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Sir Frederick Ashton, Britain's greatest choreographer, was a major figure on the cultural landscape of the twentieth century and his influence extended far beyond the world of dance. Julie Kavanagh traces Ashton's progress with a keen and sympathetic sense of both the man and his milieu. The drama of his professional and private life - among his close associates were Constant Lambert, Benjamin Britten, W. B. Yeats, the Sitwells and Cecil Beaton - is skilfully interwoven with vivid descriptions of the ballets themselves. 'Not only the best biography of a ballet figure but, far more important, a Proustian recollection of that glamorous near-mythical time, the first half of our now setting century.' Gore Vidal

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Book Details

ISBN: 9780571190621
ISBN-10: 0571190626
Format: Paperback
(216mm x 135mm x 40mm)
Pages: 704
Imprint: Faber & Faber
Publisher: Faber & Faber
Publish Date: 3-Jan-1998
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Reviews

US Kirkus Review » A slavishly detailed but lightsomely written life of the British ballet-maker. Kavanagh, London editor of the New Yorker, explains in an afterword that Ashton alternately authorized and forbade her project, chagrined to be reminded by her of his mortality. "It's the finality of it - knowing you're grabbing as much out of me as you can before I die," he once complained. And she has grabbed it. The intelligence and novelistic command of this book about the man who helped to invent modern English ballet is equaled only by the depth of Kavanagh's research. Her enviable ease and glamorous settings range from Ashton's first glimpse, as a boy in Lima, Peru, of Anna Pavlova, to his apprenticeship with Bronislava Nijinska in Paris in the '20s, to his American stints and sundry European wanderings, and his irrepressibly multiple sexual selves. We're treated to the chronicle of Ashton's dances (Les Patineurs, A Wedding Bouquet, Monotones, et al.) as he worked with Marie Rambert of the Ballet Club and Ninette de Valois of the Vic-Wells Ballet (later the Royal Ballet, which he eventually directed). And we're regaled with his legendary late-night wit. Kavanagh reports high times in the '30s: "Spotting a minor playwright performing fellatio on a major playwright in a comer of a typical theatrical party, Ashton quipped to Bunny Roger, 'Look! There's K - trying to suck some talent out of E - .' "Her secondary characters alone seem reason enough to look for this life someday in a movie theater: Margot Fonteyn, Maynard Keynes, Jean Cocteau, Serge Diaghilev, Gertrude Stein, Rudolf Nureyev, and the Queen Mother. But in all the crush of this crowd, she also singles out Ashton for memorable, consistent portraiture. Gamin, crank, romantic, he "was not a happy man," she says. "Most of his adulthood was spent half-consciously seeking unrequited emotional situations." Kavanagh explores them vividly. Both Ashton's wiles and his ballets make this irresistible reading. (Kirkus Reviews)


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Author Biography - Julie Kavanagh

Julie Kavanagh was trained at the Royal Ballet School, and, while still a student, performed with a company in Cape Town, where she has spent her early childhood. As a result of injury, she gave up dancing and began a career in journalism. Her first job was on British Vogue, and for three years she worked as London Editor of Women's Wear Daily and W. In 1977 she went to Oxford, where she graduated with a First Class degree in English. For the next decade she worked as Arts Editor of Harpers & Queen, and as dance critic of The Spectator. Under Tina Brown's editorship she was London Editor for Vanity Fair, and then of The New Yorker until 1997, when she began to research the life of Rudolf Nureyev. (Her book, the official biography, will be published in 2005.)Julie Kavanagh is married to ex-Royal Ballet dancer Ross MacGibbon, now head of dance at the BBC. She has two sons, the younger of whom is currently studying at the Royal Ballet School.Secret Muses was awarded the Dance Perspectives Foundation De la Torre Bueno Prize in 1997.

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