The fashion in biography today calls for exorbitant length and the revelation—in the interests of truth, shock value, or both—of what used to be called a person’s private life. Accordingly, the dancer and novelist Meredith Daneman allows herself nearly 600 pages to tackle the subject of Margot Fonteyn (1919-1991), that beloved icon of classical dancing, the epitome of the exquisitely refined English style, and—hand in hand with Frederick Ashton, for whom she served as muse—a linchpin in the development of British ballet. True to current taste, Daneman aims for a portrait of the artist as a flesh-and-blood woman. This includes an exhaustive list of her lovers and testaments to her sexual avidity, piquantly at odds with the sublime purity she embodied onstage. The artistry, however, and even the personality as a whole never get illuminated. Though Daneman doggedly hauls aspects of them into view and pontificates upon them, her sensibilities, thinking, and writing style are insufficiently sophisticated for the task of making Fonteyn live on paper. I suspect only a poet would be equal to it.
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