OUR FAVORITE BALLET BOOKS

We love to dance. We also love to read. Mostly about dance, of course.

Besides, these long days spent at home are just begging to be spent neck-deep in a pile of good books. 

Whether you’re looking for inspiration for the upcoming year’s seasons or missing the energy and beauty of ballet you’d get from your theatre seat, or just trying to brush up on your dance history; you can never go wrong with an excellent book on ballet. There are plenty of great ones, but we managed to pick 5 of our absolute favorite.

Here is the list:

1. “Marius Petipa: The Emperor’s Ballet Master” by Nadine Meisner

One of the most famous ballet choreographers of all time, Marius Petipa, created works that are now the fundament of every ballet company’s repertoire. Performances of Swan Lake and The Sleeping Beauty draw large audiences to theatres and inspire new generations of dancers, as does The Nutcracker (which is considered to be the most famous ballet of all) during the winter holidays. These great three works created by Marius Petipa are not all. The entertaining Don Quixote and exotic La Bayadere are also considered classic and very popular. Altogether, these ballets have shaped the defining style of twentieth-century dance. This book is one of its kind – it is the first biography in English of this monumental figure of ballet history. It covers the choreographer’s life and works in full within the context of remarkable historical and political surroundings.

2. “Bolshoi Confidential: Secrets of the Russian Ballet from the Rule of the Tsars to Today” by Simon Morrison

In this “incredibly rich” (New York Times) definitive history of the Bolshoi Ballet, visionary performances onstage compete with political machinations backstage.

A critical triumph, Simon Morrison’s “sweeping and authoritative” (Guardian) work, Bolshoi Confidential, details the Bolshoi Ballet’s magnificent history from its earliest tumults to recent scandals. On January 17, 2013, a hooded assailant hurled acid into the face of the artistic director, making international headlines. A lead soloist, enraged by institutional power struggles, later confessed to masterminding the crime. Morrison gives the shocking violence context, describing the ballet as a crucible of art and politics beginning with the disreputable inception of the theater in 1776, through the era of imperial rule, the chaos of revolution, the oppressive Soviet years, and the Bolshoi’s recent $680 million renovations. Although it is full of provocative details, our love for the mastership and the highest level of professionalism of the Bolshoi Theatre is undoubtful. 

3. “Apollo’s Angels” by Jennifer Homans

This National bestseller was named one of the best books of the year by the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and the San Francisco Chronicle book review.

For more than 400 years, the art of ballet has stood at the center of Western civilization. Its traditions serve as a record of our past. Richly illustrated and beautifully told, Apollo’s Angels—the first cultural history of ballet ever written—is groundbreaking work. From ballet’s origins in the Renaissance and the codification of its basic steps and positions under France’s Louis XIV (himself an avid dancer), the art form wound its way through Europe’s courts, from Paris and Milan to Vienna and St. Petersburg. In the twentieth century, émigré dancers taught their art to a generation in the United States and Western Europe, setting off a new and radical transformation of dance. Jennifer Homans, a historian, critic, and professional ballerina, wields a knowledge of dance born of dedicated practice. Her admiration and love for the ballet, as Entertainment Weekly notes, brings “a dancer’s grace and sure-footed agility to the page.”

4. Perpetual Motion by Otis Stuart

There have been many books written about this idol of the ballet world, Rudolf Nuriev, but the “Perpetual Motion” by Otis Stuart is our favorite one. It is by far the most sincere. A revealing portrait of a legendary ballet performer discusses his celebrated defection in 1961, his struggles as a product of Stalinist Russia, his partnership with Dame Margot Fonteyn, and his battle with AIDS. With his electrifying leaps and volatile personality—both onstage and off—Rudolf Nureyev changed the role of the male ballet dancer forever. A star from the moment of his celebrated defection in 1961, Nureyev was an instant sensation in the dance world. In later years, well past his peak, Nureyev led a succession of international dance ensembles across the world’s stages. At an age when most dancers have long retired, Nureyev continued performing because, as Otis Stuart tells us, for Nureyev, to dance was to live. 

5. A body of Work: Dancing to the Edge and Back by David Hallberg

The amazing and dazzling David Hallberg, who recently became the renowned Australian ballet’s artistic director, has been our inspiration for a while. He was the first American to join the Bolshoi Ballet as a principal dancer. The New Yorker described David as “the most exciting male dancer in the western world.” 

This book is his look at his own artistic life—up to the moment he returns to the stage after a devastating injury that almost cost him his career.

Hallberg’s “moving and intelligent” (Daniel Mendelsohn) memoir dives deep into life as an artist. He wrestles with ego, pushes the limits of his body, and searches for ecstatic perfection and fulfillment as one of the world’s most acclaimed ballet dancers.

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