Bookworm, writer, radio host—I blog about history, fiction, and publishing in the Internet Age. You can find the full blog on my website. This space is for books.
Before George Balanchine became the founder of New York City Ballet and, in the minds of many (including me), the greatest choreographer of the 20th century, he was a student at the Imperial Theater School in St. Petersburg, a dancer in the Mariinsky (later Kirov) Ballet, and a young choreographer in revolutionary Petrograd. In a sparkling, readable style, Elizabeth Kendall traces Balanchine's development from birth to his departure from the Soviet Union in 1924 and contrasts it with that of his friend Lydia Ivanova, a dancer who died under mysterious circumstances days before Balanchine emigrated. Lydia, the Lost Muse of the title, was supposed to accompany Balanchine, his wife, and their mutual friend Alexandra Danilova, but she did not live to make the trip.
The book is speculative in places, although always from a position of knowledge, and does not entirely prove its case that Lydia's death was not an accident. But Kendall certainly raises enough questions to make one wonder whether this young and talented dancer managed to fall foul of the Cheka, Lenin's political police. Proof may, indeed, never emerge from the Russian archives, but that doesn't matter. It's a small caveat in a wonderfully informative study of the Russian Revolution's effect on culture, even such an apparently hidebound area of culture as the Imperial Russian Ballet.
Highly recommended for students of ballet everywhere and for those interested in life in revolutionary Russia.