DANCING FOR BALANCHINE by Merrill Ashley

DANCING FOR BALANCHINE

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KIRKUS REVIEW

From the very beginning Ashley's ""interest in ballet had to do with movement and music, not with costumes or the chance to act out roles and show off my personality on a stage."" As a teenager, then, she was drawn to George Balanchine's New York City Ballet and its high-pressure school--leading to Company membership in 1967. There was little satisfaction or growth, however, in the hasty learning and performance of corps de ballet roles: ""My pirouettes once again became harrowing experiences. And what had happened to my jump? . . . My daily routine was taking its toll."" So Ashley decided to concentrate on mastering the Balanchine technique--attending all his classes (including the one on her day off), giving up ""so many of my old comfortable habits,"" placing ""all my faith and trust in him,"" and eventually understanding the Balanchine preoccupation with perfectly executed tendu exercises. (""I noticed a nearly magical effect: I had the distinct sensation that. . . I controlled the movement of my legs. It was not the weight, the momentum of the legs, or gravity that controlled the movement."") Her first solos soon followed; a boyfriend's advice helped Ashley to allow her personality to show on her face--instead of an artificial smile or a ""pained ballerina look."" Notwithstanding torn ligaments and other physical problems, she became a soloist--performing, among other Balanchine classics, the Tchaikovsky ""gut-crunchers."" And finally, after being ""traumatized"" by disappointment, she was named a principal dancer in 1977: ""It had taken me ten years to build my technique; it had taken Balanchine ten years to become confident that I would remain true to him."" Ashley describes the choreography sessions for Ballo della Regina and Ballade--the former a display of ""happy virtuosity,"" the latter an endurance test of ""romantic virtuosity."" (""He did not seem to realize the cumulative effect of all these steps and sweeping gestures."") She concludes, after a few glimpses of Balanchine in his final years, with emphasis on Balanchine-the-teacher--and with a vow to ""remain forever one of the guardians"" of his aesthetic legacy. Readers should look elsewhere, then, if their primary interest is either the Balanchine personality or backstage-at-the-ballet atmosphere. But, for more serious followers of technique and aesthetics, Ashley's earnest, rather dry memoir is a valuable addition to the expanding Balanchine shelf.

Pub Date: Nov. 16th, 1984
Publisher: Dutton