Mr. B | Granta

  • Published: 03/11/2022
  • ISBN: 9781847087737
  • Granta Books
  • 784 pages

Mr. B

Jennifer Homans

George Balanchine did for dance what Picasso did for painting: he changed the art and the way we see the human form. In this magisterial cultural history, Jennifer Homans follows Balanchine from his childhood in Tsarist St Petersburg, through the upheavals of the Russian Revolution, two World Wars, and the cultural Cold War, to New York, where he co-founded and ran the New York City Ballet.

His influences were myriad: he considered himself Georgian, yet did not visit his ancestral homeland until his fifties; he was deeply impressed by the grandeur and beauty of the Orthodox Church, but equally absorbed by the new rhythms coming out of Harlem in the 1930s. He was part of the Russian avant-garde and excited by surrealism and other artistic movements, collaborating broadly, with figures like Matisse, Diaghilev and Stravinsky. Above all, he was inspired by the young dancers he worked with, sculpting their bodies even as they reshaped his imagination, often to the point of romantic infatuation. Mr B. gathered around him successive generations of people who believed in his artistic vision as fervently as he did, and both the passions that animated him and the difficulties of his life – personal losses, bouts of ill health, and spiritual crises – resonate in his dances, which speak poignantly of love, loss and mortality.

With unprecedented access to his papers and those who knew him, Homans tells a story of love and exile; of colossal talent and the boundless energy it took to reimagine dance. This is an epic portrait of one of the most fascinating figures of the twentieth century.

With unique expertise in dance and what it means to dance, Jennifer Homans shows rare insider understanding of Balanchine's inexhaustible creativity... A magnificent and enthralling biography with an epic historical sweep, inflected by the poignancy and sensitivity of an intimate literary portrait

Marina Warner

One of the best stories of a Petersburger coming to America I've ever read. This isn't dutiful biography, this is literature as vibrant and alive as Balanchine's art

Gary Shteyngart, author Our Country Friends and Super Sad True Love Story

Jennifer Homans has not only resurrected George Balanchine down to the perfumed silk foulard, offering up a life of fairy-tale turns and tenacious demons, of prodigious imagination and impossible standards, of five wives and the slew of almost-wives. She has restored the Russia that disappeared out from behind Balanchine and the lush mirage that endured. More remarkably, she pins dance to the page with the precision, intensity, and range her subject prized. The result is lyrical and commanding, among the most electrifying pas de deux you're likely to find on the biography shelf.

Stacy Schiff, winner of the Pulitzer Prize, New York Times bestselling author of The Witches and Cleopatra

The Author

Jennifer Homans is the dance critic for the New Yorker. Her widely acclaimed Apollo’s Angels: A History of Ballet was a bestseller and named one of the 10 best books of the year by the New York Times Book Review. Trained in dance at George Balanchine’s School of American Ballet, she performed professionally with the Pacific Northwest Ballet. She earned her BA at Columbia University and her PhD in modern European history at New York University, where she is a Scholar in Residence and the Founding Director of the Center for Ballet and the Arts.

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From the Same Author

Apollo's Angels

Jennifer Homans

Apollo’s Angels is a major new history of classical ballet. It begins in the courts of Europe, where ballet was an aspect of aristocratic etiquette and a political event as much as it was an art. The story takes the reader from the sixteenth century through to our own time, from Italy and France to Britain, Denmark, Russia and contemporary America. The reader learns how ballet reflected political and cultural upheavals, how dance and dancers were influenced by the Renaissance and French Classicism, by Revolution and Romanticism, by Expressionism and Bolshevism, Modernism and the Cold War.

Homans shows how and why ‘the steps’ were never just the steps: they were a set of beliefs and a way of life. She takes the reader into the lives of dancers and traces the formal evolution of technique, choreography and performance. Her book ends by looking at the contemporary crisis in ballet now that ‘the masters are dead and gone’ and offers a passionate plea for the centrality of classical dance in our civilization. Apollo’s Angels is a book with broad popular appeal: beautifully written and illustrated, it is essential reading for anyone interested in history, culture and art.