"Ballerinas" Don't Stand Up Alone

BALANCHINE'S BALLERINAS by Shonna Valeske. Presented by the Mills Gallery and the Boston Ballet. At the Mills Gallery, 549 Tremont St. through January 21. 426-7700 for information.

by Jeanne Belovitch

"George Balanchine loved women," is how author Robert Tracy begins his book Balanchine's Ballerinas: Conversations with the Muses. Tracy's conversations with 19 of the women who danced fro Balanchine---and who loved him for his self-lessness and dedication to the beauty of human movement through their dance---reveal a choreographer and dancers who were mirrors of each other and necessary to one another in the creation of their individual brilliance.

Portrait photographs of ballerinas, including those featured in Tracy's book, are on display at the Mills Gallery. Eleven of them are autographed by the ballerinas, including Alexandrea Danilova, leading ballerina of the Ballets Russe; Suzanne Farrell, the personification of the Balanchine ideal; Darci Kistler, the New York City Ballet's youngest ballerina; and Violette Verdy, teh first European to dance with the New York City Ballet and the current artistic director of the Boston Ballet.

Shonna Valeska, a former ballet student, moved to photograapprenticed with fashion protographer Richard Avedon for three years before she completed the portraits for Balanchine's Ballerinas. Her photographs are technically excellent and boringly beautiful. But there is an austerity to them that suggests a magazine fashion layout. Without the book as a guide, these photographs do not stand up alone. Other photographs in Tracy's book, which show the dancers rehearsing, performing and relaxing with Balanchine, best capture the essence of these women and the choreographer's love for them.

The book's action photographs, dating from the 1920s to the 1980s,and the interviews make it an essential guide for appreciating the portrait photographs on display at the Mills and for getting an honest feeling and understanding for Balanchine and the 19 women celebrated in the book.

Tracy completed the interviews for the book while on scholarship at the George Balanchine School of American Ballet. He said that dancers Maria Tallchief, Melissa Hayden and Verdy motivated him to write the book. "They are such strong women,"he remarked. Verdy offered this view of the choreographer during the opening night reception celebrating Valeska's photographs: "Balanchine was the best I've eer seen. The highest experience. The man was completely selfless. He was a person who hardly existed. To find him yoou had to see his work. you found him in his work."

Tracy believes that "if Balanchine wasn't just a choreograhper, if he was a writer or a painter, his studies of women would be much more talked about."

But not every subject of Balanchine's studies could sustain that role, as Verdy explains in the book. "I was not physically able tosustain my commitment, which is a form of treason," she admitted. "The final reluctance to give myself over thanslated itself into injuries. I looked like a victim, someone you could was I think that it had become impossible for me to realize myself as a Balanchine dancer."

Haydoen, according to Verdy, is an expample of a dancer who was able to sustain an artistic partnership with Balanchine. "Melissa did it for herself. She knew that Balanchine wasa so much the best she had ever known that to elevate herself to her best she should stay with him. She stayed there no matter what, and he repaid her beautifully for it. She always danced, and, in fact, if Melissa didnot have enough, he would take things away from me and give them to her. She deserved something from Balanchine because of her faithfulness to her work,and her incredible determination."

For more insights into the intriguing, complex relationships by which a choreographer created dancers and dancers created a choreographer, visit the Ballerinas display at the Mills---but be sure to take a copy of Tracy's book along to give you the full picture.

Source: South End News, Boston, MA; 1984