Gottlieb’s “Reading Dance” revisited

If you’ve been reading Foot this week, you know I was dismayed to find that the “Dance” that “Reading Dance” offered wasn’t as comprehensive or as timely as an anthology of this size–1,300-odd pages–would warrant.

But on second thought (says our lady of second thoughts), if you just disregard the title and reorganize the contents, there turns out to be a good book inside the dubious one. 

The good book has largely to do with ballet’s efflorescence from the ’40s through the ’70s–mainly in New York, secondarily in London–and the Russian antecedents to that renaissance, from Petipa through Diaghilev. 

For me, the heart of that good book is the Balanchine material, possibly because it’s where Gottlieb’s deepest knowledge lies, where he can go beyond the usual suspects. 

Some favorite items: 

–Suzanne Farrell talking to David Daniel in the late ’70s about dancing with Balanchine

–Diana Adams talking to David Daniel about her surprise and misgivings upon first encountering Suzanne when she was still Roberta Sue, and about what she was like subsequently onstage, in rehearsal, and in class. The pairing of these two interviews, both from Ballet Review, is fantastic.

–Antoinette Sibley on “Swan Lake.” I was going to quote a bit from it, but after 20 minutes trying to relocate the piece, I give up.

Which brings me to another problem: the organization. Gottlieb has created sections more by writing genre than by writing subject. So, the interviews are in one place while the reviews of ballets that the interview subjects danced in are somewhere else. Generally people who want to read about, say, the Royal Ballet don’t care if it’s an essay or a commentary, they want to read everything they can find.

To have a subject scattered hither and yon is maddening.

Of course, how you organize it depends on who you think is going to read it. And Gottlieb seems to think he is aiming at dance beginners. I don’t think he actually is. If you haven’t ever seen “Swan Lake,” Sibley describing her pleasure dancing Odile–the lust-power of the courtesan it evokes for her–won’t be particularly though-provoking because you won’t have any Odiles in mind. If you’ve never been thrilled by Suzanne Farrell arcing backwards in the adagio of “Symphony in C,” her description of how she creates that effect and why she has kept it won’t mean very much. If publisher Pantheon had gone the multimedia route and included a DVD with video excerpts of Farrell (there is a good deal of Farrell on film) and others, laypeople might be more attracted to the book.

But in its current incarnation–not for beginners and not for people under a certain age–I wonder about the inclusion of excerpts from easy-to-find books, such as Alexandra Danilova’s autobiography, Lincoln Kirstein’s essay collections, Edwin Denby, Arlene Croce. I may not be exactly typical, but I think I’ve read about a third of the offerings in their original form. On the other hand, if the scope had been narrowed, then Gottlieb could have offered Croce on Farrell in “Symphony in C,” Denby on the first “Symphony in C,” and it would have been great to flip to them after the Farrell interview.

Alright, that’s all I’ll say on the book. See for yourselves.

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