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Not sure whether this has already been discussed on another thread, but it seems that Peter Wright's book may be something of a potboiler.  It seems that he has been very candid about feuds and very nasty behaviour at the RB - only Monica Mason seems to be come out of it well.  Should be an interesting read....

 

https://www.theguardian.com/stage/2016/jun/17/sir-peter-wright-ballet-memoir-rudolf-nureyev

 

 

 

 

Note from the Editor :):

This post was originally started today by Two Pigeons at this post: http://www.balletcoforum.com/index.php?/topic/13093-sir-peter-wright-the-autobiography/?p=179217

I've moved some previous posts about the book into here from another thread, which can be found here:

http://www.balletcoforum.com/index.php?/topic/12756-sir-peter-wright-in-conversation/page-0

Edited by alison
Added relevant posts from a previous thread

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Not sure whether this has already been discussed on another thread, but it seems that Peter Wright's book may be something of a potboiler.  It seems that he has been very candid about feuds and very nasty behaviour at the RB - only Monica Mason seems to be come out of it well.  Should be an interesting read....

 

https://www.theguardian.com/stage/2016/jun/17/sir-peter-wright-ballet-memoir-rudolf-nureyev

 

do you mean "potboiler"? defined in OED as

An artistic, literary, or other creative work produced solely to make the originator a living by catering to popular taste, without regard to artistic quality;

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Yes.  As I said it sounds as though it has "something" of that about it.  What is your point?

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Not sure whether this has already been discussed on another thread, but it seems that Peter Wright's book may be something of a potboiler.  It seems that he has been very candid about feuds and very nasty behaviour at the RB - only Monica Mason seems to be come out of it well.  Should be an interesting read....

Are you basing your assessment solely on the Guardian article, Lindsay, or is other information available? I've often found that initial reports suggesting that books etc. may be controversial aren't always borne out in reality. Items about which a major fuss is made pre-publication often turn out to be a very small part of the whole.

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I have heard other discussions about the book Alison but haven't yet read it myself.  It doesn't appear to be available for Kindle and I'm unwilling to buy a hardback - will wait to see whether there is a paperback edition.

 

And yes, I agree with what you are saying about pre-publication hype and I'm sure he will have interesting things to say about British ballet history that aren't sufficiently 'juicy' to make the review articles.  But on the specifics, is it really necessary to recount anecdotes of Macmillan's behaviour at parties? MacMillan always seems to me rather a tragic figure and I'm not sure what that kind of gossiping adds to our knowledge of ballet history.

 

I really like a good debate and 'controversial' writing where it goes to the artistic, technical side of the writer's area of expertise.  Relaying of decades old gossip about people who are no longer around to defend themselves I find less edifying.

Edited by Lindsay
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This (from another thread):-

 

Sir Peter's memoirs have been written with Paul Arrowsmith, who I am sure most here will remember as a contributor in the glory days of Ballet.co, and a good friend to many of us. The event after this performance to launch them was fascinating and Sir Peter spoke with the same candour that my brief reading of the book on the train home suggests he writes with.  There is a superb chapter on Cranko specifically, and Wright's insights into the world of British ballet are perhaps as insightful and at times controversial as you could wish for.  All steered so deftly by Paul.  An absolute must read!

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And yes, I agree with what you are saying about pre-publication hype and I'm sure he will have interesting things to say about British ballet history that aren't sufficiently 'juicy' to make the review articles.  But on the specifics, is it really necessary to recount anecdotes of Macmillan's behaviour at parties? MacMillan always seems to me rather a tragic figure and I'm not sure what that kind of gossiping adds to our knowledge of ballet history.

 

I really like a good debate and 'controversial' writing where it goes to the artistic, technical side of the writer's area of expertise.  Relaying of decades old gossip about people who are no longer around to defend themselves I find less edifying.

 

All biographies and autobiographies (as opposed to works of history or textbooks) surely describe and comment on the personality, behaviour and motivations of the subject and the other people in his/her milieu. Whether that constitutes gossip or interesting/illuminating reflection depends on what is said and how it is said. Since I haven't read this yet either, I wouldn't like to pass judgement at this stage. Obviously, I hope it will be the latter.

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 As far as the Guardian article is concerned it is pure puff directed at a non specialist audience and has been written with that audience in mind. Even Guardian readers appreciate a celebrity behaves badly story. Yet another, Nureyev was a bit of a bastard and had bad manners, anecdote is going to register with the average non ballet going reader in a way that a statement that, the book contains an illuminating chapter about John Cranko's time at Sadler's Wells, just won't.

 

The book's contents could be entirely composed of anecdotes and settling old scores but that does not strike me as Sir Peter's style. He is,after all, not a vacuous celebrity, but a ninety year old who has seen, and been involved in many of the important  events in the story of British ballet in the twentieth century He has so many  productions in performance across the world that I think it unlikely that he needs to write a potboiler to keep him in his old age. I intend to read the book before I pass judgement on it. I imagine that Dancing Times  will produce a more carefully considered account of the book and its contents than the Guardian has provided so far.

