Books Ballet Dancers Should Read
“A Body of Work: Dancing to the Edge and Back” by David Hallberg
This book is hands down my new favorite dancer autobiography. Mr. Hallberg writes from such a real and raw place. The reader experiences all of his dedication, hard work, sweat, and tears in rehearsal. I thoroughly enjoyed how he dove into describing the rehearsal process for learning the classics with different coaches at ABT, Bolshoi, Marinksky, and Paris Opera.
He describes dance steps or processes for the non-dancer readers without putting them down (unlike a fellow ABT principal dancer’s autobiography that talks down to its readers throughout their entire book). He gets real with his almost career ending injury, bring to light the voice every dancer hears when they are recovering from an injury. It’s an incredibly well written, well thought out book.
“Holding on to the Air” by Suzanne Farrell
As one of Balanchine’s muses, Suzanne Farrell is a legendary dancer. Her vast career spans from the early 60s until 1989 at New York City Ballet, as well as four years dancing for Maurice Béjart. The book dives into her quick rise to principal dancer, roles Balanchine created for her, and her intimate relationship with Mr. B.
The reader gets an intimate perspective of what it was like to work one-on-one with Balanchine everyday. Unfortunately, the book only covers her performing career. I really hope she one day writes about her experiences coaching and running her own company, Suzanne Farrell Ballet.
“Apollo’s Angels” by Jennifer Homans
“Apollo’s Angels” is the most recently published (2010) ballet history book. The narrative begins where ballet started in France, and then moves to different parts of the globe as ballet’s sphere of influence changed including England, Denmark, Russia, and the United States. This book reads like a dry textbook, but it’s fantastic for understanding the base history of ballet.
“A Ballet Lovers Companion” by Zoe Anderson
This book is fantastic for teachers who are asked inquisitive questions by students about classical ballets. It’s a compilation of every notable ballet ever created. It includes information on the choreographer, music, costumes, set design, original cast, and plot/narrative. It’s a good ballet reference book to have on your bookshelf.
“I Was a Dancer” by Jacques D’Amboise
D’Amboise is famous for originating in many leading male roles of Balanchine Ballets. His book naturally talks a lot about his experiences in the studio with Mr. Balanchine, as well as other projects outside of NYCB. D’Amboise was a dedicated and gutsy dancer; when his name wasn’t on the board for rehearsal, he would add his name to the rehearsal board next to a free studio and work on his own.
What really makes this book feel personal is D’Amboise’s friendship with Mr. B outside of the studio. The book also discusses how Jacques founded the National Dance Institute, an outreach organization that bring dance to children of all backgrounds.
“Wilde Times” by Patricia Wilde
“Wilde Times” gives dancers a glance into the life of a dancer in the 1940s and 50s. Patricia Wilde, one of the founding members of New York City Ballet, talks about life on tour where you had to find your own hotel room and when pointe shoe funds were limited so you constantly danced in dead shoes. Her book also goes into great depth about her coaching and directing career at American Ballet Theater and Pittsburgh Ballet Theater.
“Bolshoi Confidential: Secrets of the Russian Ballet from the Rule of the Tzars to Today” by Simon Morrison
I would not say there are any major secrets revealed about the Bolshoi Ballet in this book; it’s more of a complete history of the theater. This in-depth exploration of the Bolshoi uncovers its troubled history from rebuilding the theater four times, low funding, clappers that shame dancers off stage, and more. The descriptions of the productions the theater put on are articulately detailed. It’s on the dyer side (very textbook like), but fans of Russian ballet would enjoy this book.