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Serge Lifar - Is there a good biography on him?Did a search on Amazon and found an autobiography - is it good?


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#1 Joseph

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Posted 10 May 2009 - 01:22 AM

I am just wondering if anyone knows of a biography of him? I have been reading another book and did not know he was a supposed member of the Nazi party. Would be interested to read more about him and his directorship of the Paris Opera House.
The autobiography may not be as good though as it is written by himself, or?
Thanks!

#2 dirac

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Posted 19 May 2009 - 05:52 PM

Joseph, I don't know of any biography except for Lifar's own book, unread by me. Perhaps someone else knows of one. He doesn't seem to have been the most agreeable fellow but he certainly deserves a book. Autobiographies aren't always self-serving, or let's say they aren't always completely self-serving :yahoo: and Lifar's may well have value - someone who's read it could confirm that for us.

My understanding is that Lifar was accused after the war of collaboration with the Nazis, and it's not at all clear that he was guilty?? Anyone?

#3 cubanmiamiboy

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Posted 19 May 2009 - 09:12 PM

I know you're looking for a book, but I thought you may find this link somehow helpful...
http://www.dancebook...titles/5494.asp

#4 Mashinka

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Posted 20 May 2009 - 01:41 AM

I read Lifarís biography, Ma Vie, many years ago; itís an interesting read though Lifar came across as a very self regarding character.

As far as Iím aware he wasnít a Nazi, but was accused of collaboration and dismissed from his post immediately after the war, a few years later he was reinstated. Lifar argues that he got cosy with the Nazis in order to ensure the survival of the Paris Opera during the austerity of the occupation and Iím inclined to believe that to be the truth.

In his book The Paris Opera Ballet, Ivor Guest clearly admired Lifar a lot, seeing him as a great reformer as previously the POB (letís be frank) had acquired the reputation of a high class brothel. Lifar put a stop to all that with the company flourishing under his directorship and he is held in high regard in Paris to this day. As far as the charges of collaboration go Guest leaves something of a question mark as to Lifarís innocence or otherwise but probably he just did what he felt he had to.

#5 Joseph

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Posted 20 May 2009 - 02:05 AM

I know you're looking for a book, but I thought you may find this link somehow helpful...
http://www.dancebook...titles/5494.asp


Thanks! Yeah, this looks interesting as well!

#6 Helene

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Posted 20 May 2009 - 07:58 AM

Not an autobiography, but in Barbara Newman's "Striking a Balance", there's a chapter on Lifar. I think its juxtaposition next to Lew Christensen's is Gibbsonean.

#7 Estelle

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Posted 20 May 2009 - 01:01 PM

As far as Iím aware he wasnít a Nazi, but was accused of collaboration and dismissed from his post immediately after the war, a few years later he was reinstated. Lifar argues that he got cosy with the Nazis in order to ensure the survival of the Paris Opera during the austerity of the occupation and Iím inclined to believe that to be the truth.


Actually it seems to be a somewhat controversial subject among dance critics, even now (in general, there are a lot of debates about the behavior of many writers and artists in France during WWII...)
Lifar fans say that his purpose was to protect the POB, while others say that he was indeed an eager collaborationist (doing far more than what was required) and was interested only in his own interests.

I came across the following book "La vie musicale sous l'occupation"
http://books.google....id=qcBpfEu74c8C
which seems to be well documented and is very severe for Lifar (seen as fiercely ambitious and self-serving, mutiplying his salary by more than 8 between 1940 and 1943), it includes (p. 120) an excerpt of a somewhat nauseating letter by Lifar written in 1940 in which he mentions having been antisemitic since his youth, insisting about his own "pure aryan blood"...

#8 Joseph

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Posted 20 May 2009 - 01:05 PM

As far as Iím aware he wasnít a Nazi, but was accused of collaboration and dismissed from his post immediately after the war, a few years later he was reinstated. Lifar argues that he got cosy with the Nazis in order to ensure the survival of the Paris Opera during the austerity of the occupation and Iím inclined to believe that to be the truth.


Actually it seems to be a somewhat controversial subject among dance critics, even now (in general, there are a lot of debates about the behavior of many writers and artists in France during WWII...)
Lifar fans say that his purpose was to protect the POB, while others say that he was indeed an eager collaborationist (doing far more than what was required) and was interested only in his own interests.

I came across the following book "La vie musicale sous l'occupation"
http://books.google....id=qcBpfEu74c8C
which seems to be well documented and is very severe for Lifar (seen as fiercely ambitious and self-serving, mutiplying his salary by more than 8 between 1940 and 1943), it includes (p. 120) an excerpt of a somewhat nauseating letter by Lifar written in 1940 in which he mentions having been antisemitic since his youth, insisting about his own "pure aryan blood"...


