Dance to the Piper (Paperback)
Born into a family of successful playwrights and producers, Agnes de Mille was determined to be an actress. Then one day she witnessed the Russian ballet dancer Anna Pavlova, and her life was altered forever. Hypnotized by Pavlova’s beauty, in that moment de Mille dedicated herself to dance. Her memoir records with lighthearted humor and wisdom not only the difficulties she faced—the resistance of her parents, the sacrifices of her training—but also the frontier atmosphere of early Hollywood and New York and London during the Depression. “This is the story of an American dancer,” writes de Mille, “a spoiled egocentric wealthy girl, who learned with difficulty to become a worker, to set and meet standards, to brace a Victorian sensibility to contemporary roughhousing, and who, with happy good fortune, participated by the side of great colleagues in a renaissance of the most ancient and magical of all the arts.”
Agnes de Mille (1905–1993) was born in New York City, the daughter of the writer and director William C. de Mille, and the niece of the well-known film producer-director Cecil B. DeMille. Raised in New York and California, she attended the University of California, Los Angeles, and trained to become a dancer, studying in New York and London and touring with companies in the United States and Europe. In 1942 de Mille had her first great success as a choreographer with Rodeo. She went on to choreograph celebrated musicals such as Oklahoma! and Carousel, and the award-winning Brigadoon and Kwamina, fusing modern and classical dance techniques to create her own innovative style. She also wrote widely about her work as a dancer, the early years in Hollywood, and childhood summers spent at the family estate in New York. Despite a stroke in 1975 that led to partial paralysis, de Mille continued to work, choreographing dances for American Ballet Theatre and other companies, as well as writing and lecturing. In 1986 she was awarded the National Medal of Arts for her lifetime achievement in the theater.
Joan Acocella is a staff writer for The New Yorker. She is the author of Mark Morris; Creating Hysteria: Women and Multiple Personality Disorder; Willa Cather and the Politics of Criticism; and Twenty-eight Artists and Two Saints. She also edited the unexpurgated Diary of Vaslav Nijinsky.
"De Mille was a writer like her father and uncle and grandfather, and not only a writer of bodies in space. She wrote prose, too, and gorgeously, with tremendous and purposive contradiction, about her life as a dancer and choreographer. To my mind, Dance to the Piper is as good a book about dance as any book about cinema written by a director.” —Jonathon Sturgeon, Flavorwire
"[A] finely written memoir, Dance to the Piper...was originally published in 1951. It's a dry and self-deprecating bildungsroman that was, by her account, scratched out on napkins and envelopes while she was 'doing a barre' or tending to an infant." —Harper's
“Perhaps the best dancer ever to write and the best writer ever to dance.” —Janice Berman, Newsday
“Nobody can read this history of courage and belief in an ideal without understanding both dancing and human nature a little better. Indeed, I believe nobody can read this book without following it up with a salutation, ‘Bravo, Agnes de Mille!’ ” —Carl van Vechten
“Dance to the Piper is rich in the vitality, honesty and humour which are de Mille’s professional characteristics; it gives excellently well-balanced judgements of the great dancers whom she has seen and worked with; and it also paints lively portraits of the courageous author herself.” —Lillian Browse, The Spectator
"Enhanced with traditional ballet as well as the modern school, she was associated with both, but she made her success in her own style of American modern. She writes with verve about all three schools, describes perspectively the inseparableness of dancer and dancing, the agonies of work and exhaustion, the personality of the true ballerina who must be cut off from the norm of social and sexual life." --Kirkus Reviews
"One of the finest and most eloquent writers on dance the world has known" --Clive Barnes, Dance Magazine
"This memoir of her early life is chock full of wit, which comes through strongly in her observations of life on tour with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, and her cutting character descriptions (she includes full chapters on greats such as Martha Graham and Anna Pavlova). At times snarky and sensitive, by the end of Dance to the Piper de Mille seems like someone you'd want in your corner—the kind of friend who'd crack you up backstage just before your next entrance." —Chave Pearl Lansky, Dance Spirit