Leaps in the Dark: Art and the World
by Agnes de Mille
edited by Mindy Aloff
University Press of Florida, 2011
Though Agnes de Mille (1905–1993) is best known for her work on the stage—especially her choreography of the ballet Rodeo and the original Broadway production of Oklahoma!—few dancers today recognize her as author. In her lifetime, de Mille published 11 books. However, only one remains on bookstore shelves today. For Leaps in the Dark, editor Mindy Aloff has played literary paleontologist, digging up and dusting off de Mille’s personal essays, letters and archival works (published and unpublished), compiling them into a 287-page chronological anthology. Readers are treated to a first-hand account of de Mille’s relationships with legends like Martha Graham and Antony Tudor and insight into the burgeoning dance scene of the 20th century.
Aloff, who teaches dance criticism and history at Barnard College, presents each excerpt with detailed historical context, giving succinct descriptions of lesser-known dancers, family members and events. Aloff organizes de Mille’s witty and profound writing into three parts: letters surrounding her personal life and contemporaries; essays about rehearsal process; and reviews and criticism on her own and others’ choreography. Recommended for any dancer interested in 20th-century dance, Leaps in the Dark would also greatly serve as an accompaniment to comprehensive textbooks in dance history classrooms.