Books: Leading Ladies
Mary Day: Grande Dame of Dance in the Nation’s Capital
compiled by Elvi Moore
The Laurel Fund for the performing arts
In a nutshell: A collection of personal conversations with Mary Day, the pioneer of ballet in Washington, DC.
At the request of Mary Day, who never wanted her biography written, Elvi Moore tells the story of the legendary teacher and founder of The Washington School of Ballet and The Washington Ballet through transcribed interviews, chronological photographs and personal remembrances. In the book’s first section, Day honestly reveals the high and low points of her personal life and career, including notes on her teaching methods and details about training the daughters of former U.S. Presidents. “Remembering Mary Day” features loving reflections from former students, including Amanda McKerrow, Chelsea Clinton, Virginia Johnson, Patrick Corbin and Kevin McKenzie, who wrote, “Mary Day was like a great gardener . . . I was blessed to be a seedling on whom Mary Day kept her watchful eye; she virtually gave me my life.” The book closes with a section of tour anecdotes in which Moore, former general director of the school and company, shows readers the softer side of the often quick-tempered Day and the company to which she devoted 60 years of her life.
Mim’ A Personal Memoir of Marie Rambert
by Brigitte Kelly
Dance Books Ltd.
In a nutshell: An honest portrayal of Marie Rambert, the self-proclaimed “midwife at the birth of English ballet.”
Former Rambert Dance Company member Brigitte Kelly highlights the life of Marie Rambert, an often forgotten contributor to English ballet. Through 26 concise chapters, “Breegy” illuminates the many sides of Rambert, or as her friends nicknamed her, Mim: a temperamental yet determined woman whose questionable (sometimes harsh) teaching techniques and lack of business or personal skills did not deter dancers from seeking her tutelage. Kelly reveals that it was, in fact, Mim who nurtured the careers of many notable dance artists, such as choreographers Frederick Ashton, Antony Tudor, Agnes de Mille and Andrée Howard and future Royal Ballet stars Alicia Markova and Anton Dolin. Taking readers on an emotional journey, the author details the eventful life that led Mim to study eurhythmics with Émile Jaques-Dalcroze and at the Ballets Russes with Sergei Diaghilev and, later, to open a school and start her own company, the Ballet Club, which preceded Sadler’s Wells Ballet School by five years. Kelly’s memoir paints a clear picture of the dame responsible for the creation of modern English ballet.
BRAVURA! Lucia Chase and the American Ballet Theatre
by Alex C. Ewing
University Press of Florida
In a nutshell: The rich history of Lucia Chase and American Ballet Theatre.
In his book, Alex C. Ewing, Lucia Chase’s son, weaves together personal insights with stories from his mother’s diary and those who were part of her dance world, to narrate how Chase’s life became an everlasting part of American Ballet Theatre. In the book’s four sections, Ewing reveals that though the widow and mother of two began a career as a ballerina at an age when many dancers would have been considering retirement, her persistent passion led to a 35-year reign as artistic director of one of the world’s greatest ballet companies. Ewing details, with awe and respect for his fearless mother, Chase’s tireless devotion to ABT’s preservation, exemplified by bringing in great dancers like Rudolf Nureyev and working with the legendary choreographers Agnes de Mille, Antony Tudor and Jerome Robbins. His bright descriptions of her sense of comedic timing onstage, contrasted with her harrowing financial troubles offstage, bring Chase to life in a realistic yet nostalgic manner. A true testament to Chase’s character comes from her successor Mikhail Baryshnikov, who said, “When Ballet Theatre dances, it dances for Lucia.”
Photo by Emily Giacalone