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Lavishly illustrated mini-profiles of 33 Russian-born ballet greats since the 1890s--bringing together the very famous and the little-known (in the West), arranging the dancers by ""stylistic categories"" derived from Petipa's concern with emploi (""the area of the repertory suited to the individual dancer""). The ""Lyrical Ballerinas"" are the starriest of the women: Pavlova, with her ""unparalleled variety of shadings""; Galina Ulanova, whose poetic purity, peasant-like appearance, and political pliability helped her to become ""a Soviet icon"" (Smakov stresses her limitations rather more than her achievements); and defector Natalia Makarova, the iconoclastic ""last avatar of the great lyrical ballerina."" The ""Great Virtuosos"" include the Balanchine-esque Natalia Dudinskaya and her turn-of-the-century predecessor, Matilda Kschessinskaya, whose career was ended by the 1917 Revolution. (Her art was eclipsed ""by her fabricated reputation as the Russian Madame Du Barry."") Maya Plisetskaya, for Smakov ""the greatest of all the Russian ballerinas,"" is one of ""Les Grandes Tragediennes""--along with the less famous Alla Shelet, an actress/virtuoso with a fierce psychological approach. And Smakov's other categories include ""The Uniquely Russian Stylists"" (impetuous, emotional), ""The Weeping Spirits"" (suffering fragility), ""The Ideal Soubrettes and Ingenues,"" and ""The Decorative Ballerinas"" (a somewhat unconvincing label for acting dancer Tamara Karsavina). As for the 13 men here, there are Danseurs Nobles, of course (from Pavel Gerdt to Yuri Soloviev), and ""Superman"" types--including the Georgian, sensual Vakhtang Chabukiani and the USSR's most recent superstar, adventurous dancer/choreographer Vladimir Vasiliev. But the legendary Big Three--Nijinsky, Nureyev, Baryshnikav--are presented as ""Dancers Without Category."" Throughout, Smakov (Baryshnikov, 1981) mixes biography with analysis and evocations of specific performances, making good use of contemporaneous Russian sources (or, for some post-1950 appearances, his own recollections); the role of Soviet politics in ballet careers is often, but not always, brought in; admiration is shaded with occasional criticism. (""Nureyev's persona is indeed rather excessive, motivated more frequently than not by his own narcissistic needs and self-involvement."") And, though Smakov's prose (much improved since Baryshnikov) is more soothing than compelling, this over-sized, handsomely designed volume--with 343 photos--will be sure to enchant history-minded balletomanes.

Pub Date: Jan. 29th, 1984
Publisher: Knopf