As public interest in dance continues to mount, dance literarcy climbs right along with it, creating a demand for dance literature of quality that publishers seem increasingly willing to fulfill.
This year's list is headed by six major achievements: a comprehension survey of the New York City Ballet in its 40 years of existence; full-length studies of the lives and careers of Sir Frederick Ashton, Ruth Page and Lester Horton; and collections of the critical writings of Arlene Croce, Deborah Jowit and Marcia Siegel.
There are also entries covering almost every conceivalable aspect of the dance scene, past and present.
Both of the nation's two largest and most prestigious ballet companies - the New York City Ballet and American Ballet Theatre - have come in for book treatment this year. By far the most significant of these volumes - indeed, by its very nature one of the most important dance books of the decade - is Nancy Reynold's. "Repertory in Review: 40 Years of the New York City Ballet" (Knoopf), winner of the Dela Torre Bueno Prize for 1977.
Essentially, this is a chronologically arranged, work-by-work survey of the productions of the New York City Ballet and its predecessor companies - the American Ballet, Ballet Caravan, American Ballet Caravan and Ballet Society. As such, it is the most complete and through record not just of one of the world's great ballet troupes, but of the creative outpourings of its co-director and chief choreographer, George Balanchine.
Each entry by former City Ballet dancer Reynolds gives exhaustive credit and cast information along with an analysis of the ballet and its music and excerpts from reviews, often from conflicting standpoints. In additions, there is an introduction by the company's co-founder, Lincoln Kriestein, essays on Balanchine and his School of American Ballet, and over 300 excellently reproduced photographs.
The book is, besides, handsomely edfted and composed. Together with the less formal, narrative study by Kriestein, "The New York City Ballet" (Knopf, 1973), the Reynolds opus gives us pretty much ideal documentation on this most formidable of contemporary ballet institutions.
There is no comparison with "Inside American Ballet THeatre," with introduction and commentaries by Clive Barnes (Hawthorn), which is little more than a scattershot souvenir album. However, for this coming January Knopf is promising a major study by Charles Payne, "American Ballet Theatre," which may well parallel what Kriestein and Reynolds have done for City Ballet.
David Vaughan's "Fredick Ashton and His Ballets" (Knopf) is a monumental examination of the only 20th-century ballet choreographer to rival Balanchine in breadth and imagination. As Vaughan notes in his Forward, the book said of himself that choreographer "is my whole being," and taking this as his cue, Vaughan explores the man and his creative groeth through his work.
Of all American writers on ballet, none is more gracious and balanced in style and outlook than Vaughan, as this book makes plain on every page. A detailed chronclagy at the end carries the perspective right up to the Chopin "Etude" Ashton devised for the current movie, "The Turning Point." The illustrations are profuse and splendidly printed.
Somewhat smaller in scope but scarcely less important as dance historical contributions are two recent monographs on major American dance artists - "Ruth Page: An Intimate Biography" by John martin (Dekker) and Larry Warren's "Lester Horton: Modern Dance Pioneer" (Dekker).
Ruth Page, dancer, choreographer and founder director of the Chicago Ballet, has led one of the most colorful international careers in American dance history. John martin, the sharpsighted, influential critic, calls his biography "intimate" because it is largely based on astonishingly candid diaries Page kept over a 30 year interval. The result is an endlessly rich and entertaining choronicle of the life of a born "star," one who helped endow American ballet with its characteristic favor.
Warren's book is a sympathetic attempt to set the record straight on Horton, one of the most unjustly neglected innovators in American dance, and a seminal infleunce on such performers and choreographers as Alvin Ailey, Bella Lewitzky, Carmen de Lavallade, Joyce Trisler and James Mitchell.
Warren. artistic director of the Maryland Dance Theater and a member of the University of Maryland dance faculty, studied dance history to be a careful and perspicacious biographer, impassioned but clearhealed in his advocacy of Horton's work.
In "After-Images" by Arlene Croce (Knopf), "Watching the Dance Go By" by marcia Siegel (Houghton Miffin) and "Dance Beat" by Deborah Jowitt (Deckker) we have not only an amazingly insightful almanac of American dance events over the past 10 years, but also a reflection of three of the nation's most acutely tuned dance intellects.
Croce, critic fot the New Yorker, Jowitt, critic for The Village Voice; and Siegel, whose writings have appeared in the Soho Weekly News, the Boston Globe, the Hudson Review, New York magazine and elsewhere, collectively answer the question: Of what use is dance critism? Finding meaning in movement and giving it compelling verbal expression is their special, mutually held talent.
Also of far more than routine interest are: "Echoes of American Ballet" by the great American dance historian Lillian Moore (Dance Horizons: Ivor Guest's "THe Divine Virginia" (Dekker), a biography of Virginia Zucchi, the exquisite 19th-century ballerina from Italy who became a star of Leningrad's Maryinsky Theater, "Nijinsky, Pavlova, Duncan" (Da Capo), paperbound reprint of the beautiful, out-of-print monographs edited by Paul Magriel; "The Director" and "Dance" by Moreau de St. Mery(cq) (both Dance Horizons), elegant reproductions of the earliest magazine and book on dance printed in America; "Balanchine's Complete Stories of the Great Ballets" (Doubleday) and "Walter Terry's Ballet Guide" (Popular Library), emended versions of useful dance baedekers; and "The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Ballet" (Oxford), an excellent compact reference.