Is there an English version?!?!?!

#9 dirac

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Posted 20 May 2009 - 01:25 PM

Lifar put a stop to all that with the company flourishing under his directorship and he is held in high regard in Paris to this day.


Not by everyone. Gore Vidal has quoted both Tudor and Nureyev as having no good to say of the man (ďBad ghostĒ Ė Nureyev). Yvette Chauvire has spoken glowingly of him, though. Sounds like we really do need a proper bio to sort through some of this.

Thank you for raising the subject, Joseph. :wink:

#10 cubanmiamiboy

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Posted 20 May 2009 - 01:43 PM

Yvette Chauvire has spoken glowingly of him, though.

As well as Markova-(from a couple of books I've read of her)
Certainly controversial. The little I've found about his works online seem to point at POB as almost the only troupe that still seems to be open about praising his choreographies. But again, I'm not that strange to the feeling. In a lesser level, Mme. Alonso seems to be equally praised and hated, due to politics. Especially here in Miami sometimes I don't even mention her in front of certain groups, knowing the type of reaction I can get. I kind of thought about this issue when I posted Lifar's clips, and almost didn't...but then I changed my mind, as they are really interesting from the balletic point of view.

#11 Estelle

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Posted 21 May 2009 - 02:07 AM

Is there an English version?!?!?!


I don't think there's any English version available online, as there are only some excerpts of the book (scanned) which are available online. I don't know if the book (dating back from 2001) has been translated into English, but it seems rather unlikely...

If I have enough time, I can translate some excerpts.

About Lifar: it's not very surprising that Yvette Chauvirť speaks well of him, considering that it was Lifar who promoted her to ťtoile, and that he created many roles for her (in "Suite en Blanc" and "Les Mirages" especially), so bad-mouthing him would have been quite ungrateful.
I guess that there is some consensus about the fact that he was quite a lot self-regarding, creating many roles for himself, programming mostly his own choreographies when he was the POB director, and also dancing on stage until his 50s (actually that makes some common points with Nureyev... :thanks: ) One criticism I've read about him as a director was that he left very little room for other choreographers at the POB, so that he had no successors in terms of choreography (and that may be part of the explanation for the dearth of ballet choreographers in France...)

His choreographies are more and more forgotten, even at the POB. I've only seen "Suite en blanc" (twice), "Entre deux rondes" (once) and "Les mirages" (once) so it's hard to have an opinion, but what I found what I saw interesting. The POB direction has shown very little interest for Lifar in the last decades (well, in general they have shown very little interest for neo-classical choreography in general, alas), it seems that only Claude Bessy at the POB school was interested in programming his works.

#12 dirac

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Posted 21 May 2009 - 03:35 PM

Thanks for the additional information, Estelle.

#13 Quiggin

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Posted 21 May 2009 - 07:20 PM

Alice Toklas, who got by quite well herself in Vichy France, says in a letter dated February 12, 1947: "[Serge] Lifar is dancing again in London and Monaco--not Paris yet--he has his lovely green color but looks too heavy for good dancing."

Clement Crisp in "Icare: Remembering Serge Lifar" (Dance Research, Winter 2002) admits reluctantly that "Le Beau Serge""had consorted with the German administration--inevitable if unwisely so in certain matters." That Lifar did help save a Jewish dancer, Italian-born Serge Peretti, from Mussolini's "labor camps." That French parachutists had at one time called their uniforms "des Sergelifars." He also says that the in the late forties "the bloom of youthful presence had faded and the bravura technique was gone but he performed by a kind of divine right."

Here is a good photo of Lifar by Henri Cartier-Bresson -- who took the great hand-outstretched Balanchine image -- a friend and sort of portege, at least in the States, of Lincoln Kirstein.

Magum - CartierBresson - Serge 1

And here is a Cartier-Bresson photo of Sacha Guitry being questioned about his relations with the Germans. His name was often listed with Lifar's, who probably went through the same interrogation process. Cartier-Bresson himself worked for the Resistance and was captured, and escaped, twice.

Magnum - CartierBresson - Sacha Guitry 2

#14 dirac

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Posted 21 May 2009 - 07:59 PM

....admits reluctantly that "Le Beau Serge""had consorted with the German administration--inevitable if unwisely so in certain matters."


Thanks, Quiggin. My impression is that Guitry was mainly guilty of socializing and performing - attending parties at the German embassy and making nice with the powers that be. That's not wonderful, but it's also not the same as active collaboration - denouncing friends and neighbors, praising and promoting the regime, etc.

#15 vielong

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Posted 18 June 2009 - 12:49 AM

good thing i found this forum, was looking for a biography of him for my class..

thank you.

assurance vie




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