Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Alla Osipenko by Joel Lobenthal

Alla Osipenko by Joel Lobenthal
Published by Oxford University Press in November 2015.

How I got this book:
Received a review copy from its publishers via NetGalley.

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Alla Osipenko is the gripping story of one of history's greatest ballerinas, a courageous rebel who paid the price for speaking truth to the Soviet State. She studied with Agrippina Vaganova, the most revered and influential of all Russian ballet instructors, and in 1950, she joined the Mariinsky (then-Kirov) Ballet, where her lines, shapes, and movements both exemplified the venerable traditions of Russian ballet and propelled those traditions forward into uncharted and experimental realms. She was the first of her generation of Kirov stars to enchant the West when she danced in Paris in 1956. But dancing for the establishment had its downsides, and Osipenko's sharp tongue and marked independence, as well as her almost-reckless flouting of Soviet rules for personal and political conduct, soon found her all but quarantined in Russia. An internationally acclaimed ballerina at the height of her career, she found that she would now have to prevail in the face of every attempt by the Soviet state and the Kirov administration to humble her.

I hadn't previously heard of Alla Osipenko. Although I do like going to see ballet, I don't know many names other than the really famous dancers so I hoped to extend my knowledge through reading this biography. Unfortunately Lobenthal's writing is very dry, with short journalistic paragraphs and absolutely no sense of flow or beauty to the prose - which struck me as ironic for a ballet biography! The book does mention all the major and minor dance roles undertaken by Osipenko as well as giving details of her personal life, but it's like being faced with a great sheaf of notes that are yet to be properly integrated. There are numerous spelling and grammatical errors on every page too, some making sentences completely unintelligible, so I considered several times whether to actually bother finishing the read. It's a shame as Osipenko must have led a fascinating life, but it is not done justice to in this book.

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