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Balanchine & the Lost Muse: Revolution & the Making of a Choreographer [Kindle Edition]

Elizabeth Kendall
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)

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Book Description

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 Review

Interesting Facts relating to Balanchine & Lost Muse

1. Balanchine had a father from Georgia, in the southern Caucasus, who during his childhood played him traditional Georgian music. That music features what musicologists consider the oldest polyphonic tradition in the world, and very complicated rhythms - all of which probably meant that Balanchine had been prepared in his childhood to handle the complicated rhythms and melodies of American jazz.

2. Balanchine’s first birthday fell (according to the old Russian pre-revolutionary calendar) on “Bloody Sunday” – January 9th, 1905 – the start of the first Russian revolution of 1905.

3. The Vaganova Academy of Russian Ballet (formerly the Imperial Theater School) used to have only 3 high-ceilinged floors and a simple layout; now it has 5 floors and a very complicated layout (you can easily get lost in it).

4. Matilda Kshesinskaya, mistress to the last tsar, Nicholas II, was ruthless as a person, but beguiling onstage as a ballerina.

5. Ballerina Olga Preobrazhenskaya was more important to the formation of what’s called the Vaganova method of training ballet dancers than is generally known – and important, too, to George Balanchine’s beliefs about ballet training.

6. From 1905 on, Isadora Duncan’s “natural” barefoot dancing had a tremendous effect on Russia’s ballet world, and also on the dynamic world of Russian theater.

7. George Balanchine almost emigrated – twice – to Georgia, from Russia, after the revolution. If he’d emigrated to Georgia, he might not have come to America, and ballet history would have been very different.

8. George Balanchine’s first works were several pas de deux done in the modern fashion, with a hint of sex in the dancing.

9. Balanchine’s first group dance, Marche Funebre, was performed in June, 1923, to an audience of soldiers and sailors.

10. Balanchine’s classmate Lidia Ivanova developed a new kind of ballet dancing that seemed spontaneous and “in the moment,” and made audiences almost mad with joy.


