I just signed off on the photo insert for All in the Dances: A Brief Life of George Balanchine, which contains 14 “images,” as we say in the book biz. Together with the frontispiece and two photos reproduced on the dust jacket, that comes to a total of 17 images with which I tried to sum up Balanchine’s life and work as completely as I could.
I think every biography of an artist should contain as many well-chosen photos as the budget will permit–especially a biography of a visual artist like Balanchine. The trick, of course, is to integrate them with the text. Ideally, you want to second-guess the reader and include images of everything and everyone mentioned in the book about which (or whom) he might be curious.
To that elusive end, I looked for:
– A photo of each individual discussed at length in the book.
– A photo of each Balanchine ballet described in detail in the book.
– A mixture of small-group and large-ensemble photos.
– A mixture of performance photos, rehearsal photos, and posed images taken in the photographer’s studio.
– Portraits of Balanchine taken at different times in his life.
– At least one photo illustrative of his interest in music.
Since the insert could be no more than eight pages long, I talked Harcourt into including a frontispiece (that is, a photo opposite the title page) and putting photos on the front and back of the dust jacket. Then I drew up a wish list and sent Meital Waibsnaider, my trusty research assistant, down to the New York City Ballet Archives at Lincoln Center to do my dirty work for me. She returned with a pile of pictures carefully chosen to my specifications, from which we selected most (but not all!) of the 17 photos reproduced in All in the Dances.
Between them, these 17 photos illustrate:
– Thirteen major Balanchine ballets, Apollo, Prodigal Son, Serenade, Concerto Barocco, Symphony in C, Orpheus, The Four Temperaments, La Valse, Agon, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Liebeslieder Walzer, Don Quixote, and Stravinsky Violin Concerto, 11 of which receive more than passing mention in the text.
– Five of the many ballerinas with whom Balanchine is known to have been in love: Alexandra Danilova, Maria Tallchief, Tanaquil Le Clercq, Diana Adams, and Suzanne Farrell.
– Twelve other dancers with whom he worked closely: Mikhail Baryshnikov, Jacques d’Amboise, Jillana, Serge Lifar, Nicholas Magallanes, Peter Martins, Kay Mazzo, Arthur Mitchell, Francisco Moncion, Violette Verdy, Edward Villella, and Patricia Wilde.
– Lincoln Kirstein, Jerome Robbins, and Igor Stravinsky, his three most important offstage colleagues.
– A 1938 photo by Walker Evans that shows Balanchine seated at a piano, playing from a score.
Looking at the results now, I regret that I failed to include Tamara Geva, Serge Diaghilev, Allegra Kent, and Patricia McBride, all of whom are mentioned prominently in the text. I also wish I’d found room for an illustration of Balanchine’s work in Hollywood and on Broadway–perhaps a rehearsal shot from The Goldwyn Follies, which starred Vera Zorina, his third wife. And one major ballet discussed in All in the Dances, The Nutcracker, slipped through my net.
For the most part, though, I’m delighted with the finished product. Not only did we contrive to cram a huge amount of information about George Balanchine into just 17 images, but nearly all of them are aesthetically pleasing in their own right. (The photographers include Costas, Walker Evans, Fred Fehl, Paul Kolnik, George Platt Lynes, and Martha Swope.)
See how complicated it is to put together a good photo insert? It’s not just a matter of sitting down one afternoon and flipping through a couple of bulging scrapbooks. Meital and I have been working on this one for more than two months, and we (well, she) had a hell of a time tracking down certain photos and obtaining permission to reprint them. Still, it was worth the trouble. Should you happen to read All in the Dances, the chances are good that you’ll be able to see much of what I’m talking about–at least to the limited extent that any still picture can rightly be said to “illustrate” a ballet, or capture the ephemeral essence of a stage performer’s personality.
If I sound proud, that’s because I am. From the beginning, I wanted the images in All in the Dances to complement the text as fully and sensitively as possible. I think they do. I hope you think so, too.
UPDATE: I just got an e-mail from Harcourt’s managing editor in San Diego, informing me that he’s been unable to obtain high-resolution scans of two photos. The next-to-last minute having arrived, he wants me to FedEx him my personal copies of the books in which these two photos were first published. Fortunately, I happen to own both volumes, so it’s off to the nearest FedEx office.
That’s how books get published in the information age!