In-flight Ballet

In Ballet 101 insights mold information. Greskovic links Balanchine's Serenade and Fokine's Les Sylphides as "ballets of mood" that nonetheless reflect early- and mid-20th-century differences. He suggests that Serge Lifar's experiments at the Paris Opera in the '30s deemphasized turnout and thus altered the look of French classical dancing. Some of his language is in itself illuminating. "The flattened, angular postures and moves of Nijinsky's choreography [for Afternoon of a Faun] passed through the music's lush atmosphere like ships through a fog."

There's some sloppy copyediting (one example of bollixed sentence order makes the pas de deux appear to be a definition of the pas d'action instead of its centerpiece). And it's best not to get hung up on the titles given to the short chapters, such as "America, Ballet, and Balanchine" followed by "America, New York City, and Ballet." What matters, as Mikhail Baryshnikov's introduction makes clear, is the scope of Greskovic's knowledge and the lively grace with which he passes it on.

One of the images in Airborne, the latest, beautifully designed collection of Lois Greenfield's dance photographs, is of Ashley Roland sitting on air; her hair flies up, but she's gazing serenely at a star of light hovering just above one hand. Text tells us the light comes from a camera flash (Roland snapped Greenfield snapping her), but on the page it's mysterious. All Greenfield's greatest pictures have that strangeness. Caught in midair or clustered on the ground, nude or--as in a stunning shot of Roland--cocooned in a spiraling plastic bag, the dancers in her compositions float, isolated from any implications of past or future. We know a leap must come down, but Greenfield can make us believe otherwise.

Blackguard swan: Adam Cooper nuzzles Isabel Mortimer, the alternate Queen, in Matthew Bourne's Broadway blast.
Joan Marcus
Blackguard swan: Adam Cooper nuzzles Isabel Mortimer, the alternate Queen, in Matthew Bourne's Broadway blast.

Details

Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake
Neil Simon Theatre
250 West 52nd Street
307-4100

Ballet 101
By Robert Greskovic
Hyperion, 634 pp., $16.95
Buy this book

Airborne
By Lois Greenfield
Chronicle Books, 112 pp., $22.95
Buy this book

During the golden years when Greenfield's photos regularly accompanied this column, I came to realize that she didn't just record dance moments, she created them. In terms of daring and sculptural beauty, some of these pictures, shot for her own pleasure, outstrip what she's done before. One shows Gail Gilbert arching backward almost to the floor, a sheer scarf flying up around her. It could be titled "The Spirit of Dance," and, gazing at it, you grasp for a second something essential about our tricky daily comradeship with gravity.

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