Edited by FLOSS
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Hello all.  I make a confession up front: I am a very good friend of Paul Arrowsmith, with whom Sir Peter collaborated on these memoirs.  However, personal relationships aside, I think these memoirs are everything you would want memoirs to be.  Yes, they are deliciously gossipy, and a fascinating insight into the earlier period of both Royal Ballet companies, and especially around the time of de Valois' retirement.  Yes, there are few personalities in it that come out of the book completely unscathed, but they are dealt with with a refreshing honesty.  Sir Peter is completely even handed: where he sees reason to praise someone, he does so.  Where he sees they were at fault, he says so too.  He's writes of people in their 3-dimensional way: not simply as heroes and heroines whose lives have become the preserve of hagiographies.  A good example is how he writes of Michael Somes, whom he clearly loathed.  He does not hold back and gives justification for not doing so, yet he also writes of his admiration for Somes such as when he was negotiating with Sol Hurock on a US tour, or when staging Enigma Variations in Birmingham in the early 90's.  

 

The chapters on the stagings of the classics are tremendous in their depth and authority and the chapters on Cranko, Ashton and the early years of Birmingham are worth the price of the book alone.  In a chapter on new works he writes with real passion and love about the works of Pina Bausch and is not especially complimentary about Wayne McGregor, and gives an interesting perspective on the reasons he was selected to work with the RB.

 

The silent heroine of the book, though, is his late wife, who though mentioned only very briefly, is a strong presence throughout.  As she obviously was through his life.

 

It is very cleverly ordered (thanks to Paul) and is therefore a book into which you can just dip in and out.  Though I warn you - once you have started, you are unlikely to want to stop...

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There is a review of 'Wright and Wrongs' from Sarah Compton in the Sunday Times Culture section today. She ends by saying 'Few could read this book and agree with every word, but Wright's career as a brilliant adaptor of classical ballets and a reasonably successful company director has been built on his passionate convictions'.

 

I am sorry but 'reasonably successful'? I think many people would say he was far more than that.

 

All discussion welcome.

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Agree with what you say TP.

 

I suspect that SWRB would no longer exist if Sir Peter hadn't moved the company to Birmingham.  He certainly put BRB and Birmingham firmly on the ballet-watchers' map!

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Well I would be very interested to see what Sarah Compton's description of 'very successful' is.

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Indeed. My only regret as a Mancunian that a merger/takeover of Northern Dance/Ballet Theatre and the Royal Northern College of Music never happened. At the time many dancers preferred the northern location and the term Royal Northern Ballet is easy on the lips. But...the city council was luke warm, the Palace theatre wasn't that great either and B'ham put in a damn good bid.

Edited by Vanartus
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Heard Sarah Compton at ROH in Conversation with Francesca Hayward and James Hay last month and was very disappointed with the quality of her questions and moreover shocked at some of the factual errors in comments.

 

No one can be perfect, but denying that Francesca was a Junior Associate (Francesca’s face was visually stunned), talking about them both studying at Baron’s Court, when the Upper School has been resident in Floral Street for over twelve years and even talking about repertory and instead of repertoire, were just some of the things that I really picked up on!

 

Perhaps a former Arts Editor in Chief, but her ballet knowledge, including the above is somewhat questionable. 

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I've read 2 reviews this weekend and whether they pick up on the more gossipy sayings of Sir Peter Wright, or are just a small part of what seems a long 502 page book I don't know, but I was slightly shocked, better not repeat any   :)

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There is also a review by Debra Craine in Saturday's Times (23 July 2016).  Again, behind a paywall. 

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There is also a review by Debra Craine in Saturday's Times (23 July 2016).  Again, behind a paywall. 

 

........ and which tends to emphasise the more gossipy elements of the book.

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I read the book (though not the reviews) and I have to admit that I did find it gossipy throughout - or maybe another way of putting it is that he is forthright in his observations, not trying to be too polite :-). I thought the book also suffered in the way that many ballet books do in listing lots of obscure early ballets that obviously have a lot of personal meaning to the subject but are hard to visualise on page. Unfortunately I didn't find it a very compelling read.

Edited by Sunrise
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It has a fair number of errors in it which a devoted fan of SWRB/BRB could have corrected. For example Arrowsmith has clearly taken his report of Sir Peter's retirement gala from the programme and not the occasion. Had he been there he would have known that Sir Anthony Dowell was indisposed and had to be replaced by Stephen Jefferies, who in turn was replaced by Stephen Wicks, in Facade.

 

The review also said Sir Peter mentioned Fonteyn and Tait uncritically (fair enough) but didn't mention his clear enthusiasm for Miyako Yoshida which appears a number of times.

