Books & Magazines
Reading Ballerina by Edward Stewart is like snacking on too many Girl Scout Cookies. There’s something sentimental about them, and it’s so hard to just have one. Chapter after juicy (and sometimes eye-roll-inducing) chapter, I couldn’t put this novel down.
Ballerina was originally published in 1979. The latest edition comes in e-book format from Open Road Publications. At 500 pages, it’s a quick read with plenty of theatrics. A few of the forty-nine chapters seem like separate episodes in the often scattered plot, and as a whole the book has the slightly dated feel of a yellowing Polaroid photo. If you’re looking for a good soap-opera-type travel read, though, this definitely fits the bill.
The plot follows dancers Stephanie Lang and Christine Avery from their audition for the country’s top ballet school at age sixteen into their early twenties as they navigate promising careers, romance, and friendship. Steph’s overbearing mother Anna and the manipulative artistic director Marius Volmar are in turns detestable and pitiable as secondary characters, twisting and prodding Steph and Chris for personal gain.
The world Stewart creates is one of catty backstabbing and sleeping around—think Dancers, The Turning Point, or Center Stage. Despite the book’s shortcomings, the intrigue of the insider-outsider dance world makes Ballerina a readable jaunt for dancers and non-dancers alike. I rate it three stars out of five for exciting drama but lack of depth, and PG-13 for some strong language and few graphic scenes—it’s not a novel for the Girl Scout-age set.
Judith Peterson knows dancers’ health. She served the Pennsylvania Ballet for ten years as attending physician and is currently a member of the International Association of Dance Medicine and Science, the American Medical Association, and the American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation.
Her book covers the whats, hows, and whys of anatomy that are most relevant to dancers. The functional descriptions of each body structure (spinal regions, cardiovascular system, hips, knees, ankles, feet, and toes) are thorough enough to be really useful but presented simply. Most importantly, each chapter includes a bulleted summary and practical exercises for each body region. Dance Medicine Head to Toe makes it easy to see why anatomical knowledge is important to dancers and how they can put that knowledge into practice.
An especially important feature of this book (aside from the high quality and effective presentation of the information, of course) is the emphasis Peterson places on getting help from a qualified dance medicine professional rather than trying to ignore pain or “tough it out,” such unfortunately common practices in the competitive fields of professional and pre-professional dance. Cultivating a dance culture where it’s understood to be OK to get help for injuries is critical to the advancement of our art and expansion of our field.
In addition to the valuable information provided in Peterson’s text, the book is peppered with diagrams and dance photographs. Some are quite helpful, but many could benefit from clearer labeling or simply be omitted.
Succinct, comprehensive, and conversational, Dance Medicine Head to Toe should be part of every dancer’s and teacher’s library.
Dance Medicine Head to Toe: A Dancer’s Guide to Health, Judith R Peterson, MD, Princeton Book Company, 2011
In the fifth graphic story in the Papercutz “Dance Class” series, we follow dance friends Alia, Lucie, and Julie to St Petersburg, where they and the rest of Miss Anne’s students perform The Nutcracker with a group of Russian dancers. This book is as colorful, funny, and sweet as the first four “Dance Class” graphic novels.
While the Russia trip is the focus of the story, there’s plenty of humor at home before the girls leave. The dance dads have their day in Dance Class 5: Lucie’s dad performs a brilliant sissone ouverte while trying to save a batch of crepes, and Julie’s dad snores his way through a family trip to the ballet, to Mom’s great embarrassment.
Abroad, flirtatious Alia becomes frustrated with the Russian boys’ insensitivity…or is it just the language barrier? “To Russia, With Love” closes with some casting surprises for Miss Anne before the curtain goes down and the students head home again.0
In Balanchine: Russian-American Ballet Master Emeritus, Reine Duell Bethany gives young adults (dancers and nondancers alike) a highly readable, thought-provoking, and inspiring biography of the twentieth-century choreographer. Over ten chapters, Bethany walks the reader thoughtfully through Balanchine’s early life in Russia, his work for Diaghilev, and his eventual establishment in the US as the head of New York City Ballet and the School of American Ballet. The author traces Balanchine’s personal history and relationships, his development as a choreographer, and his work and personality as a businessman and international cultural ambassador. Throughout, adequate yet succinct historical, cultural, and social context is provided, making Ballet Master Emeritus as useful and appealing to young people interested in history or politics as ballet. For creative types, Reine Duell Bethany’s poignant, inspiring writing reinforces the importance of such qualities as faith, sacrifice, integrity, courage, and dedication in the pursuit of artistic goals.
