A vigorous, finely balanced reporting job on the late Robert Joffrey and his ever-popular dance company. Anawalt, a California dance critic, is an unabashed fan of Joffrey's, yet this volume is no encomium. Instead, her briskly written account of the company from its mythically modest beginnings in 1954 to Joffrey's death from AIDS in 1988 at the age of 59 collects and interprets suggestive facts at nearly every turn. Joffrey's obsession with ballet emerged early: He staged his first ballets when he was a child in Seattle, with costumes borrowed from a neighborhood dry cleaner. When he eventually launched his own company, it was a seat-of-the-pants affair: The fledgling group's no-frills tours of the US were made in a red and white station wagon, driven in breakneck fashion by a roguish stage manager; to save time and money after typical one-night-stand performances, the dancers washed their ballet duds ""by standing in the hotel showers with the tutus and tights still on, throwing laundry detergent over themselves, and then drying the smaller pieces out the next day on the car's interior door handles."" In addition to her rich store of anecdotes, Anawalt is equally forthcoming in characterizing each stage of the company's struggle to survive and the artistic hallmarks of the evolving Joffrey style (""Learn the classical technique--then forget it,"" Joffrey advised) and mindfully eclectic repertory (Gerald Arpino, Joffrey's frequent collaborator and longtime companion, was successful because he ""made ballets for people who hate ballet,"" she succinctly notes). Unusual among dance critics, she never hides behind a professional dance vocabulary. She also ventures worthwhile observations on contextual issues, such as the uncomfortable coupling of dance with business in this country and the politics of American arts funding. An intelligent, fair, fascinating portrait of a seminal figure in American ballet.