Tuesday, September 03, 2019

Summer Book Corner


Summer Book Corner:

Mindfulness For Dancers
by Corinne Haas
published May 2019

A profound message. A needed discussion that is largely absent from the zeitgeist. An interactive experience. A specific connection between two entities. All of these phrases aptly describe Corinne Haas’ new book, Mindfulness For Dancers, a selection that should be a part of every dancer’s personal library. Through approachable, caring and informative prose, Haas takes the common idea of mindfulness and applies it to the dance artist, revealing a deep conversation about the internal self in the midst of the studio, the mirror, the stage and company life. Gem after gem leaps from the pages, including the value of time and the importance of balance (something for which dancers have a unique understanding). It should be required reading in college and pre-professional dance programs.

Haas, a former professional dancer, has created a lovely duality in Mindfulness For Dancers - combining relatable story with individual exercises so that the reader can not only contemplate concepts but also build their own mindfulness resource kit. Each of the book’s four main sections includes Haas’ thoughtful, astute observations about grounding, empowerment, goals and intention, followed by suggestions for investigation and experiment. Each of these chapters - root, core, heart, crown – smartly links the emotional and the physical together (something that feels imperative for dance) and uses language that conjures other movement practices and traditions like Alexander Technique, Feldenkrais ATM and yoga.

Though Mindfulness For Dancers seems geared towards the young professional or pre-professional, anyone who spends time or has spent time in the studio will find its contents beneficial.

Marius Petipa – The Emperor’s Ballet Master
by Nadine Meisner
published 2019 by Oxford University Press

Any ballet fan is well acquainted with a particular program occurrence – a note indicating the evening’s choreographer, followed by “after Marius Petipa” in brackets. That is, of course, because Petipa (either alone or in collaboration with others) is credited with creating so many full-length narrative ballets including La Bayadère, The Sleeping Beauty, The Nutcracker and Swan Lake, just to name a few.

But if you want to take a deep dive into the life of the French-born man who became Russia’s leading dancemaker in the late 1800s, look no further than Nadine Meisner’s new book Marius Petipa – The Emperor’s Ballet Master, currently available from Oxford University Press. With attention to politics and world events, Meisner provides an encyclopedic portrait of this dance icon. Each chapter is incredibly thorough, meticulously researched, yet wholly approachable. And Marius Petipa – The Emperor’s Ballet Master is also delightfully devoid of the constructed affect and belabored prose that plagues so much academic writing.

Informational nuggets about Petipa’s personal journey, dancing career, choreographic canon as well as his onstage partnerships and complex offstage family abound everywhere. The throughline of Petipa’s excellence as a character dancer and his choreographic pull toward narrative ballets, replete with gesture and mime, is particularly powerful. As were the discussions surrounding musicality, musicianship and the integral components of the ballet à grand spectacle. And it was fascinating to learn that the dance notation lineage is far broader than Laban and Benesh.

I will say that Marius Petipa – The Emperor’s Ballet Master is not a short read (at least not for me) but if you are curious to learn more about the person, the artist beyond just seeing his name in ballet programs, read Meisner’s book. Maybe even before your annual sojourn to The Nutcracker this coming winter.