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STREB: How to Become an Extreme Action Hero
By Elizabeth Streb. Foreword by Anna Deavere Smith. Feminist Press at the City University of New York, 2010. 201 pages. Illustrated. Paper: $18.95. www.feministpress.org.
She holds up a piece of ceiling for hours; she (accidentally) lights herself on fire; she rides her motorcycle up a flight of stairs; she jumps through a sheet of glass. Elizabeth Streb defines, redefines, and questions preexisting frameworks for humans in motion—and for humans in existence. Her visions of seemingly impossible feats have launched her to the forefront of modern dance. In this book, part autobiography, part treatise, Streb discusses her work within the classifications of body, space, time, and motion. Her writing is breezy at times, dense at others, and her thought processes are fascinating and provocative. When words won’t serve, she makes one up. Flashbacks of her “youthful experiments” and of early inspirations for her company (STREB) and lab (S.L.A.M.) illustrate the origins of her danger-loving ideology. Many photographs show the range of Streb’s awe-inspiring imagination. —Debbie Schneider
I’ve Slept With Everybody: A Memoir
By Sondra Lee. BearManor Media, 2009. 183 pages. Paper: $19.95. bearmanormedia.bizland.com/id414.html.
If the word “spunky” didn’t exist, it would have to be coined for Sondra Lee. As the feisty Tiger Lily in Jerome Robbins’ Peter Pan (on TV in 1955), she caught the eye of a nation. She danced and/or sang in numerous musicals and movies including High Button Shoes, La Dolce Vita, and Hello, Dolly! She was also in Jerome Robbins’ Ballets: USA, the vibrant but short-lived company that took Europe by storm in 1958–59, until an injury nudged her into acting. In this scant but delightful memoir, Lee darts from one subject to another (one production to another, one affair to another) with joie de vivre. Along the way, she tells juicy stories about Marlon Brando, Paul Taylor, Billy Rose, Ginger Rogers, Carol Channing, and Stella Adler—and, of course, the great mentor in her life, Jerome Robbins. And that title? It was chosen on a whim, so don’t go looking for an avalanche of sexual encounters, although some of that is there, too. Her unstoppable energy, joy, and playfulness make this an easy, fun ride of a read. As irreverent as her humor is, she comes around to a real reverence for the art of theater and the theatrical community. —Wendy Perron
Behind the Scenes at Boston Ballet
By Christine Temin. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2009. 240 pages. Photos by Wally Gilbert. Cloth: $34. www.upf.com.
These pages fly by, thanks to Temin’s concise prose and Gilbert’s unique eye. Divided into two parts, “The Elements” and “The Dancing,” the book details Boston Ballet’s recent history and provides an inside look at class, rehearsal, and the stories behind the scenes. Gilbert’s photography leaps from the page with striking immediacy. Directors, designers, and doctors all receive attention in the first part of the book, and the details of the company’s 2006–2007 season unfold in the second. Featured in Part One are the profiles of eight lead dancers—Larissa Ponomarenko, Bo Busby, James Whiteside, Heather Myers, Misa Kuranaga, Sabi Varga, Lorna Feijóo, and Nelson Madrigal. Their backgrounds are as varied as their words are candid. A refreshingly human quality permeates the entire book. —D. S.
The Crack Between the Worlds: A Dancer’s Memoir of Loss, Faith, and Family
By Maggie Kast. Resource Publications, 2009. 218 pages. Paper: $25 ($20 on the web). www.wipfandstock.com.
Dancer, choreographer, mother, and wife, Maggie Kast weaves a tapestry of disparate threads in this memoir. Part family history, part spiritual journey, her courageous narrative traces her unlikely pathway to Catholicism and spiritual transformation. Departing from her parents’ atheism, she seeks out hidden clues that paved the way, from her earliest awakenings to ritual through dance to her career as a noted Chicago dancer/choreographer and her devotion to marriage and family.
Kast takes the reader on a quest for meaning, triggered by the tragic loss of her beloved 3-year-old daughter, Natasha. Brutally honest, the writing sometimes overflows with poetic truth, sometimes with prosaic fact-telling.
The book’s critical thinking will be of interest to any artist who has found refuge in faith-based worship. Formal study of Catholic doctrine combined with ritual observance inspired Kast to create liturgical dance pieces that utilized church space in performance. The interface of art, faith, and family is at the center of Kast’s work. The Crack Between the Worlds leaves us hungry to hear more of how that journey played out in her artistic process. —Lynn Colburn Shapiro
What I Learned From Balanchine: Diary of a Choreographer
By Gloria Contreras. Jorge Pinto Books, Inc. 2008. 144 pages. Illustrated. Paper: $19.95. www.pintobooks.com.
Gloria Contreras was one of the lucky dancers and choreographers who received valuable guidance from George Balanchine. During 1958–59 she took class with him at the School of American Ballet and sought his critiques of her choreography. She kept a diary that became letters to her parents. When she returned to her native Mexico in 1970, she founded Taller Coreográfico de la UNAM, a major ballet company that still performs today.
Here are a few nuggets of Balanchine’s advice: “If you have to read a story line or explanation to understand a ballet, it’s because the dancing itself doesn’t communicate”; “Never accept the first ideas that come to mind. Struggle and explore inside yourself in order to reach new directions”; “The critics have to eat, but you don’t have to read them.” —Doris Hering