This memoir by the octogenarian Kirstein (Portrait of Mr. B, 1984) displays a Proustian sensibility in its wholesale allegiance to art and the senses and in its nostalgic tableau vivant of times and places past. From its astonishing, sensual opening sentence (``The pear was plump, ripe, juicy, palm jade''), this is the story of the education of Kirstein's aesthetic sensibility and its fulfillment in his most lasting achievement, the founding of the New York City Ballet. Despite its revealing tone, it is not intimate (due partly to sometimes stuffy prose), yet it is almost always engaging. This self-portrait shows the young Kirstein to be by turns charming and expansive, self-deprecating and confused as he learns that, contrary to his hopes, he is not destined to be an artist. Kirstein is the son of German Jews who penetrated the upper reaches of Boston society. Gifted with what he calls ``nervous energy'' and a wealthy, supportive papa, the self-described hedonist pursues his artistic and amorous fancies from Harvard to Paris to New York City. The strange highlights of Kirstein's life shine through: An encounter with the mystic Gurdjieff is at once chilling and comic; pursuing the low life, Kirstein conceives an unrequited love for a gritty sailor. The chapters dealing with Kirstein's precocious founding of Hound & Horn and the Harvard Society for Contemporary Art are oddly devoid of passion; but the grand spectacle of his life, narrated in this volume's last chapter, begins in 1933. In Paris, where he seeks out the ballet, the intrigues and jealousies of artists, dancers, and stage mothers are topped only by the supreme wiles of Romola Nijinsky, in whose service Kirstein finds himself. Kirstein, now an impresario-in-training, courts George Balanchine, hoping he will found a ballet school and company—in Hartford, Connecticut. Of course, a Balanchine-led Hartford Ballet was not to be. One hopes that Kirstein's elliptical ending is the promise of another volume to complete his colorful mosaic.
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