Great reads for the beach, the mountains, or the studio
Dance Anecdotes: Stories from the Worlds of Ballet, Broadway, the Ballroom, and Modern Dance
Edited by Mindy Aloft. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006. 288 pp. Hardcover, $26.
Dance usually speaks for itself, but a few well-chosen words are always welcome. This quirky collection has comments from everyone you ever wished you’d met. Here’s Jean Cocteau on Nijinsky, “gasping, sweating, pressing one hand to his heart” after a performance of Le Spectre de la Rose; Martha Graham on letting her hair go white (“The hell I will”); and Hollywood tap phenomenon Eleanor Powell on a surprise visit to the set from Toscanini (he wanted to see “the dance with the noise”). It’s a heartfelt homage to dance’s best, not to say most outspoken.
Aloff rarely repeats by-now familiar stories. Included are sections on legends like Pavlova and Fonteyn, as well as coaching, partnering, makeup, salary, and other topics that professionals and aficionados will find absorbing. She even works in a cold remedy popular with the endlessly touring Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. Some sections lack a strong organizing principle—“Dancing and Related Theatrical Professions” has an inexplicable excerpt on dressage—and sometimes a little more context would be welcome. Cyd Charisse is quoted on Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire, with no mention of their movies together. Quibbles aside, like all great conversations, browsing these pages will make an afternoon disappear. —Hanna Rubin
By With To & From: A Lincoln Kirstein Reader
By Lincoln Kirstein, edited by Nicholas Jenkins. University Press of Florida, 2006. 448 pp. Illustrated. Paper, $29.95, www.upf.com.
Co-founder of New York City Ballet and an omnivorous essayist on the arts, Kirstein achieved particular elegance in his dance writings, which figure prominently in this anthology, originally published in 1991. Collected here are Kirstein’s early diary entries on those months in 1933 when he met Balanchine in Europe and persuaded him to come to America (“ironclad contract necessary,” cabled Chick Austin from Hartford). Kirstein’s introduction to Muriel Stuart’s book The Classic Ballet is familiar, but “A Ballet Master’s Belief,” penned the year after Balanchine’s death, combines aesthetic appraisals and biographical material that only Kirstein could provide. Reprinted, too, is his first (1930) dance article (on Diaghilev), as well as an admiring but simplistic entry on Stravinsky’s working method, and a charming essay on gagaku, the ancient Japanese court dance. Throughout, Kirstein remains patrician, cranky, and intoxicatingly judgmental. Yet his credo that the ballet language exerts a moral force bears consideration in an era when anything that moves is often construed as dance. To the end of his days, Kirstein kept the faith. —Allan Ulrich
Ballet 101: A Complete Guide to Learning and Loving the Ballet
By Robert Greskovic. Foreword by Mikhail Baryshnikov. New Jersey: Limelight Editions, 2005. 656 pp. Paper, $16.95.
Ballet 101 is not just for novices. Back in print, in its second edition, this hefty but accessible book by Robert Greskovic, dance critic for The Wall Street Journal, will help established professionals brush up on ballet history, technique, and the plots of popular ballets. Greskovic gives us witty, easily digestible chapters that are jam-packed with insightful information. A 60-page videography describes scores of ballet videos (and includes a list of distributors who specialize in dance videos). The next time someone asks you about the advent of the tutu or why it is so named, you’ll know! —Kate Lydon
Brotherhood in Rhythm: The Jazz Tap Dancing of the Nicholas Brothers
By Constance Valis Hill. New York: Cooper Square Press, 2002352 pp. Illustrated. Paper, $18.95.
With the recent death of Fayard Nicholas, there has been renewed interest in the careers of the siblings who lit up screens and stages, here and abroad, for six decades with their refined virtuosity. Hill adroitly traces the history of the brothers (Harold passed away in 2000) from the black, middle-class vaudeville background of their youth to legendary status. Their movement style did not evolve in isolation, and this book is strong on context and influences, as well as close analyses of the great Nicholas movie numbers. Segregation is a constant specter, but nothing ever stopped the Nicholas brothers from making America fall in love with them. Hill’s glossary of tap dance terms is immensely helpful. —A. U.
Reminiscences of a Dancing Man: A Photographic Journey of a Life in Dance
By Bill Evans. Foreword by Adrienne Clancy. 138 pp. National Dance Association, 2006. Illustrated. $40.
If a picture is worth a thousand words, then Bill Evans has plenty to say in this soft cover book. As a celebration of his 2004 “retirement” (a term he uses loosely), this book shows Evans’ evolution as an artist and teacher through anecdotes about those who taught him about dance and life. Reading this unique autobiography is like looking through a family photo album with the accomplished modern, ballet, and tap dancer narrating each snapshot! —Emily Macel
Maria Tallchief: America’s Prima Ballerina
By Maria Tallchief with Larry Kaplan. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2005, 368 pp. Illustrated. Paper, $19.95.
This autobiography, first published in 1997, traces Tallchief’s transformations from a shy Indian girl growing up on an Osage reservation in Oklahoma to an insecure corps dancer with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo to the glamorous ballerina whose dancing made possible the formation and popularity of New York City Ballet. Along the way, we meet Nijinska, Riabouchinska, de Mille, Danilova, and of course Balanchine. As his wife, she felt pressure to perform brilliantly. She gently extricated herself from the relationship, only to find that Mr. B had fallen in love with Tanaquil LeClercq. The scene when she first performs Firebird is a thrill—so unexpected and thunderous was her success. Her singularity of purpose and devotion to hard work are golden threads throughout the book. —Wendy Perron
Suki Schorer on Balanchine Technique
By Suki Schorer and Russell Lee. University Press of Florida, 2006, 432 pp. Illustrated. Paper, $29.95. www.upf.com.
Suki Schorer’s distillation of what she learned in her years of dancing for Mr. B is now available in paperback. Her meticulous examination of Balanchine technique (which was excerpted in six issues of Dance Magazine in 2000) is sprinkled with stories and anecdotes from her 24-year collaboration with him, plus glowing observations from noted ballerinas like Jillana and Violette Verdy. Schorer covers barrework, port de bras, pointework, partnering, and jumps in step by step detail that dance teachers will find invaluable. Photographs of New York City Ballet dancers help to illustrate correct placement and to enhance Schorer’s thorough explanations. —Jennifer Stahl