Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Lures of Barnes & Noble

I was really early for rehearsal on Sunday (I left early because of the snow), so I stopped in at the new (ish) Barnes and Noble on 86th Street. In my book selection, I narrowed it down to the new Terry Teachout biography of Louis Armstrong and Joseph Epstein's Fred Astaire. The Epstein book was more portable and cheaper, so I went with that.
What a frustrating read! If I hadn't read anything else about Fred Astaire or seen his films, I would assume that he was a clotheshorse who was only capable of achieving his full potential as a dancer when partnered with Ginger Rogers. I don't think that's true. There's also something in Epstein's tone (smugness? snarkiness? something along those lines) that grates more the more you read. Which is strange because he's not really a theatre, film or dance writer (nor does he address any of those aspects of Astaire in the way one might expect). This book is part of a series by Yale University Press (full disclosure: I used to freelance for them) on Icons of America.
I did enjoy Nureyev's opinion of Astaire ("the greatest dancer in American history"), and a few lines from Cholly Atkins almost redeems the rest of the book: "He's a descriptive dancer who works painstakingly with his musical accompaniment; he was the first to dance to programme music, describing every note in the dance." I'd never thought about it that way before, but, exactly.

1 comment:

Fred said...

By George, I think you've got it. Next time get the Levinson book. While not perfect, you will learn a lot more about Astaire without all the smugness.