Private View: Inside Baryshnikov's American Ballet Theatre

Private View: Inside Baryshnikov's American Ballet Theatre - John     Fraser Photographs by Eve Arnold. Even four years after publication, they're still asking $24.50 for this large-format paperback, and that's the main reason I held off buying it for so long. Nonetheless, I'm not sorry I finally succumbed. The photos, as one would expect from celebrity photographer Arnold, present their subjects (mostly the dancers) in interesting & attractive lights. No performance photos - this is strictly backstage stuff. However, Arnold catches that rather "onstage" quality - that too-perfect or too-bizarre disposal of the limbs & face - that ballet people seem to have even in repose. There are some particularly good ones of Baryshnikov, and one really striking one of Patrick Bissell - lazy, dissipated, god-like - shortly before his death. As for the text, I was expecting it to be tame and flattering. It was neither. Baryshnikov is a friend of the author (who is a well-regarded Canadian journalist) but that does not prevent an honest attempt to understand and assess the real man and the real people around him. What is more, one is taken aback by the range of issues addressed which simply never turn up in sycophantic magazine articles: Gelsey's book, Baryshnikov's autocratic style, drugs, AIDS, Charles France (certainly the most revealing portrait of this much-mentioned but shadowy figure about whom there has never been any information.) Along with a revealing description of a scene where he and Baryshnikov play good cop bad cop with some Vogue magazine representatives, it is strongly hinted that the roots of his fanatical loyalty to the Russian lie in a deeper (& of course unrequited) emotion. Fraser has also talked to the company (senior and junior), to the artistic staff - he even gives us portraits of that forgotten but very important side of the operation, the fund-raising corporate types. This is fascinating, given that it was (I believe) only shortly after this book was published that the state of tension Fraser identifies between this set of people and Baryshnikov/France caused Baryshnikov to resign abruptly from his directorship at ABT. I read a review of this book claiming that it did not deliver on the gossipy promise of its title. I can't think what the author of that review could have wanted - this is not "Mischa Dearest," but it is frank, and fair, and fascinating.