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Mr. B: George Balanchine's 20th Century (Hardcover)
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PULITZER PRIZE FINALIST • “A fascinating read about a true genius and his unrelenting thirst for beauty in art and in life.”—MIKHAIL BARYSHNIKOV
Winner of the Plutarch Award for Best Biography and the Marfield Prize for Arts Writing • Finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, the PEN/Jacqueline Bograd Weld Award, and the Kirkus Prize • Longlisted for the Baillie Gifford Prize
Based on a decade of unprecedented research, the first major biography of George Balanchine, a broad-canvas portrait set against the backdrop of the tumultuous century that shaped the man The New York Times called “the Shakespeare of dancing”—from the bestselling author of Apollo’s Angels
New York Times Editors’ Choice • ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR: The New York Times Book Review, The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, NPR, Oprah Daily
Arguably the greatest choreographer who ever lived, George Balanchine was one of the cultural titans of the twentieth century—The New York Times called him “the Shakespeare of dancing.” His radical approach to choreography—and life—reinvented the art of ballet and made him a legend. Written with enormous style and artistry, and based on more than one hundred interviews and research in archives across Russia, Europe, and the Americas, Mr. B carries us through Balanchine’s tumultuous and high-pitched life story and into the making of his extraordinary dances.
Balanchine’s life intersected with some of the biggest historical events of his century. Born in Russia under the last czar, Balanchine experienced the upheavals of World War I, the Russian Revolution, exile, World War II, and the Cold War. A co-founder of the New York City Ballet, he pressed ballet in America to the forefront of modernism and made it a popular art. None of this was easy, and we see his loneliness and failures, his five marriages—all to dancers—and many loves. We follow his bouts of ill health and spiritual crises, and learn of his profound musical skills and sensibility and his immense determination to make some of the most glorious, strange, and beautiful dances ever to grace the modern stage.
With full access to Balanchine’s papers and many of his dancers, Jennifer Homans, the dance critic for The New Yorker and a former dancer herself, has spent more than a decade researching Balanchine’s life and times to write a vast history of the twentieth century through the lens of one of its greatest artists: the definitive biography of the man his dancers called Mr. B.
About the Author
Jennifer Homans is the dance critic for The New Yorker. Her widely acclaimed, bestselling Apollo’s Angels: A History of Ballet was named one of the ten best books of the year by The New York Times Book Review. Trained in dance at George Balanchine’s School of American Ballet, Homans danced professionally with the Pacific Northwest Ballet. She earned her BA at Columbia University and her PhD in modern European history at New York University, where she is a Scholar in Residence and the Founding Director of the Center for Ballet and the Arts.
“It was one of the highlights of my life to know George Balanchine personally and professionally. I truly loved this man, but he certainly wasn’t perfect. Jennifer Homans's meticulously researched Mr. B gives us an artist who is as complicated, and even flawed, as he was groundbreaking and brilliant. It is a fascinating read about a true genius and his unrelenting thirst for beauty in art and in life.”—Mikhail Baryshnikov
“A truly great work that changes everything, Mr. B has, in addition to superlative history and reporting, some of the most beautiful writing I have ever read—felt—about an art form that’s notoriously difficult to capture.”—Hilton Als
“A magisterial biography . . . sensitive, stately, and often thrilling . . . serious act of cultural retrieval.”—New York Times
“A riveting portrait of a genius whose life spanned the 20th century.”—Wall Street Journal
“Gorgeous . . . Balanchine may have been a genius on an Olympian scale, but in Mr. B he’s relentlessly, alluringly human.”—Oprah Daily
“[A] gorgeous biography.”—People
“Monumental.”—The New York Review of Books
“An intricate, meticulously researched biography of the revered and controversial dance icon . . . the definitive account.”—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“Jennifer Homans has not only resurrected George Balanchine, she has restored the Russia that disappeared out from behind him. The result is lyrical and commanding, among the most electrifying pas de deux you’re likely to find on the biography shelf.”—Stacy Schiff
“This isn’t dutiful biography, this is literature as vibrant and alive as Balanchine’s art.”—Gary Shteyngart
“[R]evelatory . . . Homans, an ex-ballerina who trained at Balanchine’s School of American Ballet, knows this world well.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“An extraordinary biography by one of America’s most prominent dance writers . . .”—Lit Hub
“A masterful rendition of Europe’s twentieth-century cultural history. It’s a magnificent achievement.”—Jan T. Gross
“Captures the full complexity of Balanchine’s life and art, placing both in a historical context that makes for a riveting narrative. [A] masterpiece.”—Amanda Vaill
“With unique expertise in ballet . . . Homans shows rare insider understanding of Balanchine’s inexhaustible creativity…a magnificent and enthralling biography.”—Marina Warner
“Brilliant . . . Homans brings a keen historian’s mind and a dancer’s physical knowledge to her unflinching account of Balanchine’s life.”—Heather Watts, former principal dancer, New York City Ballet
“Awe-inspiring. The evocative writing and research that is as deep as it is meticulous make me feel like I am right there with Balanchine.”—Merrill Ashley, former principal dancer, New York City Ballet