``I don't think there is a definitive portrait of Balanchine,'' says longtime New York City Ballet administrator Betty Cage herein. ``Everybody has a different view, a different perspective...all true in certain ways and all lacking in certain ways.'' This collection of more than 75 such perspectives from friends and associates ultimately tells us much more about the contributors than about Balanchine-but is nonetheless entertaining and often riveting. Mason (editor of Ballet Review) does put his finger on why talking about Balanchine reveals so much about the speakers: ``I have never known so many people so eager to talk about a man. Balanchine was clearly a dominant figure to all of them: talking about him explained themselves, relived their careers, made sense of their lives, assimilated the past for the future.'' Throughout, this leads to a seriousness and solemnity in interviews from such widely varied personalities as Alexandra Danilova, Nureyev, Erick Hawkins, Katherine Dunham, and Darci Kistler. Lincoln Kirstein, quoted in a 1933 letter to a friend after first meeting Balanchine, is full of the urgency of having recognized a genius: ``This will be the most important letter I will ever write you...My pen burns my hand...We have a real chance to have an American ballet within 3 years time...'' Mason deftly lets each distinctive voice come through loud and clear. Here is Edward Villella on discussing the essence of gesture with Balanchine: ``At the beginning of the pas de deux, Apollo and Tersichore touch their fingertips together, and I said, `Jeez, that's really very beautiful.' '' And there are plenty of sidelights into dance history that have nothing to do with Balanchine. The ballerina Tamara Geva (Balanchine's first wife) remembers Isadora Duncan: ``I shall never forget her performance: Wagnerian music, with a symphony orchestra down below in the pit, and up on the stage of the Maryinsky this lady stretched out on the floor. She lay there for a long time while we were all waiting for something to happen.'' A massive (640-page), eloquent effort that provides a valuable oral history of the ballet world. If it doesn't add to our knowledge of Balanchine, it does, most importantly, underscore his extraordinary contribution. As Helgi Tomasson, now director of the San Francisco Ballet poignantly captures the elusiveness of dance as well as of Balanchine's genius: ``the farther we get from his leaving us, the less we will remember.''