Edited by Two Pigeons

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I read the book and found it quite fascinating. I'm sure he wouldn't have been so candid about personalities if he hadn't been so old and venerable. It did sort of read along the lines of "so what can they actually do about it, refuse to come to my funeral?" Monica Mason isn't the only person who came out of it well - he obviously adored Margot Fonteyn and Miyako Yoshida, among others. He admired Frederick Ashton's work tremendously but I gather wasn't so enamoured of the man himself. I didn't get the impression of a bunch of gossip for its own sake, mostly an attempt to include personalities as well as events in his narrative, which often helped make sense of the events.

 

I found the writing style a bit dense and hard to deal with - it wasn't an easy read in that respect, and the timing often overlapped from chapter to chapter so I found myself having to check back and forth between chapters to see if he was talking about the same event or similar ones. But that wasn't a big deal, and I'm sure it'll be easier to figure out on a second reading. In terms of the comment in a previous post about his being rated a "reasonably successful" director - he was only in that position for a few years after the company moved to Birmingham and had to retire because of chronic ill health, so maybe the problem was that he simply wasn't there long enough for the reviewer to know if he was going to be one of the great ones.

 

Most books on the Royal Ballet concentrate on the Covent Garden company, so It was really interesting to read a first-hand account of how the touring company developed and metamorphosed over time. One thing that came across quite strongly was the scope and detail of Ninette de Valois' vision for her companies. I hope she'd approve of how BRB has turned out. (I also loved the anecdotes where Kenneth MacMillan used to plead with him to "keep Madam away from me" when he was choreographing because she'd turn up and start interfering.) One thing I personally appreciated was his constantly referring to the difference between ballet and contemporary dance, and how ballet companies needed to stick to ballet (another of the bees in de Valois' bonnet apparently) because the two types of dance were different and there's no point expecting to be able to do contemporary dance as well as dancers who are specifically trained for it. He also had quite a bit to say on the subject of dancers (and choreographers) using ballet as an excuse to do acrobatics, especially in the romantic and classical ballets where acrobatics aren't called for and the music has to be distorted to accommodate all the extensions. This guy was definitely not an admirer of the legacy of Sylvie Guillem, and I didn't get the impression he thought much of the decision to give Wayne MacGregor such a prominent choreographic position at RB. He was very complimentary about Wheeldon's Winter's Tale as a positive example of the development of narrative ballets in the modern era (but didn't have anything to say about Alice in Wonderland).

 

I hope Peter Wright isn't one of the last of a dying breed. He's saying so much that we see in threads here about ballet styles and the regret that so much artistry is being lost in the rush to perfect difficult technique, and I really hope that this isn't going to be a case of waiting for people like him to die off so that ballet can turn into a cross between contemporary dance and gymnastics. It seems to be something he's very concerned about, and I hope the current generation of directors and choreographers take heed.

Edited by Melody
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I agree with much of what you say but Sir Peter was director of SWRB/BRB from 1976 to 1995. I think that 20 years in the job, often in very challenging circumstances, would indicate that his achievements were better than 'reasonably successful'.

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Oh, I agree with you, I was just suggesting that that might be a reason. I do remember thinking, when I read the book, that it was such a shame he didn't have an extra five or more years in the job after the move.

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Anyone who wants to hear Sir Peter and perhaps buy his book and shake his hand would be very welcome at "Sir Peter Wright, in conversation with Paul Arrowsmith, on Wrights and Wrongs: My Life in Dance followed by a book signing session".

The event takes place at 19:30 on 1 Aug 2016 (that's Yorkshire Day incidentally) at the Civil Service Club, 13-15 Great Scotland Yard, London, SW1A 2HJ (entrance £5, guests £8).

 

I met him briefly at the Hungarian Ballet's cast party after the premiere of The Sleeping Beauty in Budapest and then again at the 70th anniversary party of the London Ballet Circle.  I found him a thoroughly charming gentleman.

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One person's "obscure early ballet" is another reader's "gap filler" providing information about a work that the reader has read about in company histories  and other people's biographies. I'm not sure that you can expect that a man, whose career has been as diverse as Sir Peter's and has lasted so long, to write a purely linear account of his life. The book jumps about a bit but the sections seem pretty self contained to me.

 

I'm not sure that the book is particularly "gossipy" although I think that there are one or two points at which he goes into unnecessary detail about individuals.and lapse into bad taste. The most glaring example is the way that he writes about Beriosova. He gives very little information about the quality of her dancing and what made her so special to so many ballet goers but goes into great detail about her drink problem.The section about Cranko's early years at Stuttgart is illuminating and it is good to have Wright's own account of the various productions that he has staged over the years accessible in one place.  it's not the greatest autobiography that I have read but it is far from being the worst. I think that the text would have benefited from a little more reflection and revision before it was sent for publication.

Edited by FLOSS
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