On the Page: LMPR’s Favourite Books about the Performing Arts
At the outset, literature and performing arts would seem to reside on completely different spectrums of the art world. Theatre relies on the outward demonstration of motives, emotions, and concepts; dance interprets ideas and emotional states that are often difficult to verbalize. Yet all art forms share the desire to share, explain, and explore, and often literature takes its inspiration from the stage.
With this in mind, the LMPR team scoured their bookshelves to choose their favourite book relating to the performing arts.
Laura Murray – Dancing on my Grave, by Gelsey Kirkland
Having studied dance from the time I was six to 22 years of age, this book immediately came to mind when asked to select one of my favourite, or most memorable, art books. The intensely absorbing autobiography of one of America’s most famous and exquisite ballerinas, Gelsey Kirkland, chronicles the emotionally honest, turbulent ride to the top as Principal dancer with American Ballet Theatre.
Despite her legendary partnership with Mikhail Baryshnikov and performing lead roles on the world’s stages, Kirkland’s bliss is tragically short lived. Plagued by relentless doubt, distrust and perfectionism, we follow her self-destruction and harrowing descent into drugs, and her struggle to make a professional comeback.
A provocative and engrossing read, it may also be one of the most heartbreaking stories ever written by a dancer. On the other hand, some would argue it is considered one of the most controversial – dragging a number of reputations down with her own.
Brian Paterson – Three Uses of the Knife, by David Mamet
He begins with the human element- exploring how humans seem to have a need for collective shared experiences (conversations about weather, for example) and to view the world around us in terms of story-based conflicts (politics).
Having established this basic need he launches into fascinating thought experiments about why theatre is uniquely capable of speaking to this need, and what the emotional, aesthetic, and psychological pay-offs from its fulfillment are.
It is a bold, brazen, and at times belligerent work that incites both understanding and frustration. The latter makes me appreciate the book all the more, as it challenges you to question and search for your own belief about what theatre is, why it arises independently in almost every culture, and how it holds such sway over us.
Angela Poon – The Austin Family Series, Madeleine L’Engle
Best known for her award-winning science fiction children’s novel A Wrinkle in Time, Madeleine L’Engle was a prolific writer with more than 60 credits of all genres to her name. Despite being beloved by children of all ages, I didn’t discover L’Engle until my early 20s. I fell in love with her rich characters and thought-provoking prose all the same.
My favourite series is the Austin Family series, which follows the lives and activities of an average east coast American family. The most notable element throughout the series is the family’s love for music. Classical records fill their household, folksongs are sung around the campfire, and professional musicians lead predominant roles throughout the narrative. Despite a rotating cast of protagonists, written over a time span of 30 years, one thing remained the same throughout – a deep appreciation for music and the performing arts.
Zoe Grams – The Magic Toyshop, by Angela Carter
As a publicist who works with books and performing arts, this post soon became a challenge. How to choose just one work that connects my two passions? But on reflection, it is Angela Carter’s work that stands out as a long-standing favourite.
Each of her books is steeped in magic realism. They contain a sense of the carnival, of secrets, of a different world happening just behind the curtain. While her final novel, Wise Children, is set in the theatre, the stage also acts as a metaphor for social boundaries and the need to ‘perform’ in one’s life.
The Magic Toyshop – a dark, uncomfortable and beautiful novel – is tinged with the traditional Carter enchantment. Melanie, a teenage girl, is forced to live with her malevolent Uncle above The Toyshop. He is obsessed with puppets, relishing the chance to put Melanie on stage with them while clearly controlling the strings of every member of his household. Each line reminds us of the ability of fiction – on and off stage – to create something more than our current reality; the power theatre has to influence broader societal issues; and the complexity of ideas and concepts that reign amidst its productions.
What are your favourite texts about performing arts? We’d love to hear your suggestions to add to our ever-increasing reading list.