A vigorously reported critique of common policies and practices in the ballet world.

TURNING POINTE

HOW A NEW GENERATION OF DANCERS IS SAVING BALLET FROM ITSELF

A journalist takes a hard look at social injustices in ballet and how to end them.

Angyal argues that as ballet schools and companies cope with Covid-19, they face a threat older than the pandemic. The ballet world is in crisis, “made fragile and brittle by years of inequality and rendered dysfunctional by sexism, racism, elitism, and a stubborn disregard for the physical and mental well-being of the dancers who make the art possible.” Many of the ills the author laments have been covered in some of the ballet books published since Joan Brady’s signal 1982 memoir The Unmaking of a Dancer: injuries, burnout, eating disorders, taunting of male dancers as “sissies,” and brutal treatment by Svengalis like George Balanchine. But Angyal substantially updates the story by highlighting persistent social injustices, such as relegating Black male dancers to “comic sidekick roles, the Mercutio to the white man’s Romeo,” and sidelining LGBTQ+ talent. She also shows how trailblazers have fought back with actions such as the founding of the Manhattan-based Ballez company for lesbian and gender-nonconforming dancers. Drawing on interviews with insiders who include artistic directors and principal dancers, the author is particularly insightful about companies’ “doublespeak” on issues like thinness. One psychiatrist noted that ballet masters—no longer able to tell dancers to lose weight without risking criticism—speak in code such as, “You need to be more ‘toned’.…Every dancer knows that means they have to lose five pounds.” Angyal slights some of the broader social and economic forces that have contributed to ballet’s problems, such as declining U.S. audiences for high culture and the role government regulators might play if discrimination or unfair labor practices are involved. However, she ends with clear, well-reasoned recommendations that schools and companies anywhere could adopt—a list that, in itself, might be the spark many need to make overdue changes.

A vigorously reported critique of common policies and practices in the ballet world.

Pub Date: May 4, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-64503-670-8

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Bold Type Books

Review Posted Online: Feb. 16, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2021

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A top-notch political memoir and serious exercise in practical politics for every reader.

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A PROMISED LAND

In the first volume of his presidential memoir, Obama recounts the hard path to the White House.

In this long, often surprisingly candid narrative, Obama depicts a callow youth spent playing basketball and “getting loaded,” his early reading of difficult authors serving as a way to impress coed classmates. (“As a strategy for picking up girls, my pseudo-intellectualism proved mostly worthless,” he admits.) Yet seriousness did come to him in time and, with it, the conviction that America could live up to its stated aspirations. His early political role as an Illinois state senator, itself an unlikely victory, was not big enough to contain Obama’s early ambition, nor was his term as U.S. Senator. Only the presidency would do, a path he painstakingly carved out, vote by vote and speech by careful speech. As he writes, “By nature I’m a deliberate speaker, which, by the standards of presidential candidates, helped keep my gaffe quotient relatively low.” The author speaks freely about the many obstacles of the race—not just the question of race and racism itself, but also the rise, with “potent disruptor” Sarah Palin, of a know-nothingism that would manifest itself in an obdurate, ideologically driven Republican legislature. Not to mention the meddlings of Donald Trump, who turns up in this volume for his idiotic “birther” campaign while simultaneously fishing for a contract to build “a beautiful ballroom” on the White House lawn. A born moderate, Obama allows that he might not have been ideological enough in the face of Mitch McConnell, whose primary concern was then “clawing [his] way back to power.” Indeed, one of the most compelling aspects of the book, as smoothly written as his previous books, is Obama’s cleareyed scene-setting for how the political landscape would become so fractured—surely a topic he’ll expand on in the next volume.

A top-notch political memoir and serious exercise in practical politics for every reader.

Pub Date: Nov. 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6316-9

Page Count: 768

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 16, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2020

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Not an easy read but an essential one.

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HOW TO BE AN ANTIRACIST

Title notwithstanding, this latest from the National Book Award–winning author is no guidebook to getting woke.

In fact, the word “woke” appears nowhere within its pages. Rather, it is a combination memoir and extension of Atlantic columnist Kendi’s towering Stamped From the Beginning (2016) that leads readers through a taxonomy of racist thought to anti-racist action. Never wavering from the thesis introduced in his previous book, that “racism is a powerful collection of racist policies that lead to racial inequity and are substantiated by racist ideas,” the author posits a seemingly simple binary: “Antiracism is a powerful collection of antiracist policies that lead to racial equity and are substantiated by antiracist ideas.” The author, founding director of American University’s Antiracist Research and Policy Center, chronicles how he grew from a childhood steeped in black liberation Christianity to his doctoral studies, identifying and dispelling the layers of racist thought under which he had operated. “Internalized racism,” he writes, “is the real Black on Black Crime.” Kendi methodically examines racism through numerous lenses: power, biology, ethnicity, body, culture, and so forth, all the way to the intersectional constructs of gender racism and queer racism (the only section of the book that feels rushed). Each chapter examines one facet of racism, the authorial camera alternately zooming in on an episode from Kendi’s life that exemplifies it—e.g., as a teen, he wore light-colored contact lenses, wanting “to be Black but…not…to look Black”—and then panning to the history that informs it (the antebellum hierarchy that valued light skin over dark). The author then reframes those received ideas with inexorable logic: “Either racist policy or Black inferiority explains why White people are wealthier, healthier, and more powerful than Black people today.” If Kendi is justifiably hard on America, he’s just as hard on himself. When he began college, “anti-Black racist ideas covered my freshman eyes like my orange contacts.” This unsparing honesty helps readers, both white and people of color, navigate this difficult intellectual territory.

Not an easy read but an essential one.

Pub Date: Aug. 13, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-50928-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: April 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2019

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