Two years has passed since our last list of recommendations for Christmas gifts for the dance lovers in your life (check it out here); time for another round-up of fascinating and enjoyable reads featured by Oxford Dance Writers, to ease your Christmas shopping travails or request for your own Christmas stocking… Special thanks to Maggie Watson whose many informative and insightful reviews will help you choose the ideal gift…

First up a couple of recent books to enthuse and inform aspiring dancers and balletomanes – perfect Christmas presents:

The Ballet Lover’s Companion, by Zoë Anderson. Yale University Press, 2015

Zoë Anderson has compiled 140 ballets in a comprehensive survey of the repertoire, organised historically and geographically.  A sumptuous and enjoyable gift; read Maggie Watson’s review here. You can buy this book here (more…)

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Fanny Elssler was one of the most brilliant stars of the nineteenth century stage, but her significance lies not in her ephemeral fame, but in the mark that she left on the development of ballet as an art form that is not merely beautiful, but also has the capacity to convey the deepest dilemmas of the human condition. Théophile Gautier famously characterised Elssler as a ‘pagan’ dancer, in contrast to the ‘Christian’ Marie Taglioni, and Elssler’s style, which is beautifully evoked in the many descriptive passages quoted in Ivor Guest‘s biography, was rooted in human emotion and experience.

Elssler had great technical gifts: she was graceful, light and precise, gliding across the stage with fast footwork, attack and buoyancy, dancing on ‘steely points’ with ‘marvellous equilibrium’. However, it was her sense for dramatic coherence and her intelligent understanding of narrative that are her greatest legacy. (more…)

Apollo’s angels:  a history of ballet / Jennifer Homans

I began reading this book with high expectations.  The author is described as Distinguished Scholar in Residence at Columbia, and quotations on the flyleaf and back cover include statements such as “Here is the only truly definitive history of classical ballet” (International Herald Tribune) and “It will doubtless come to rank as the standard and authoritative work in the field” (Literary Review).  Although it is not published by an academic press, it bears some of the hallmarks of a scholarly work, with its extensive bibliographies, footnotes and evidence of original research.

The early chapters of the book dealt with periods of which I am largely ignorant until on p.39, I came across this footnote:  “Molière was gone:  he died onstage in 1673 while performing Le Malade imaginaire”.  Not so, according to Ivor Guest[1] or the Encyclopaedia Britannica Online, according to which he collapsed on stage and was carried back to his house, where he died.  This concerned me, and from Chapter 8, East goes west:  Russian modernism and Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, when the book moves territory with which I am more familiar, I became progressively more uneasy. (more…)