cover image Balanchine’s Apprentice: From Hollywood to New York and Back

Balanchine’s Apprentice: From Hollywood to New York and Back

John Clifford. Univ. Press of Florida, $30 (320p) ISBN 978-0-8130-6900-5

Clifford, founder of the Los Angeles Ballet, debuts with an enthralling look at his decades-long career and his time as the protégé of legendary ballet choreographer George Balanchine. Born in 1947 and raised in Hollywood by vaudevillian parents, Clifford got a taste of the theater at an early age. At age nine, he began ballet lessons, and just two years later, he was selected to perform a leading role in a touring production of The Nutcracker, choreographed by Balanchine, with whom he’d developed an instant rapport. Once Clifford moved to New York to study at Balanchine’s School of American Ballet, at age 19, their relationship deepened into an “intense devotion”: “Balanchine was not just my teacher and choreographer, not just my mentor. He was much more to me.” Thus began Clifford’s seven-plus years as a member of the New York City Ballet company, where—shaped by Balanchine’s “gentle critique”—he flourished as both a dancer and, eventually, a respected choreographer. In 1974, Clifford moved back to L.A. to open that city’s first ballet company, which he ran until it closed in 1984. Even those not enraptured by ballet will find Clifford’s extraordinary career and bond with Balanchine, who died in 1983, affecting. For ballet devotees, this intimate account is required reading. (Sept.)