Review Of "Making Ballet American: Modernism Before And Beyond Balanchine" By A. Harris

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With this book, her first, Harris (Univ. of Wisconsin, Madison) makes an important contribution to analyses of 20th-century American ballet. She positions American ballet, especially the neoclassical works of George Balanchine and the New York City Ballet, within broad international contexts—artistic, cultural, political, and social developments during the period from the Depression through the Cold War. Her method is to alternate chapters and interchapters. The chapters complicate the development of American ballet modernism by using detailed critical study of the writings of Balanchine’s sponsor Lincoln Kirstein and dance critic Edwin Denby. The interchapters provide close readings of the American ballets Billy the Kid (1938), Rodeo (1942), and Western Symphony (1954). These help anchor the more theoretical writing in specific danced examples. Here the author productively echoes the methodology of eminent dance scholar Susan Leigh Foster, especially her books Reading Dancing (CH, Apr'87) and Choreography and Narrative (CH, Apr'97, 34-4397). Harris’s carefully researched work recalibrates Balanchine’s role, understanding him as one choreographer contributing to the establishment of American ballet modernism rather than as primary author. This challenges other scholars’ opinions, including writings by Robert Gottlieb (George Balanchine: The Ballet Maker, CH, May'05, 42-5181) and Jennifer Homans (Apollo’s Angels, CH, Jun'11, 48-5608). Harris’s book should engender further research and discourse in dance studies. Summing Up: Essential. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty and professionals.


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