cover image Mr. B: George Balanchine’s 20th Century

Mr. B: George Balanchine’s 20th Century

Jennifer Homans. Random House, $40 (784p) ISBN 978-0-8129-9430-8

The legendary choreographer made ballet—and ballerinas—a religion according to this entrancing biography from New Yorker dance critic Homans (Apollo’s Angels). The volume follows Balanchine (1904–1983) from ballet training in Tsarist St. Petersburg through his time starving in revolutionary Petrograd and absorbing avant-garde innovations as an exile in 1920s Europe, to his reign at New York City Ballet beginning in the 1930s. Homans charts a visionary modernism that took Balanchine from pirouetting individualism to an abstract style that immersed dancers in plotless patterns of collective movement, with a “spiritual” cast, influenced by everything from Orthodox icons to Spinoza’s philosophy. Homans’s Balanchine is a charming, supremely competent but also romantic figure, and she focuses on the dynamic of inspiration and attraction between him and his ballerinas—he married several—culminating in his besotted infatuation with the decades-younger Suzanne Farrell, his “grand obsession” who ruled him, Homans contends, until she married another dancer and was (temporarily) cast out. Homans, an ex-ballerina who trained at Balanchine’s School of American Ballet, knows this world well and combines marvelous recreations of dances—“she leaned, spiderlike, almost crawling on his spine”—with novelistic evocations of character. The result is a revelatory, aptly melodramatic portrait of Balanchine and his aesthetic. Photos. Agent: Andrew Wylie, Wylie Agency. (Nov.)