Robert Tanitch reviews two books for ballet lovers
Pina Bausch – The Biography by Marion Meyer translated by Penny Black (Oberon Books £16.99). Pina Bausch (1940-2009), the great German choreographer, director and artistic director of Tanztheater Wuppertal, was the leading exponent of European dance-theatre and one of the great innovators, highly influential and internationally acclaimed. I have been thrilled and bored to tears by her work, sometimes on the same evening.
A Bausch production can be as exhausting for the audience as it is for her dancers. Her settings are memorable: the stage can be totally covered either in mud, carnations, dead leaves or even chairs so that there is no room to move, let alone dance. Men and women humiliate each other. The women, often in high heels and furs, are usually hysterical. But Bausch constantly switches mood. There are lots of visual gags and lots of cheap music. Actions are repeated, sometimes endlessly. There is no narrative drive, yet the chaos is always highly organised.
Bausch rarely gave interviews, preferring to let the works speak for themselves. This book gives a useful summary of all her works. The Rite of Spring and Café Muller are likely to prove the most enduring.
For the Love of Dance: My Autobiography by Dame Beryl Grey (Oberon Books £25). Beryl Grey, now 90, one of UK’s brilliant dancers, danced her first Odette at 15. She has always kept a daily diary and always turned to God for guidance. She writes of her time with the Royal Ballet, her international career as guest artist, her numerous travels abroad (including South America, Russia, China) and her artistic directorship of Festival Ballet (later English National Ballet).
She does not hide her bitterness at always being in the second eleven and Margot Fonteyn and Moira Shearer getting more opportunities than she did. Fonteyn was Frederick Ashton’s muse so there was little chance of him creating a role for her.
Ballet is heirarchical. She gives a vivid record of her relationship with Ninette de Valois, (Madam’s mood changes and temper), and what it was like to work with Wilfred Stiff, John Gilpin and Rudolf Nureyev (truculent, offensive, abusive, foul language): “I am the greatest dancer alive and I can do what I like,” he declared – like kick a ballerina up the backside. The world of ballet comes across as a brutal, bitchy, turbulent environment. Grey describes the chaos and venomous backstabbing in detail. Her autobiography would have benefitted from some serious editing.