MORE AMAZING in some ways than the '70s dance boom itself was the corresponding proliferation of books about dance, which has continued unabated over the past year despite rumblings in the publishing industry about market glut. The harvest of the past 12 months has yielded major contributions in at least half a dozen categories, including popularly oriented surveys; memoirs and biography; avant-garde dance; American pathfinders; the anthropology of dance, and much more.
Among the volumes aimed at new dance converts and the general public, Dame Margot Vonteyn's "The Magic of Dance" (Knopf) enjoys several distinctions, aside from the vast prestige of its author. It's extremely handsome in production and illustration -- more than 350 photographs and prints in color as well as black and white. But perhaps its most unusual aspect is its origin -- this is probably the first book on dance to emerge from a promotional tie-in with a television series. The TV show, six hour-long programs produced by the BBC and hosted by Fonteyn, is scheduled for domestic airing this year on PBS stations.
In a sense, then, the book is a series of "program notes," and Fonteyn's breezily rambling, conversational prose fits the format. A couple of months ago, the celebrated British ballerina was briefly in Washington to publicize the opus, and talked about what she had in mind. Stressing that the book is in no sense a history of dance she said:
"Essentially this is a book about people who fascinate me. I saw no reason to try to be inclusive -- the television series is basically entertainment, so the result is what one might call 'history without tears.' I also thought it would be immensely boring on TV to follow chronological form, so the series, as the book, starts in the present with people the audience can relate to, and then works its way backwards, so to speak."
Actually the book works backward and forward and back again, leapfrogging centuries and eras as Fonteyn's roving imagination dictates. The six chapters, with titles like "Dance Universal," "Dance Aerial," and "Dance Mythological," are pegged to key personalities, ranging from Nureyev and Astaire to Duncan, Nijinsky, Pavlova, Balanchine, Marie Taglioni and Louis XIV (who established the French Academy of Dance in 1661). Though the treatment seldom dips below surfaces, Fonteyn is almost as adept at making things vivid in words as she is with gestures. And despite the book's self-imposed limitations, it has an appealing catholicity of scope -- in short, this is a fine point of departure for someone who has been awakened to the thrill of dance through contemporary performances and wants an introduction to some of the broader horizons of the art.
Speaking of tie-ins, a similar idea occurred to Columbia Records, which commissioned former ballerina and screen actress Vera Zorina to write "Dancer's Choice" as an accompaniment to a two-disc album of ballet music. Again what we have are personalized program notes, though Zorina's paperbound volume is considerably smaller in range and substance. It's scarcely less elegant, though, and the color graphics are especially splendid. The text skips lightly and swiftly across ballet history, terminology, technique, training and choreography.The tone, like Fonteyn's, is casual and anecdotal, but it's more informative than a quick glance might suggest.
An item that shows how far along the road to dance madness we have come in a short decade is the slender volume "Dancershoes" edited by Daniel S. and Stephanie Sorine (Knopf), an annotated photo book aimed at little girls dreaming of becoming Fonteyns and at hard-core ballet freaks who relish anything that smacks of "inside" data. Mikhail Baryshnikov, Carla Fracci, Anthony Dowell, Gelsey Kirkland and 39 other dancers divulge a page or two each of lore about toe shoes and other dance footgear, illustrated by snapshots of the dancers (small) and of their shoes (large). Despite the patent opportunism, there's a lot of fascinating and instructive material here that would be hard to obtain elsewhere (Kirkland: ". . . My main concern is that I not make any noise. I would rather that the shoe be a little bit too soft than be noisy").
