Balanchine’s Apprentice: From Hollywood to New York and Back

University of Florida. Sept. 2021. 328p. ISBN 9780813069005. $30. DANCE
Clifford, a choreographer who founded the Los Angeles Ballet, learned the intricacies of dance from one of the acknowledged masters of the field, George Balanchine (1904–83), longtime artistic director of the New York City Ballet. In this memoir, Clifford traces a peripatetic childhood with vaudevillian parents, through dance classes and television acting to his teenage years honing his craft by performing and experimenting with choreography in a variety of schools. He relates intriguing vignettes about learning from the greats of mid-20th-century dance and discusses working in Germany, France, and the former Soviet Union and gaining renown for his own balletic creations, apart from his work with “Mr. B.” The gossip is minimal in Clifford’s memoir, which lends his tale credibility, and although he sometimes uses French ballet terminology, readers need not be familiar with dance. Charming photographs from his youth and excellent reproductions of stills from ballets in which he danced or that he choreographed are especially welcome.
VERDICT Though Balanchine’s works and influence have been well documented, the male perspective has been somewhat lacking, and Clifford is to be commended for this sparkling read, an appreciative yet clear-eyed tribute to his mentor and a fascinating glimpse behind the scenes of ballet.
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