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Balanchine & the Lost Muse: Revolution & the Making of a Choreographer

Balanchine & the Lost Muse: Revolution & the Making of a Choreographer

by Elizabeth Kendall

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Here is the first dual biography of the early lives of two key figures in Russian ballet: famed choreographer George Balanchine and his close childhood friend and extraordinary ballerina Liidia (Lidochka) Ivanova.

Tracing the lives and friendship of these two dancers from years just before the 1917 Russian Revolution to Balanchine's escape from Russia in 1924


Here is the first dual biography of the early lives of two key figures in Russian ballet: famed choreographer George Balanchine and his close childhood friend and extraordinary ballerina Liidia (Lidochka) Ivanova.

Tracing the lives and friendship of these two dancers from years just before the 1917 Russian Revolution to Balanchine's escape from Russia in 1924, Elizabeth Kendall's Balanchine & the Lost Muse sheds new light on a crucial flash point in the history of ballet. Drawing upon extensive archival research, Kendall weaves a fascinating tale about this decisive period in the life of the man who would become the most influential choreographer in modern ballet. Abandoned by his mother at the St. Petersburg Imperial Ballet Academy in 1913 at the age of nine, Balanchine spent his formative years studying dance in Russia's tumultuous capital city. It was there, as he struggled to support himself while studying and performing, that Balanchine met Ivanova. A talented and bold dancer who grew close to the Bolshevik elite in her adolescent years, Ivanova was a source of great inspiration to Balanchine—both during their youth together, and later in his life, after her mysterious death just days before they had planned to leave Russia together in 1924. Kendall shows that although Balanchine would have a great number of muses, many of them lovers, the dark beauty of his dear friend Lidochka would inspire much of his work for years to come.

Part biography and part cultural history, Balanchine & the Lost Muse presents a sweeping account of the heyday of modern ballet and the culture behind the unmoored ideals, futuristic visions, and human decadence that characterized the Russian Revolution.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In this extensively researched, if overly detailed, dual biography, literature professor and dance critic Kendall (Autobiography of a Wardrobe) posits that ballet dancer Lidia Ivanova (1903-1924) had an enduring influence on the long and illustrious choreographic career of Georgi Balanchivadze (1904-1983), known in the West since 1925 as George Balanchine. Tracing the obscure origins and early childhoods of both figures, through their years at St. Petersburg’s Imperial Theater School from 1914 until 1921, and into the mid-1920s, Kendall juxtaposes the classmates’ rarified lives with the political turmoil of Russia in the teens and ’20s. This generation of dancers, Kendall contends, trained in prerevolutionary ballet technique but assimilated new Soviet-era tenets into their psyches, thereby creating a modern style of ballet embodied by Ivanova as a dancer and Balanchine as choreographer. Highlights include contemporaries’ recollections of Ivanova’s performances and an analysis of her mystique—attributable to her physique, intense musicality, and deep “compulsion to reach audiences”—as well as a discussion of selected Balanchine works from the 1920s through to his final masterpiece, Mozartiana. An uneasy combination of history and biography, the book informs readers unfamiliar with the cultural history of the period but leaves balletomanes hungry for more convincing connections between the so-called muse and the master choreographer. Map and b&w photos. Agent: Lane Zachary, Zachary Shuster Harmsworth. (July)
From the Publisher
"[T]he larger portrait she paints, of two curious, forward-looking artists forged in the same fires, is worth spending some time with." —New York Times

"As a meditation on history and art, Balanchine & the Lost Muse proves to be a bravura performance. Ms. Kendall, who knows both Russia and Russian well, offers some of the loveliest prose in recent dance writing." — Wall Street Journal

"[H]er history of ballet in the early post-Revolutionary period is very valuable, as Balanchine told us little about his youth." — The New Yorker

"The book reads like a detective novel, but has pages of luminous writing about the choreographer and his ballet." —Dance Magazine

"Elizabeth Kendall has unearthed the world of Balanchine's childhood. For this alone we owe her a great debt... [H]er book is not only a portrait of Balanchine's youth, it is a portrait of Russia in collapse - of the world that was dying as Balanchine was coming of age." -New York Review of Books

"There is no doubt that Balanchine and the Lost Muse is the last word on this period of Balanchine's life" -Weekly Standard

"'Fascinating' is the word for this ground-breaking account of Balanchine's formative years, infused with tenderness, brio, wit and compassionate insight. Elizabeth Kendall is one of our foremost dance critics and historians, and she has outdone herself here, capturing, via original research, dazzling descriptions and acute syntheses, the sensual color and flavor of that lost, magical milieu."- Phillip Lopate

"Balanchine and the Lost Muse reveals more about the choreographer's early life than any previous book. With skill and imagination, Elizabeth Kendall peels away the layers of a complicated, unhappy family life, shows us an adolescent fired with idealism for his chosen art, and evokes the memories of dances and dancers - like the ballerina muse Lidia Ivanova, who died only days before he left Russia - that haunted his choreography for decades."- Lynn Garafola, author of Diaghilev's Ballets Russes and Professor of Dance, Barnard College

"In this beautifully written and extensively researched account of Balanchine's early years and the mysterious and untimely death of ballerina Lidia Ivanova, Elizabeth Kendall recreates an era and gives us new insight into Balanchine the genius and innovator, and by anchoring her narrative firmly in a larger political and historical context, gives us an invaluable picture of the Russian cultural scene at the beginning of the last century. Required reading for anyone interested in one of ballet's great masters or simply fans of first-rate, flawless writing."—Allegra Kent, former Principal dancer, New York City ballet, author of Once a Dancer

"Kendall's ability to breathe life into characters and situations is one of the main pleasures of the book" — The Nation

Kirkus Reviews
It's remarkable that so many great dancers and choreographers came out of repressive, revolutionary Russia. This book is the story of how and why. Kendall (Literary Studies/The New School; Autobiography of a Wardrobe, 2009) begins with the 1920 class of the Petrograd Imperial Theater School, which began their ballet training during the last days of the czar. When he was 9, Balanchine's parents took his sister to audition, and while she was rejected, he was quickly chosen--against his wishes. He hated dancing. The students' housing was warm and comfortable, food was bountiful, and carriages were provided to take students to performances. That abruptly ended in 1917, and the struggle to survive after the revolution illustrates the dancers' resolve. This is not so much a biography of Balanchine but a story of the dedication of all these young dancers and their drive for perfection. Their determination to perform, along with all Russians' love for the arts, particularly ballet, ensured their survival under the Bolsheviks. Was his muse the ballerina Lidia Ivanova, or was it the experience of his intensive classical training? He absorbed Ivanova's brilliant new ways of movement inspired by a visit from Isadora Duncan. Ivanova's death, just before Balanchine's small group left Russia in 1924, deprived the world of a great ballerina but left him with an ideal to copy as he wrote for others. While Balanchine was a great dancer, this is when his choreographic talents were born. His classical training is what enabled him to create the avant-garde dancing that is today's norm. The ballet students barely survived through the civil war, foraging for food, burning furniture for heat, searching for venues and always dancing. Kendall's great success is her illustration of the profound love and devotion of these dancers for their art.

Product Details

Oxford University Press
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6.30(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.10(d)

Meet the Author

Elizabeth Kendall is author of Autobiography of a Wardrobe (Pantheon 2008); American Daughter (Random House 2000); The Runaway Bride: Hollywood Romantic Comedy of the 1930s (Knopf 1990); and Where She Danced (Knopf 1979). She is a tenured associate professor of Literary Studies at The New School. She has written for The New Yorker, Vogue, Ballet News, Dance Magazine, The New York Times, Elle, The New Republic and other journals.

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