cover image Serenade: A Balanchine Story

Serenade: A Balanchine Story

Toni Bentley. Pantheon, $28 (320p) ISBN 978-0-593-31639-9

Former dancer Bentley (Winter Season) revisits “the man and the ballet that are the story of my life” in this touching and eloquent tribute to choreographer George Balanchine (1904–1983). The author was 17 when she was chosen by Balanchine in the late ’70s to perform with the New York City Ballet. In 10 years she danced his 1934 masterpiece, Serenade, more than 50 times—knowing it, she writes, “as a part of my own body.” Using the dance’s various movements and scenes as an underpinning for the narrative, she tells Balanchine’s story, and her own, as one of many who were entranced by the choreographer’s “no-nonsense Sufi master soul.” In lithe prose, she dissects the artistry behind Serenade—brushing past its “pale blue tulle” to meditate on its symbolism and wavelike motion—then glissades to thoughtful reflections on Balanchine’s fairy tale–like early life in St. Petersburg, Russia, where he went from dancing at the tsar’s Imperial Ballet School to “all-but-orphaned starvation” to studying music at St. Petersburg’s famed observatory. Alongside this runs a rich elegy to Bentley’s dancing career, which ended when she was 25 due to sustained injuries. Her command of ballet and its history is breathtaking, and her reverence for Balanchine’s genius is consistently moving. This behind-the-scenes tour of a rarefied world will enchant ballet lovers. (Apr.)