"[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

Product Details

  • File Size: 2730 KB
  • Print Length: 303 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA (June 7, 2013)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00CWD0U44
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #585,528 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating!! July 8, 2013
I literally could not put this book down when I was reading! It provides a completely new understanding of Balanchine's education and upbringing and the artistic and political environment of the Petersburg (and Petrograd, and Leningrad...) of his youth. No other existing biography or history comes anywhere close to the detail and insight that Kendall provides. Along the way you'll get a crash course in the history of the early Soviet Union, all the more interesting for being told through the perspective of artists. Balanchine fans will appreciate his life and work in a whole new light, including the influence of his "lost muse," Lidia Ivanova, who died in a mysterious boating accident shortly before Balanchine left Russia. In addition to Balanchine, Kendall provides fascinating new background on dancers Alexandra Danilova and Tamara Geva and the two great ballet pedagogues of the twentieth century, Preobrazhenska and Vaganova.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Important and interesting June 22, 2013
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This is an important book for anyone interested in Balanchine's works and early life. The author has a poetic imagination and gives substantive details about Balanchine's early works. She gives a fascinating account of Lidia Ivanova, and describes the incredibly stressful and chaotic environment in which these young artists found themselves during and after the 1917 revolution(s).
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Balanchine's Genius explained. July 27, 2013
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
This was the most comprehensive study of Balanchine's early life I've ever read. His family tree, his school days and his early marriage and career. It describes his amazingly rich background in music, dance and the changing culture of the time. His first muse and her affect on his life and his early works of genius are carefully and lovingly described. Elizabeth Kendall is a scholar who has written a spellbinding book.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars often poetic, yet historically reliable August 10, 2013
By leog
Balanchine's creative, non-amorous, relationship with Lydia Ivanova has been noted in previous publications. She was a brilliant dancer - the prototype of the "Balanchine ballerina" - and a budding choreographer who drowned, at the age of 20, under unclear circumstances. Kendall discusses the conspiracy theories born of this tragedy, but does not endorse any. This is her approach: to base her conclusions on archival and/or interview evidence; and to make clear to her readers that, when she is speculative, she is speculative indeed. Kendall has managed to find quite a fair amount of new information about Balanchine and Ivanova. She sets her narrative tightly in the context Russian/Soviet society and culture between Balanchine's birth and his emigration. Her love of ballet shines in her often-poetic prose, especially in her analysis of Serenade. It's semblance to Giselle has been noted by many. Kendall does not push too hard the idea that Serenade is a recollection of, or tribute to, Ivanova; nor even that this is a ballet about death. Balanchine strongly disliked interpretations, and Kendall by-and-large adheres to that.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating July 28, 2013
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This is a very valuable book -- a hitherto untold part of the early life of George Balanchine. A must for all dance scholars and balletomanes!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars too ambitious February 17, 2014
This book tries too hard to synthesize disparate elements. Fundamentally I felt the author seemed to overreach to make Lidochka central to Balanchine's life story. She died very young and about 60 years before he did and I am not convinced that she had much significance in his life in Russia while she was alive or later in his memory. I think it is a stretch to call her a "Muse" in the title. They are hardly equals in history's view, but the book attempts to give them equal attention. I felt the author merged the stories of two interesting school mates to have a unique book, capitalizing on the admittedly intriguing mystery surrounding Lidochka's disappearance and presumed death. It didn't work for me. I never felt that there was any real emotional connection between George or Lidochka. The book is at times a tedious Soviet/Russian history book. At others, it devolves into great speculation that seems unwarranted and at odds with the research-focus of the book. It clearly is the work of a balletomane, which one needs to be in order to get through the thematic and technical discussions of numerous ballets. Fortunately I love both history and ballet, but you have to really love both to appreciate this book. Of course, the most captivating part, Lidochka's demise, is left to the end to lure the reader there. But certain comments in the book just made my eyes roll, such as Lidochka's "psychic confusion resulting from adoration...." Anytime psychoanalysis came into the book as to George, Lidochka or others, I was generally skeptical. The author tried to make Lidochka's imaginary friend/alter ego seem like a charming character trait, but maybe a more pointed question is whether the young woman was mentally ill. If Lidochka had significance enough to warrant a book, she deserves her own biography rather than being bootstrapped onto Balanchine's. Her story would also be a great novel or movie.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Balanchine and the Lost Muse. March 29, 2014
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
This Book is a MUST own for ANY Balanchine Lover..... You will learn New interesting things about Russian Ballet. and MR. Balanchine's approach to choreography. :)
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars A must-read for ballet fans!
If you are a fan of early 20th century ballet and the cast of characters who created it? This book does not disappoint! Read more
Published 4 months ago by FunnySmartHappy
4.0 out of 5 stars Insightful and carefully researched biography of one of the ballet...
Fascinating narrative of a long-ago time in Russia's and Russian ballet history. Wonderful for insights into the young life of the person we knew as George Balachine.
Published 10 months ago by Beth Winefield
5.0 out of 5 stars Much more than a book about the ballet.
This is a fascinating read, one I couldn't stop until finishing the story that centers on George Balanchine but goes deeply on his life when he entered ballet school unwillingly as... Read more
Published 10 months ago by A Helpern
5.0 out of 5 stars Kuddos
Truly a must read if you are a ballet lover as I am, the only book I have read that delves into Balanchine's childhood and youth - remarkable research, remarkable story
Published 13 months ago by Linda Piper Smith
5.0 out of 5 stars A delight for both lay persons and balletomanes
I was fortunate this year to get know Bernard Taper, (now 92), author of Balanchine: A Biography. He has many reminiscences of the hours he spent with Balanchine developing the... Read more
Published 13 months ago by M. L. Reynolds
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating.
A fascinating portrait of Russian life during the period at the end of the Tsarist reign and the violent transition to Communism. Read more
Published 13 months ago by Peanut (Copenhagen, Denmark)
5.0 out of 5 stars A great read
This book is meticulously researched and joyfully written. Kendall's passion for both Balanchine and pre- and post-revolutionary Russia makes this a delight to read, with elements... Read more
Published 15 months ago by thirdstorybooks
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More About the Author

I'm a Non-Fiction writer, who's explored several genres of this interestingly catchall category: narrative history, research-based memoir and a more fanciful kind of memoir. My fifth and newest book, BALANCHINE AND THE LOST MUSE, is maybe my favorite. It sent me deep into Russian archives, to find out how the great dance-maker Balanchine discovered his art, during the crazy years of the Russian revolution. And to find out if his young, gifted ballerina friend was murdered, and of so, why. I grew up in St. Louis. I live in New York City. I teach literature and writing to the very interesting students of Eugene Lang College of New School -in Greenwich Village.

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