Ballet lovers (and potential ballet fans) will want to pick up Laura Jacobs’ engaging book to be released May 8, Celestial Bodies: How to Look at Ballet, a fascinating collection of essays on dance. Jacobs is a contributing editor at Vanity Fair and the dance critic for New Criterion.
In 12 chapters Jacobs provides readers a whirlwind tour of ballet, effortlessly weaving together history, technique, music, choreography, drama. The first chapter provides reflection on the first position, the most basic ballet position. Using this foundation as a guide, Jacobs recounts the history of ballet going back to the earliest reference to ballet, the marriage in 1533 of the Florentine noblewoman Catherine de Medici to the French king Henry II. She takes readers on a quick tour of early French court contributions of Louis XIII and XIV. Then on to a discussion of Balanchine’s Serenade, and the celebration of the five basic ballet positions.
Other chapters explore dancing on pointe, the magic of the arabesque, Tchaikovsky’s contribution to ballet, female dancing, male dancing, partnering. My favorites are a chapter on pirouettes which delves into the history of the step and development to modern-day technical whizzes; thoughts on the search for never achievable perfection with quotes from Veronika Part and Heather Watts; and She’s Alive, on the classic ballet tragedy Giselle. A chapter on reading a program, which takes readers through the basics of ballet productions, will be welcome for both newcomers and experienced ballet fans.
Jacobs will have a book signing at the Corner Bookstore (1313 Madison Ave at 93rd Street), May 8 at 6 pm.