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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.
“A marvelous compendium. Authors and essays both famous and forgotten, memoirs and interviews, panegyrics, eviscerations, the topical and the retrospective all speak to one another in ways that illuminate the essential personalities and debates that shaped the art, as well as the possibilities for tracking such an ephemeral subject in prose.”—The New Yorker (January 12, 2009)
“In 1906, Max Beerbohm scoffed at the absence of words in ballet. . . . Pity Beerbohm that he didn’t have an omnibus like Robert Gottlieb’s Reading Dance to guide him. . . . The eminent critics are here—Joan Acocella, Clive Barnes, Arlene Croce, Edwin Denby—as are the greatest dancers and dance-makers of the 19th and 20th centuries. This is, in short, one big brick of dance-nut manna, a loving, exhaustive compilation by an editor-balletomane of sterling pedigree . . . Flip through [the book] at random; you’re bound to alight on something enticing . . . I began with an excerpt from Alma Guillermoprieto’s superb 2004 memoir, Dancing With Cuba, in which she recounts working for Twyla Tharp in 1969 . . . Leaping forward 650 pages, to a snippet from Tharp’s own memoir, we find the choreographer remolding Baryshnikov in ‘Push Comes to Shove’ . . . Reading Dance is chockablock with these happy accidents of interconnection. . . . In dance—as in this tremendous anthology—there is something for every taste.” —Jennifer Balderama, The New York Times Book Review (December 7, 2008)
“A treasure . . . [Reading Dance’s] long and playful subtitle says it all. This massive tome of 1,330 pages is a multi-voiced, encyclopedic look at the great panorama of ballet and modern dance activity of the 20th century. It brings together some of the most influential and insightful writing of the past century . . . The inclusion of some of [dance’s] seminal figures’ own writings is an especially intriguing part of the mix.” —Hedy Weiss, Chicago Sun-Times (November 28, 2008)
“Dancers and dilettantes alike will appreciate Robert Gottlieb’s Reading Dance.” —Vogue (December 2008)
“Dance lovers won’t be able to put [Reading Dance] down. A savvy collection of memoirs, reviews, profiles, interviews and remembrances, it manages to cover just about every 20th-century dance subject, and then some. The boilerplate choices are all here, and Robert Gottlieb’s sharp eye finds works that illuminate them in seldom-seen ways. But this quirky one-volume encyclopedia really shines when it turns its attention to the less conspicuous (Edwin Denby’s triple take on ‘Agon,’ a revealing 1997 Q&A with Allegra Kent, a penetrating essay on ‘Lilac Garden’) and the downright arcane (excerpts from Tanaquil LeClercq’s enchanting Ballet Cookbook). No photos, but when the writing is this riveting, who needs them?”—Rick Nelson, Minneapolis Star Tribune (November 21, 2008)
“The dance book of the year—perhaps the century . . . Magisterial . . . Reading Dance clocks in at 1,360 pages. Yet if you’re a dance person, when you’re through with it you’re left hungry for more. . . . There are whole sections centering on the most famous figures in the history of dance—from Nijinsky and Isadora and Pavlova (including an entrancing account by a London lady journalist who goes shopping with her) . . . (Don’t miss the conflicting accounts from Fred and Ginger about the famous feather dress in Top Hat.) There are riveting interviews, brilliant pieces of criticism, profiles, accounts of the birth of great dance works, narratives and, of course, memoirs . . . In short: a desert island book—and just about big enough to be the island itself.”—Adam Begley, New York Observer (November 3, 2008)
“Robert Gottlieb gets to the pointe in Reading Dance.”—Elissa Schappell, Vanity Fair (December 2008)
“There is much dance (mainly ballet) to be sampled in Robert Gottlieb’s monster of a book . . . Savor it.”—Gia Kourlas, Time Out New York (October 30-November 5, 2008)
“Engrossing. This collection completely immerses readers or browsers in the dance world and the history of the art. Especially enjoyable are first-person pieces like Fred Astaire on his beginnings, Baryshnikov on Giselle, and Isadora Duncan on Russia. . . . Great for balletomanes, this is recommended.”—Barbara Kundanis, Library Journal (October 1, 2008)
“Gottlieb is a consummate bookman and anthologist par excellence [and] a dance critic and author of George Balanchine: The Ballet Maker. Balanchine figures prominently here as one of the pantheon of dancers and choreographers Gottlieb organizes this capacious collection around, among them Frederick Ashton, Fred Astaire, Merce Cunningham, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Martha Graham, and Twyla Tharp. Seminal dance writers are also present, including Joan Acocella, Arlene Croce, and Edwin Denby. In terms of dance history, this extraordinary assemblage is a must-have. But this gathering is also guaranteed to light up the brain circuitry of any reader who loves superlative essays. While covering all the important subjects from multiple perspectives, Gottlieb has selected writings of exceptional energy and forthright expression, from Janet Flanner on Isadora Duncan to Lincoln Kirstein on bad ballet and Jill Johnston on Baryshnikov. Perhaps the sheer physicality and eroticism of dance inspires its commentators to write with unusual verve. Gottlieb’s great book of dance dances.”—Donna Seaman, Booklist (starred) (November 1, 2008)
“A wonderfully idiosyncratic collection of dance writings in one massive yet cohesive tome organized into chapters on major choreographers, dancers, teachers and miscellaneous subjects such as ‘Present at the Creation.’ There’s brilliant and incisive criticism, and artists in their own voices, such as winsome and witty ballerina Allegra Kent on her first performance with the New York City Ballet. There are critical looks at dancers, such as Harris Green’s pointed take on Gelsey Kirkland as ‘The Judy Garland of Ballet.’ Then there are the ephemera: Fred Astaire opining on Ginger Rogers’s dresses, Walt Disney’s animated dances and recipes from Tanaquil LeClercq’s The Ballet Cook Book. . . . An important collection and a treasure chest for dance aficionados.”—Publishers Weekly (September 15, 2008)