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Two Luscious Publications

'Dance Anecdotes: Stories from the Worlds of Ballet, Broadway, the Ballroom, and Modern Dance' by Mindy Aloff

'Round About the Ballet' by William Cubberley and Joseph Carman

Book Reviews by Leland Windreich

July 2006

Dance critic and educator Mindy Aloff has been gathering anecdotes about dancing and dancers for Oxford University Press since 1988. Her sources are vast, and the hundreds of examples included in this fetching collection come from an obviously healthy and ongoing obsession with reading and books (both current and classic), from contacts with dancers representing all branches of show business, from critics and academic colleagues, and from a number of unlikely suppliers. Items drawn from literature, for example, come from statements and observations made by such strange bedfellows as Shakespeare, Goethe and Eudora Welty. The result is not a book to be read from cover to cover, but one to be sampled frequently for the fun of discovery.   It's an ideal tome to keep at one's bedside, or to take on a flight or a daily commute on public transit.

Aloff presents her materials in batches dealing with 26 subjects.  One covers "Towering Figures," and includes snippets about great choreographers (Ashton, Graham and Balanchine) and dance's immortals (Taglioni, Pavlova, Duncan, Fonteyn, Nijinsky).  One category deals with seductions, another with scandals. There are stories involving animals, money, touring, stage attire, balletomania, teaching and dance criticism, to mention but a few subjects in the spectrum.

Some of my favorites are: the discovery in typescript of a long forgotten libretto which George Balanchine sketched out for a ballet with an exotic setting and story-line, each of four movements dealing with a realm presided over by a deity representing a jewel.  Staged in 1947 for the Paris Opera Ballet sans narrative and called "Le Palais de Crystal," it survives in a more austere abstract version as "Symphony in C."  Another is the wry but perhaps appropriate comment that Margot Fonteyn made to choreographer John Cranko when he proposed that the six young men attending her in his "Poem of Ecstasy" appear in the nude. And there is the heartbreaking story of Opal Petty, a Texan from a Baptist family who had been placed in a mental institution at age 16 for participating in a social dance, and who spent the next 51 years of her life incarcerated. Such were the wages of sin in fundamentalist America.

Aloff supplies readers with a generous bibliography, which not only documents her materials but serves as a springboard for further, more serious readings.

*****

Fifteen glamorous superstars of American ballet are celebrated in action and repose by Roy Round's sensitive camera and are quoted in mini interviews by authors Cubberley and Carman.  American Ballet Theatre is represented by Maxim Beloserkovsky, Angel Corella, Irina Dvorovenko, Marcelo Gomes, Julie Kent, Vladimir Malakhov, Gillian Murphy, and Ethan Stiefel.  From New York City Ballet come Albert Evans, Nikolaj Hubbe, Maria Kowroski, Benjamin Millepied, Jennifer Ringer, Jennie Somogyi and Wendy Whelan.  Round presents his subjects in both classical and contemporary roles, offering an occasional offstage shot or a multiple exposure, invariably capturing some essential quality that characterizes each unique performer.

Whether defying gravity, probing space with elongated limbs, or standing in solemnity, Round's dancers are god-like in essence.  Filmed in the rarified milieu of the photographer's studio and clothed mostly in creamy pastel fabrics, they bring to this limbo the trappings of the forest glades, the enchanted gardens, the ballrooms or celestial heights that they recently inhabited.  Only Ethan Stiefel, isolated and awash in his own sweat, comes across as a mortal by letting us know the price that a dancer pays for the obligatory concealment of effort.

Biographical information on most currently active ballet dancers being invariably difficult to find, the concise, to-the-point Q & A interviews offer valuable facts to readers curious about the origins, training, career development and favored roles of the 15 dancers, as well as their candid answers to questions involving their interests, tastes, attitude toward performing, and their hopes and fears regarding the future. 

Dance Anecdotes: Stories from the Worlds of Ballet, Broadway, the Ballroom and Modern Dance. By Mindy Aloff. Oxford University Press, 2006. ISBN 0195054113

Round About the Ballet. By William Cubberley and Joseph Carman. Limelight Editions, 2004. ISBN: 0879103116

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