Livelier and gossipier than Terry Teachout’s earnest primer, All the Dances (p. 953), though less explicitly instructive...

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GEORGE BALANCHINE

THE BALLET MAKER

Another brief biography published to coincide with the centennial of the legendary choreographer’s birth, gaining color and immediacy from the author’s behind-the-scenes knowledge of the New York City Ballet.

Gottlieb, former editor-in-chief of Alfred A. Knopf and The New Yorker, served on the NYCB board of directors for more than a decade and knew Balanchine personally, though not intimately. The author makes excellent use of quotations from his subject and from generations of dancers’ memoirs to vividly capture the choreographer’s personality. Early chapters on Balanchine’s youth in Russia and apprentice years at the Ballets Russes in Paris highlight the charm and calm professionalism that enabled him to make radical breaks with ballet tradition without alienating his dancers—as seen in such late 1920s masterpieces as Apollo and Prodigal Son. As the narrative moves on to Balanchine’s rootless early years in America, working on Broadway and in Hollywood while he struggled to establish his own school and company, Gottlieb continues to emphasize the important role played by the women and men who studied with Mr. B and incarnated his visions in the flesh. (For once, Diana Adams, Allegra Kent, Melissa Hayden, Jacques d’Amboise, Edward Villella and Peter Martins get equal time with Balanchine’s more famous muses/wives.) Gottlieb began attending the ballet in 1948, NYCB’s inaugural season, and his descriptions of such historic premieres as Firebird, Agon, Stars and Stripes and Don Quixote benefit from his firsthand knowledge. Readers will also get a solid understanding of the backstage contributions made by NYCB administrators Lincoln Kirstein, Betty Cage, Eddie Bigelow and Barbara Horgan. At the center of it all stands the choreographer, much loved (even by his ex-wives) yet fundamentally unknowable, more deeply engaged with his art than with other human beings. Since Balanchine took that art form to new heights over the course of his lifetime, that doesn’t seem like such a tragic trade-off.

Livelier and gossipier than Terry Teachout’s earnest primer, All the Dances (p. 953), though less explicitly instructive about Balanchine’s historic significance. Ballet lovers, of course, will want to read both.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2004

ISBN: 0-06-075070-7

Page Count: 224

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2004

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Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

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UNTAMED

More life reflections from the bestselling author on themes of societal captivity and the catharsis of personal freedom.

In her third book, Doyle (Love Warrior, 2016, etc.) begins with a life-changing event. “Four years ago,” she writes, “married to the father of my three children, I fell in love with a woman.” That woman, Abby Wambach, would become her wife. Emblematically arranged into three sections—“Caged,” “Keys,” “Freedom”—the narrative offers, among other elements, vignettes about the soulful author’s girlhood, when she was bulimic and felt like a zoo animal, a “caged girl made for wide-open skies.” She followed the path that seemed right and appropriate based on her Catholic upbringing and adolescent conditioning. After a downward spiral into “drinking, drugging, and purging,” Doyle found sobriety and the authentic self she’d been suppressing. Still, there was trouble: Straining an already troubled marriage was her husband’s infidelity, which eventually led to life-altering choices and the discovery of a love she’d never experienced before. Throughout the book, Doyle remains open and candid, whether she’s admitting to rigging a high school homecoming court election or denouncing the doting perfectionism of “cream cheese parenting,” which is about “giving your children the best of everything.” The author’s fears and concerns are often mirrored by real-world issues: gender roles and bias, white privilege, racism, and religion-fueled homophobia and hypocrisy. Some stories merely skim the surface of larger issues, but Doyle revisits them in later sections and digs deeper, using friends and familial references to personify their impact on her life, both past and present. Shorter pieces, some only a page in length, manage to effectively translate an emotional gut punch, as when Doyle’s therapist called her blooming extramarital lesbian love a “dangerous distraction.” Ultimately, the narrative is an in-depth look at a courageous woman eager to share the wealth of her experiences by embracing vulnerability and reclaiming her inner strength and resiliency.

Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-0125-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Dial Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

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BECOMING

The former first lady opens up about her early life, her journey to the White House, and the eight history-making years that followed.

It’s not surprising that Obama grew up a rambunctious kid with a stubborn streak and an “I’ll show you” attitude. After all, it takes a special kind of moxie to survive being the first African-American FLOTUS—and not only survive, but thrive. For eight years, we witnessed the adversity the first family had to face, and now we get to read what it was really like growing up in a working-class family on Chicago’s South Side and ending up at the world’s most famous address. As the author amply shows, her can-do attitude was daunted at times by racism, leaving her wondering if she was good enough. Nevertheless, she persisted, graduating from Chicago’s first magnet high school, Princeton, and Harvard Law School, and pursuing careers in law and the nonprofit world. With her characteristic candor and dry wit, she recounts the story of her fateful meeting with her future husband. Once they were officially a couple, her feelings for him turned into a “toppling blast of lust, gratitude, fulfillment, wonder.” But for someone with a “natural resistance to chaos,” being the wife of an ambitious politician was no small feat, and becoming a mother along the way added another layer of complexity. Throw a presidential campaign into the mix, and even the most assured woman could begin to crack under the pressure. Later, adjusting to life in the White House was a formidable challenge for the self-described “control freak”—not to mention the difficulty of sparing their daughters the ugly side of politics and preserving their privacy as much as possible. Through it all, Obama remained determined to serve with grace and help others through initiatives like the White House garden and her campaign to fight childhood obesity. And even though she deems herself “not a political person,” she shares frank thoughts about the 2016 election.

An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6313-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 30, 2018

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