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Edwin Denby – Mark Morris’s favorite dance critic

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When I read in a recent interview with the great choreographer that he thought Denby’s criticism, collected in the new book “Dance Writings and Poetry,” was the finest he’d ever read, that was good enough for me.

And it is a wonderful book.

Denby (1903-1983) writes clearly about things ever so difficult to describe in words.

From the book:

    Expression in dancing is what really interests everybody, and everybody recognizes it as a sign of intelligence in the dancer.

    [The dancer]… may have several other sorts of intelligence besides, but it is of no consequence to the public if she has not.

    [Balanchine’s]… art is peaceful and exciting, as classic art has always been.

    Art takes what in life is an accidental pleasure and tries to repeat and prolong it.

    Style demands a constant attention to detail which the public is not meant to notice.

    Art is certainly even more mysterious and nonsensical than daily life.

    Balanchine has an extraordinary gift for bringing perfermors to life on their own personal terms, so that the unconscious grace that is in each one of them can shine out in the work they do, giving it the momentary and mortal expression of beauty.

    The power of poetry has long been the glory of ballet, and Balanchine’s is that he succeeds in it so often. But the question of how he does it is not answered by watching him work.

Denby’s 1962 essay “Balanchine Choreographing” is mesmerizing.

Though I’ve never taken a ballet class and know nothing of positions or anything technical, the magic and genius of Balanchine is somehow conveyed by Denby’s lucid and thoughtful words.

Highest recommendation.

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