Two studies of individual dance artists of especial import are Natalia Makarova's "A Dance Autobiography" (Knopf) and John Gruen's "Erik Bruhn, Danseur Noble" (Viking). Even at a time when sumptuousness in dance books is not rare, the Makarova volume seems outstandingly beautiful. The photographs are breathtaking, and infinite care has been taken in their reproductions; they are not only liberally interspersed in the text section, but occupy nearly 200 pages by themselves in a separate album at the end. This is, moreover, a serious, indeed an intellectually ponderable book -- Makarova brings a saber-edged insight, as well as touching candor, to her account of her art and her life. In discussing the dark alter-ego of "Swan Lake's" heroine, she writes: "In Odile, I have had to discover, as an actress, that which my own nature does not possess: aggressiveness, bravado, a glory in one's own triumph. For me, Odile was like a wall of glass which I was always trying to scramble over, getting my hands bloody." However accurate her own perceptions of herself may be, she is unstinting with them; the focus of the book, however, is entirely upon her development as an interpreter of ballet art -- there are no "intimate" revelations that do not have this end in view.
Gruen's valuable book on Bruhn -- to many, he was the paragon amoung male classical protagonists of the present century -- is more nearly a conventional biography, by no means neglectful of artistic analysis, but delving at length as well into Bruhn's personal life, and disclosing, at times almost painfully, the man's isolation and abrasive streak. The story of his encounter with George Balanchine, in which Bruhn found himself on the receiving end of a strange stubbornness, is little short of hair-raising. An appendix lists Bruhn's role and productions to date, chronologically; there's also a filmography.
Three books that add importantly to our knowledge of crucial figures in the history of ballets are Vera Krasovskaya's "Nijinsky" (Schirmer), Richard Buckle's "Diaghilev" (Atheneium) and August Bournonville's "My Theatre Life" (Wesleyan). Krasovskaya is a distinguished Soviet dance scholar whose work is particularly helpful to an understanding of Nijinsky's esthetics and creative workings -- Mikhail Baryshnikov has said that he regards her book as the truest guide to Nijinsky's art, incidentially. The translation from the Russian, however, is unremittingly stilted. Buckle's book on Diaghilev, like his own earlier, excellent volume on Nijinsky, is exhaustive in detail, in this case almost to the point of obscuring significant issues and themes in the career of the complex, revolutionary impresario. As an almanac of facts, dates, occurrences and quotations, it is assuredly a historical asset, but it would be more valuable still if the woods were visible along with the trees. Bournonville's massive autobiography, in a gracefully fluent translation by Patricia N. McAndrew, gives us an engrossing and multifaceted overview, not just of the patron saint of Danish ballet, but of a major span (he lived from 1805 to 1879) of 19th-century European theatrical, musical and choreographic life. In the form of an extended, sporadic diary, it makes for wonderful browsing; it's also a testament of the richly convoluted mentality of one of the century's greatest dance makers.
Finally, let us take brief note of several books of a more specialized nature that are, to one degree or another, landmark studies in dance. The noted critic Marcia Siegel, in "The Shapes of Change" (Houghton Mifflin), attempts to elucidate the specifically American attributes of indigenous choreography by analyzing some two-score key dance works from the Denishawn era to the contemporary fringe. Her keen eye often cuts to the bone, but her extended verbal exegetics also testify to the limitations of words in transcribing the dance experience. Elizabeth Kendall's "Where She Danced" (Knopf) covers much the same territory from a different perspective, not by boring into specifics but by enlarging the context to include popular vogues, vernacular theater, indeed the whole welter of American society. It's an extremely ambitious and endlessly provocative slice of cultural history, with the emerging pioneers of modern dance at its center. Both Sally Banes' "Terpsichore in Sneakers" (Houghton Mifflin) and Anne Livet's "Contemporary Dance" (Abbeville Press) deal with the iconoclastic outposts of today's modern dance as manifest in the works of Trisha Brown, Laura Dean, Deborah Hay, Lucinda Childs, Meredith Monk and others. Banes' book collects a series of her unusually perceptive expository articles, many of them originally published in dance periodicals and publications like The Village Voice. Livet's anthology of interviews and critical pieces -- much more loosely integrated -- grew out of a series of performances and lectures she organized for the Fort Worth Art Museum. Lastly, Judith Lynne Hanna's "To Dance Is Human" (University of Texas) looks for unifying currents and parameters in dance cultures all across time and space -- it's a large, brave and stimulating enterprise that tends to becloud its results too often in thickets of jargon from the social sciences. One suspects, however, that the same content in more accessible language would prove of very wide interest.