by Carol Easton ‧ RELEASE DATE: Jan. 29, 1996
A lively biography of the choreographer who helped recreate the Broadway musical, infused ballet with American verve and humor, and became a leading spokesperson for dance and the arts in general. De Mille, who died in 1993 at the age of 88, told her own life story with grace and spirit in such volumes as Dance to the Piper and And Promenade Home. But Easton adds considerably to our understanding of this woman who, despite an undancerly physique, was determined to express herself in movement. Following de Mille's life from her childhood in Hollywood as the daughter of writer/director William de Mille and niece of Cecil B. De Mille, through her early career struggles, her eventual huge successes with Oklahoma! and Rodeo, and subsequent ups and downs of her career, Easton underscores (sometimes too much) one central theme. De Mille's desperate and ungratified need for approval from her father became the driving, and usually destructive, force in her relationships with men. She did marry finally at age 36, a man who repeated the early indignity she felt: Despite his love for her, Walter Prude never thought highly of his wife's choreography. Easton also convincingly details how this need for a man's approval and a sense of sexual inferiority coexisted with a fierce independence and self-assurance. And all of these traits informed her most enduring creations, from the the desperate Lizzie Borden in Fall River Legend to Laurey's dream in Oklahoma!. Either Easton is a master interviewer, or else those who loved and hated de Mille (and the choreographer herself, whom Easton interviewed before her death) were eager for a chance to go on the record: Their rich quotes enhance this biography. James Mitchell, one of her closest associates, said, ""Agnes enslaved people. She knew her power and that people would do for her."" It may not be the case that ""no other dancer has approached the breadth of her achievement,"" as Easton says, but this is a generally objective and useful summary of de Mille's life and works.
Pub Date: Jan. 29, 1996
Page Count: 560
Publisher: "Little, Brown"
Review Posted Online: N/A
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 1995
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