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Reading Dance    by Robert Gottlieb order for
Reading Dance
by Robert Gottlieb
Order:  USA  Can
Pantheon, 2008 (2008)

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* * *   Reviewed by Elizabeth Schulenburg

Reading Dance is a comprehensive new anthology covering the vast collection of literature that has been published about the world of dance. Compiled by Robert Gottlieb, dance critic for The New York Observer and former editor-in-chief of Simon & Schuster and Alfred A. Knopf, it is the largest project of its kind to be attempted to date. Ranging in topics from nineteenth century classics such as Swan Lake to movies starring Fred Astaire, Reading Dance collects the best in criticism, biography, memoir, and interviews, with some fun and surprising extras.

Arranged into 34 groups, the 200-plus entries are broken down into categories that share one general theme. Some are based on a single, great personality - Mikhail Baryshnikov, Fred Astaire, Isadora Duncan, and Rudolf Nureyev each have a section of their own. Some are collections of writing of a certain type - first person accounts, obituaries, interviews, and articles on great teachers are some of the categories Gottlieb chooses. The groups do not seem to have any specific arrangement, either chronologically or artistically, which at times made the collection seem a bit disjointed. It does, however, lend itself well to the reader who chooses to dip in and out of the massive text.

Because the volume encompasses so much excellent material, it is difficult to review it as a whole. However, certain pieces stand out as especially fine. In Ginger's Dress by Fred Astaire, and The Dress by Ginger Rogers, the reader is treated to two very different sides of the same story, and Fred and Ginger do not agree on a certain dress with feathers from the movie Top Hat. The Soloist by Joan Acocella is a moving account of Baryshnikov's defection, and the first performances in which he returns to his native Latvia.

Mary Desti has two pieces, How I Met Isadora and Isadora's Death, which shed light on the enigmatic figure of Isadora Duncan. Lilac Garden by Christopher Caines is the account of how one dance lover falls in love with a ballet. And Why I Make Dances by Paul Taylor, probably sums up best the feelings underlying all those who chose a career in this unforgiving profession: 'To put it simply, I make dances because I can't help it. Working on dances has become a way of life, an addiction that at times resembles a fatal disease. Even so, I've no intention of kicking the habit.'

By choosing to exclude academic history and criticism, Gottlieb has compiled a collection that is easily accessible to every reader. Reading Dance is a celebration of an art form beloved the world over, and will be a welcome addition to the shelves of any reader who loves the art and beauty of the dance.

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