TO DANCE by Valery with George Feifer Panov
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Attention: the autobiography of 40-year-old Russian-Jewish dancer Valery Panov is not a book just--or even especially--for balletgoers. True, there is fascinating detail and creative fervor in his account of how he overcame a late start and a ""flawed"" body to become a leading, innovative solo artist for Leningrad's tradition-obsessed, intrigue-ridden Kirov. And the personalities encountered along the way include the ""mythic Vaganova,"" a link to the 19th century, Nureyev (""real in a way that made the rest of his class look like television ghosts""), and the very young Baryshnikov. But interwoven with the growth of an artist is the unwilling awakening and the painful education of a man into something beyond ""a ballet boy who wanted to express himself and take curtain calls."" Half-Jewish, uncircumcised, and son of a Party-line ""genuine anti-Semite,"" Valery Shulman married the secretary of the theater's Young Communist group, adopted her pure-Russian name, and couldn't understand why he was suddenly recalled from an American tour and placed--for a decade--in a sort of half-ostracized, rumor-trailed limbo: permitted to star, forbidden to travel, and sniffed at with suspicion, especially after Nureyev's defection. It took Prague Spring, Solzhenitsyn, persistent instances of suppressed individuality, and his activist brother to convince Panov that the problem was Russia, not Valery: ""My long years of whimpering for understanding had been nonsense. There was no mistake, no rotten luck, nothing personally directed against me. . . .""So then began his campaign, with his second wife Galya, to get out. Unable to go through with a near-suicidal swim-escape via the Black Sea, Panov came out into the open--by requesting permission to emigrate to Israel--and brought on a year of nightmare: expulsion from the Kirov, KGB grillings, ""mass flailings"" from former friends, frame-ups and imprisonments, ""severe food poisoning from an unknown source,"" hunger strike, Galya's miscarriage, and, perhaps worst of all, a body ""dead for dancing,"" permanently diminished from disuse. The book ends with the Panovs' release--largely due to the outcries of Western artists--and only in the prologue by George Feifer (who probably deserves much credit for the unmannered eloquence throughout) do we hear about their problems since. But whatever the future holds, Valery Panov has succeeded. ""They had made me a husband who felt responsibility to his wife. Their persecution had taught me that I was Jewish. . . . They had forced me to look at mankind and its history, to sympathize with sufferers, to think about how and where I wanted to fit in if I ever got out of Russia."" Dramatic, authentic, indelible.

Pub Date: April 27th, 1978
Publisher: Knopf