and into his heart. Theirs was a long and happy marriage that led to a school and company of their own—Tulsa Ballet.


There was no special luck in all of this, just hard work and the patience one associates with an artistic quest. Add to this the appreciation and affection lavished on his life story by authors Cheryl Forrest and Georgia Snoke. —D. H.



Yuriko: An American Japanese Dancer. To Wash in the Rain and Polish in the Wind

By Emiko Tokunaga. Tokunaga Dance Ko., 2008. 344 pages. Illustrated. $20.


The life of dancer Yuriko Kikuchi, legendary interpreter of the Martha Graham repertory, has been beset by challenge. By the time she was 3, her father and siblings had died and her mother sent her to Japan to be raised by relatives. She found herself shuttling between the United States and Japan.


Dance was her passion. When World War II relegated her to an internment camp, she taught dance there and orga­nized performances. Then came New York with a dreary furnished room and membership in the labor union ILGWU. She became an expert seamstress, but the dream of dance remained intact.


Her initial encounter with Martha Graham was magical, although Tokunaga’s account of Graham’s works and later of Yuriko’s seemed somewhat freighted with academic detail.


Enter Jerome Robbins. His Siamese ballet for The King and I became a repeated source of performing experience and income for Yuriko and her daughter Susan. Also steadfast were her involvement with the Martha Graham Ensemble and her frequent setting of Graham works on other companies. The little seamstress has more than paid her dues. —D. H.



Caught Falling

By David Koteen and Nancy Stark Smith. Contact Editions, 2008. 112 pages. Many photographs. $33 + shipping.


Nancy Stark Smith participated in the first 1972 “contact” performance—a week-long five hour/day gallery performance structured and led by Steve Paxton, which evolved into Contact Improvisation. Her unique blend of athleticism, pragmatism, and a touch of mysticism helped shape and promote the practice. In Caught Falling Koteen interviews Smith over 10 years of meandering exchanges. Parallel to the interview is a scrapbook biography of Smith, with personal anecdotes by family and colleagues and lots of pictures. Most succinct is her mentor Steve Paxton’s “Backwords,” which commemorates Smith’s contribution to Contact Improvisation as a performer, teacher and co-editor of Contact Quarterly. An insightful book for anyone interested in the history and mind-set of Contact Improvisation. —Cynthia Hedstrom



Frankie Manning: Ambassador of Lindy Hop

By Frankie Manning and Cynthia R. Millman. Temple University Press, 2007. 312 pages. 37 illustrations. Hardcover, $59.50; paper, $19.95.


Frankie Manning’s story, a labor of love and commitment, makes a magnificent contribution to the history of the Lindy Hop from its beginnings in the Savoy Ballroom to its resurgence as an internationally celebrated jazz artform. With great detail, this book charts the informal training venues for swing dancers and takes the reader on an exciting tour of Harlem’s jazz community during the 1920s, ’30s, and ’40s. Frankie Manning: Ambassador of Lindy Hop is essential reading for anyone interested in this rich period in the development of America’s indigenous dance and music. An extraordinary dancer and choreographer, Manning was a national treasure and an incredible human being who died in New York City last April. The clarity and timbre of his voice in this wonderfully evocative book is a testimony to the deep trust he shared with co-author Cynthia Millman. —Jacqui Malone