Feature: Book review

Friday 9 April 2010

*Darcey Bussell – A Celebration * *Author: Clive Burton *
Publisher: Reynolds & Hearn Ltd (ISBN: 978-1905287-64-2)

Reviewed by Graham Watts

'Darcey Bussell A Celebration' book cover As Darcey Bussell embarks on her new adventures for 2008, emigrating to become an “eco-mum” in
Australia, whilst commuting back to the UK to star in several more Viva la Diva shows with Katherine Jenkins, her former life as a ballerina is celebrated in this new slimline coffee-table
book.

Rushed out in time for Christmas, this is not a book for a serious read – it
took me less than 45 minutes – being much more about Darcey’s celebrity than it
is about providing depth to the ballerina’s persona or any new insights to her
life in dance. That said, Clive Burton’s words provide a well-informed, albeit concise biography, elaborately furnished
with more than 100 photographs.

I have to confess that my first impressions were poor. The first few paragraphs
of the introduction are repeated verbatim on the publicity blurb and inside the
cover, meaning that the same bald assertion that Darcey is ‘Britain’s greatest living ballerina’ was thus repeated three times in quick succession. It’s a fanciful claim:
unlike athletes, ballet dancers generally don’t achieve records or win medals
on a regular basis and so claiming which is the greatest can only be a matter
of opinion. Here it is presented as a simple fact and, whilst there is no doubting
Darcey’s greatness as a ballerina, the ‘greatest living’ tag is very disputable – my vote would go to Beryl Grey. There’s a mild irony here since Burton seems obsessed with the British honours
system, almost unfailing in his diligence to mention when dancers were honoured
and with what rank of the Order of the British Empire (I say ‘almost’ because
he omits Leanne Benjamin’s OBE!). In keeping with this deference to patronage in British Society, the
author concludes the book with a brief section on Darcey’s own ‘Honours and Awards’ finishing with the coy statement that ‘Dame Darcey has an appropriate ring to it’. Well, Dame Beryl Grey has been there for a very long time so just who is “Britain’s Greatest Living Ballerina”?!

Burton’s book is structured into 16 sections, the best of which is a very interesting
review of her leading men (who remembers Robert Hill?), but the sections about dance are rudely interrupted by 60 pages of padding
in ‘Girl about Town’ and overshadows some of the later sections about the Anthony Dowell Years and dancing for Madam (Dame Ninette de Valois) seem curiously out of place.

Many of the dance photos are splendid and although some are familiar there are
lots which appear to be newly published: there’s a wonderfully evocative, grainy
close-up of Darcey being held aloft in Requiem; others that capture the extra stretch of Balanchine movement, partnering Ed Watson; another that captures the vibrancy of her leaping entrance as the huntress
in ‘Sylvia’; some great shots of her with Gary Avis in Christopher Wheeldon’s DGV; and, of course, a number of images from her farewell performance in MacMillan’s Song of the Earth last June. I was disappointed though that the individual photographers are
not credited – and that the dance photos are outnumbered two to one by a clump
of posed publicity shots.

Burton’s explanation of her dance life is fine for a slim biography but the inconsequential
tone of the book is set by the many posed celebrity photos of Darcey and her husband
grinning at the camera at some launch or other and it therefore never rises above
feeling like a longish feature in _*Hello* _magazine. If you like that kind of thing or are obsessed by Darcey Bussell
then this is the book for you; beyond that, it has little to recommend it for
serious dance lovers.

Buy Darcey Bussell – A Celebration on amazon.co.uk

Review posted January 2008

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