If my sister’s arches fall

Laura Jacobs

  • Dance to the Piper by Agnes de Mille
    NYRB, 368 pp, £11.99, February 2016, ISBN 978 1 59017 908 6

The 1940s was the generative decade for American dance. George Balanchine, who was inching towards the founding of the New York City Ballet in 1948, produced eight works for other companies. Antony Tudor moved to New York from London in 1940 and quickly created two visions of psychosexual implosion, Pillar of Fire and Undertow. In 1944, Jerome Robbins burst onto the scene with Fancy Free, a ballet about three sailors on shore leave; the score was by Leonard Bernstein and the two soon stormed Broadway with On the Town. The same year Martha Graham premiered a rich, visually spare piece called Appalachian Spring in collaboration with Aaron Copland and Isamu Noguchi. In 1945, John Cage and Merce Cunningham would marry their exploratory sensibilities. All these artists were struggling, in the words of Lincoln Kirstein, who co-founded the New York City Ballet, ‘to impose a native meaning on a recalcitrant alien dance tradition’.

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