BARYSHNIKOV IN RUSSIA, text and photographs by Nina Alovert, translated from the Russian by Irene Huntoon (Holt, Rinehart and Winston, $30). A close friend of Baryshnikov's, Nina Alovert has written a fascinating account of the dancer's career before his defection in 1974. Alovert, who began taking photographs at the Kirov Ballet first as a hobby and later as a vocation, first saw Baryshnikov and photographed his performance in 1967. They traveled in the same Leningrad artistic circles and soon became close friends. Her account of Misha's life in Leningrad -- and the KGB shenanigans immediately after he defected while on tour in Canada -- provides plenty of grist for the balletomane. There are thumbnail sketches of the leaders in Russian ballet, lots of personal vignettes of Misha, his friends, even his dog (who still lives in Russia), and complete descriptions of the major ballets in which Baryshnikov danced. And most especially, there are Alovert's stunning photographs of performances, rehearsals, and private moments, the negatives of which had to be secreted out of Russia by foreign friends when Alovert herself emigrated in 1978, since Soviet law prohibits the exportation of negatives.
PAVLOVA: Portrait of a Dancer, presented by Margot Fonteyn (Viking, $25). Dame Margot Fonteyn, the dancer and now writer, has produced a charming portrait of the 20th century's most famous ballerina. The text, skillfully woven of snippets from Pavlova's own words in interviews and articles, is arranged around numerous handsome photographs, the earliest of which dates from the early 1890s when Pavlova was a young student at the Maryinsky Theatre school. As she grows up, her dark-eyed gaze remains serious and dreamy. There are wistful pictures of her at her London home, caressing the swans she kept as pets "my favourites because I so love to dance The Dying Swan." But such a fey personality had its serious and gritty side too. And we are reminded of the importance hard work held for Pavlova in the accounts of her constant and exhausting tours, both provincial and world-wide. This is a remarkable and beautiful book, a fine tribute to a dancer from a dancer.
THAT'S DANCING, by Tony Thomas (Abrams, $35). If you whiled away afternoons in your local movie theater during the '50s watching Gene Kelly dance with Leslie Caron, or Cyd Charisse do pirouettes on the moors of Brigadoon, this picture book will bring back lots of memories. Those extravagant musicals of 30 years ago did not spring full-blown from the heads of producers, but were the culmination of a tradition which reaches back to the 1920s. The development of dance and production numbers on camera is chronicled in all its lavish detail by Tony Thomas. Fred Astaire, Busby Berkeley, Gene Kelly, Ruby Keeler, are among the dancers and makers of dances profiled. In addition to assembling an impressive array of movie stills, Thomas treats us to fascinating snippets of gossip and colorful history in his text.
MEN DANCING: Performers and Performances, by Alexander Bland and John Percival (Macmillan, $35). Alexander Bland, the pen name of Nigel Gosling, was probably the foremost dance critic writing in English until his death in 1982. His reviews in The Observer delineated the dance for audiences and professionals alike; and his books have always shown us new ways of looking at things -- whether they be dances or buildings or works of art. (Gosling served as art, as well as dance, critic for The Observer from 1962-75). In this book, which John Percival completed after Gosling's death, the male dancer is at center-stage. We see the development of the various European dance traditions begun by such dancers as Bournonville and Cechetti, and as they have been reflected in the art of Nijinsky, Massine, Balanchine, Nureyev, Baryshnikov, Cragun, and many others. The pictures are stunning, the text illuminating, and the combination an absolutely first-class dance book.