Balanchine: Russian-American Ballet Master Emeritus would make a valuable addition to the young dancer’s library. It captures the subject in a way that is both revealing and sensitive, while placing George Balanchine and New York City Ballet in a landscape beyond the self-contained.
Reine Duell Bethany, 193 pages0
The third edition of The Pointe Book, published in 2012 (previous editions were released in 1998 and 2004), covers aspects of pointe shoes and pointe dancing past, present, and future. This edition has been extensively revised and includes one entirely new chapter of sample pointe classes.
Barringer and Schlesinger have compiled a quantity of hard data related to pointe work and pointe shoes. Included are lists of manufacturers of pointe shoes and accessories, shoe size charts, and diagrams of the foot and pointe shoe with accompanying anatomical and functional information. The authors also offer thoughtful discussion on such subjective matters as pointe readiness, training methods, and the relevance of pointe dancing today and in the future. Considerable space is also given to the issue of pointe-related injuries, their causes, and different treatments and therapies.
There is a wealth of valuable insight in these pages. The authors have consulted teachers, professional dancers, and medical professionals with extremely diverse backgrounds, and do a thorough job of presenting the many (sometimes conflicting) viewpoints of their interview subjects. Barringer and Schlesinger do justice to pointe dancing as both art and craft.
The value of The Pointe Book for today’s teachers and students is perhaps best summarized by a passage from the authors’ interview with Kirk Peterson, from the final chapter of the book, “Will Pointe Work Be Relevant in the Twenty-first Century?” Peterson states:
“A healthy respect for ballet’s time-honored traditions, an educated understanding of twentieth-century concerns for artistic relevance, and a respect for the public’s very real love affair with ballet as a theatrical art form, will point a contemporary ballet choreographer in the direction that will guide him or her in a way that embraces ballet’s traditions, yet stretches its potential and still uses pointe work as a valid tool for creativity and artistic expression.”
In The Pointe Book: Shoes Training, Technique, Janice Barringer and Sarah Schlesinger write with evident respect for the traditions and history of classical dance, and carefully provide the most current information on the state of our art and craft. This compendium also raises provocative questions regarding training methods, injury, and general attitudes of teachers, artists, and audience toward pointe dancing. The authors have given a useful resource to teachers, dancers, and parents for the development of the kind of artists Peterson describes above.
Disclosure: Janice Barringer is a contributing writer at 4dancers.org0
Paul Taylor with foreword by Robert Gottleib, introduction by Susanne Carbonneau
Taylor celebrates and satirizes indiscriminately: Martha Graham, the “Creative Process,” members of the press, himself, the institutions of Ballet and Modern Dance…the list of victims and heroes goes on.
As author and as subject matter, Taylor gives us many versions of himself: benevolent dictator, escapist (“My edges seriously frayed, I needed a quiet place to mend.”), keen observer, crafter of aliases, poet, satirist of self and others (His characters Dr Tacet and Sheriff O’Houlihan are foil and mirror), and, at times, cynic. Bewilderingly, or maybe not so, he asserts: “Ideally, my work would be anonymous.”
He tackles the very concepts of art and creativity as borrowing exercises. As his highbrow alter-ego Dr George H Tacet, Ph.D., Taylor gives himself a talking-to for his “shameless pirating of dance steps,” then in his own voice he asserts that “the whole world is one big, glorious grab-bag,” and “we don’t really own anything.” The episode titled “In the Marcel Proust Suite of L’Hotel Continental” is both a jab as the pervasiveness of American culture and an allusion to all art as pastiche. (And besides all that, the whole essay is sublimely, perfectly absurd.) He tears mercilessly into classical ballet, and writes that a fictitious colony of bees “…have all but mastered a simplified version of Pavlova’s ‘Dying Swan’ and as soon as they get the snake arms right they should be able to dance the whole routine in toe shoes!”
Taylor’s younger self also falls under his microscope. The ironic and heartfelt “Two Bozos Seen Through Glass” is titled as much for the past and present Taylor as for the two modern dance students auditioning on his rain-soaked patio.
Truly good art, whether written or performed, is made best by the creators who are not afraid to show up and be vulnerable, to borrow, to laugh at themselves…and to occasionally be “stark naked,” as Taylor says of his solo in Aureole. Facts and Fancies is one of those good works, and well worth adding to every creative person’s library.
Footage of Aureole danced by the Royal Danish Ballet: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0q-ztXxdG_o
Esplanade danced by PTDC: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qyGWsGl7Ezo
Commentary on the Taylor documentary Dancemaker: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gs3B-Bzo_HM
Dancemaker on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/user/danceconsortium/videos?query=dancemaker
Lovely 80th Birthday tributes to Taylor: http://ptdc.org/artists-dances/paul-taylor/80th-birthday-tributes/0