Reading Dance: A Gathering of Memoirs, Reportage, Criticism, Profiles, Interviews, and Some Uncategorizable Extras

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Robert Gottlieb’s immense sampling of the dance literature–by far the largest such project ever attempted–is both inclusive, to the extent that inclusivity is possible when dealing with so vast a field, and personal: the result of decades of reading.

It limits itself of material within the experience of today’s general readers, avoiding, for instance, academic historical writing and treatises on technique, its earliest subjects are those nineteenth-century works and choreographers that still resonate with dance lovers today: Giselle, The Sleeping Beauty, Swan Lake; Bournonville and Petipa. And, as Gottlieb writes in his introduction, “The twentieth century focuses to a large extent on the achievements and personalities that dominated it–from Pavlova and Nijinsky and Diaghilev to Isadora Duncan and Martha Graham, from Ashton and Balanchine and Robbins to Merce Cunningham and Paul Taylor and Twyla Tharp, from Fonteyn and Farrell and Gelsey Kirkland (“the Judy Garland of Ballet”) to Nureyev and Baryshnikov and Astaire–as well as the critical and reportorial voices, past and present, that carry the most conviction.”

In structuring his anthology, Gottlieb explains, he has “tried to help the reader along by arranging its two hundred-plus entries into a coherent groups.” Apart from the sections on major personalities and important critics, there are sections devoted to interviews (Tamara Toumanova, Antoinette Sibley, Mark Morris); profiles (Lincoln Kirstein, Bob Fosse, Olga Spessivtseva); teachers; accounts of the birth of important works from Petrouchka to Apollo to Push Comes to Shove; and the movies (from Arlene Croce and Alastair Macauley on Fred Astaire to director Michael Powell on the making of The Red Shoes). Here are the voices of Cecil Beaton and Irene Castle, Ninette de Valois and Bronislava Nijinska, Maya Plisetskaya and Allegra Kent, Serge Lifar and José Limón, Alicia Markova and Natalia Makarova, Ruth St. Denis and Michel Fokine, Susan Sontag and Jean Renoir. Plus a group of obscure, even eccentric extras, including an account of Pavlova going shopping in London and recipes from Tanaquil LeClerq’s cookbook.”

With its huge range of content accompanied by the anthologist’s incisive running commentary, Reading Dance will be a source of pleasure and instruction for anyone who loves dance.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 1360 pages
  • Publisher: Pantheon; 1 edition (November 4, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 037542122X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375421228
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 2.7 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.9 pounds

Customer Reviews

a delightful and thought-provoking compilation

5 people found this helpful.
 on February 5, 2010
By raindrops
I first saw this book at the local library. Due to its thickness and weight, I was going to just look up the articles on my favorite dancer, read them on the spot and not even bother checking the book out and lugging it home with me. However, the articles were so captivating that I ended up checking the book out so that I could take my time in savoring them. Then after another day of reading, some of the pieces were so special that I started to wish I could own a copy. So within a matter of two days, I went from not wanting to be even temporarily burdened by the book’s weight to ordering it on Amazon.

A must for any dancer: 30 pages missing from my volume ooops?

2 people found this helpful.
 on March 24, 2010
By sherswab
A great page turner. Isadora Duncan – end of ‘free spirit’ section and Suzzane Farrell section had several pages missing.

Scarey to the Max

8 people found this helpful.
 on February 10, 2009
By Rick polland
This review will be short as I’m not a dancer. When I read about this book, I thought it would be a wonderful compendium to add to my daughter’s collection. She’s been dancing since she was 5 and loves dance. The book is expensive and I thought twice about obtaining it but I took a chance.

An essential possession for the ballet lover

8 people found this helpful.
 on February 24, 2009
By Robert B. Campbell
I learned of this book through Mr. Gottlieb’s appearance on the Charlie Rose show and I odered my copy the next day, although I rarely buy new books. Both informative and highly entertaining, the book is an absolute treasure. As a lover of classical ballet I would have preferred more entries on that subject and fewer on modern/contemporary dance, but that is a minor quibble. For anyone who loves dance, especially ballet, my advice is simple: get a copy of this book as soon as possible.

A great read for the balletomane

14 people found this helpful.
 on November 25, 2008
By French Critic
Notwithstanding Suzanne Farrell’s classic remark (quoted in this volume), “What does reading have to do with dancing?” this weighty collection of critiques, anecdotes, narratives, etc. is sure to delight all who appreciate the world of dance.

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