David Hallberg in the studio

Pages from the Arts: March 2018

In this month's review of performing arts books: Memoirs by ballet dancer David Hallberg and actor Tim Pigott-Smith, odes to conducting and Paul Robeson, and Rebecca Gilman's Luna Gale

published Wednesday, March 14, 2018

In Pages from the Arts, we review books that relate to what we cover on the site: theater, opera, classical music, dance, comedy, spoken word and film/TV with a stage connection. Look for our opinions on biographies, memoirs, histories, work about practice and theory, coffee table books and other tomes. These will be curated and mostly written by contributor Cathy Ritchie, Acquisitions Librarian at the Dallas Public Library. Ritchie also reviews books for the websites of the Dallas Public Library, Theatre Library Association, and the American Library Association’s GLBT Round Table, plus other publications.

Pages from the Arts will also include reviews from other TheaterJones contributors, and we encourage our readers to suggest and submit reviews, too. If you're reading a newish (let's say less than a year old) book that falls into a performing arts category, email editor Mark Lowry at and let him know you'd be interested in reviewing it. If you have written or contributed to a book that fits the mission, let him know that too, especially if there is a North Texas connection.

If the book is currently available at the Dallas Public Library, we'll offer that information.

In this edition of Pages from the Arts: John Mauceri on the art of conducting, a memoir by ballet great David Hallberg, a memoir by British actor Tim Pigott-Smith, an interesting look at Paul Robeson, and the script of Rebecca Gilman's Luna Gale, opening soon at Circle Theatre. 



Maestros and Their Music: The Art and Alchemy of Conducting

By John Mauceri

Alfred A. Knopf, 2017

ISBN 9780451494023

272 pp.

This book is available at the Dallas Public LibraryCLICK HERE



As a total non-musician, I always find the blending of orchestra-created sounds in a concert to be somehow magical, and the person in front, waving either a stick or empty hands, to be creating that same magic out of squiggles on a page. How does it all happen?

John Mauceri has been swinging his own mean baton around the world for 50 years, conducting symphonies, opera, ballets, musicals and film soundtracks, including award-winning recordings. But I’m happy to report that his podium skill is matched by his facility with the written word, as he’s brought us a graspable and entertaining look at the people known as maestros — let’s face it, mostly men — creating that very “alchemy” for us all.

The author’s enthusiasm for his vast topic is palpable, as he shares personal anecdotes from and about some of music’s greatest leaders, plus behind-the-scenes historical fun facts, but he also focuses on the how and why of creating blended sound via motley folks wielding instruments. He states early on: “Conducting is both bigger and smaller than you think….When you love us, we are geniuses. When you dismiss us, we are charlatans. We are these things and more — and less, since we are simply human, even if occasionally appear to be godlike to some.”

And later: “The person who stands before a symphony orchestra is charged with something both impossible and improbable. The impossible part is herding a hundred musicians to agree on anything, and the improbable part is that one does it by waving one’s hands in the air…Music is the one art form that is invisible. It is controlled sound, constructed to pass through time in a series of transformations.”

Mauceri’s pithy reflections are scattered throughout his text, as he devotes chapters to conducting technique; learning an orchestral score; the conductor’s role in the recording studio; and what differentiates one maestro’s performance from another’s, along with a look at the demands of constant traveling from one orchestra gig to another, which he characterizes as “the loneliness of the long-distance maestro.” He also devotes a large portion of his text to the concept of a conductor’s relationships — with the musicians, the music itself, the audience, the critics, and orchestra management.

He brings his, at times, theoretical discussions back to earth by dropping some legendary names in conducting history — Karajan, Solti, Maazel, Reiner, and Toscanini among others, with special emphasis on Leonard Bernstein, with whom Mauceri worked extensively.

Now and then, Mauceri becomes somewhat technical in his explications of specific orchestral works, but never to the point of discouraging reader attention, and he always quickly segues from these moments to a more conversational voice and subject matter. Thus, interested laypersons and practicing musicians alike should find much here that is entertaining and enlightening.

As John Mauceri puts it: “Conducting is many things but fun is rarely one of them. There is joy and there is stress…There is glory in being inside the greatest expressions of the human soul…It is also true that we look like we are having fun when the music is happy — because we become music when we conduct. We are always in the zone of the intentionality of the composer, as we perceive it. We laugh. We weep. We dance. We despair. We hope. We die. Then we start all over again.”



Do You Know Who I Am?: A Memoir

By Tim Pigott-Smith

Bloomsbury Continuum, 2017

ISBN 9781472934246

352 pp.

This book is available at the Dallas Public LibraryCLICK HERE



When British acting stalwart Tim Pigott-Smith died unexpectedly of natural causes at age 70 in April 2017, he was days away from starring as Willy Loman in a new touring production of Death of a Salesman. Fortunately for us readers, at the time of his death, he had already signed off on final revisions to this entertaining memoir, and his publisher wisely advanced the book’s appearance date by several months.

Pigott-Smith’s title is reflective of his overall puckish humor, but while Great Britain would not hesitate to answer his question in the strong affirmative, the rest of us now have good reason to answer “yes” as we too share England’s loss. He states early on: “The act of people coming together for a play is an act of communion akin to a church service, and the best theatre not only entertains you, it instructs, moves, changes and improves you.”

Born in Warwickshire in 1946, Pigott-Smith became enamored with performing as a young lad, eventually receiving post-graduate experience at the Bristol Old Vic Training School and later affiliating with the Royal Shakespeare Company, where, over decades, he tackled the gamut of both supporting and leading roles in works by the Bard, the classical Greeks, and his nation’s contemporary writers.

His spirited narrative takes readers deep into the inner workings of the late 20th-century British theatre scene. It’s a convivial journey, as he regales us with names, reminiscences, production tales, and a few diatribes regarding theatre companies’ constant struggle for financial viability. In 1974, he crossed the pond to Washington’s Kennedy Center, co-starring with John Wood in Sherlock Holmes. His oceanic travels would eventually find him on Broadway as well.

Pigott-Smith’s professional days were rich and varied, and his personal life fulfilling via marriage to actress Pamela Miles, plus fathering a son, but BBC Television arguably offered him his “big break” — portraying disabled villain Ronald Merrick in the 1984 epic mini-series Jewel in the Crown, broadcast on PBS.

His award-winning performance in that series launched Pigott-Smith into the PR stratosphere, as he comments:  “I was briefly a star, but I couldn’t cope with it. I was lousy at it. I had played a star part, but I don’t have glamour, and you can’t be an unglamourous star! My old friend Jeremy Irons is a star. Helen Mirren is a star. They are glamourous. All I had ever really wanted was to play good parts, with good people in good plays. I enjoyed the razzmatazz immensely, but, looking back, it was a complete distraction from what I wanted to do.”

Despite his trepidations, Pigott-Smith continued to pursue variety in his parallel film career, with additional BBC productions and such features as Remains of the Day, Gangs of New York and even the epic Clash of the Titans, along with continual theatre in a wide variety of roles. (He often crossed professional paths with Kevin Spacey, who he admired greatly — or at least did so as of early 2017. In 1999, they shared the Broadway stage in The Iceman Cometh, with Pigott-Smith portraying Larry Slade to Spacey’s Hickey.)

And then…along came Charles.

In 2015, Pigott-Smith assumed the title character in Mike Bartlett’s speculative political fantasy, King Charles III, wherein Prince Charles finally ascends the throne after a lifetime of watchful waiting, only to become embroiled in a Parliamentary crisis of his own making, all the while dealing with his opinionated sons and their romantic challenges. The production came to Broadway, and Tim Pigott-Smith was nominated for a Tony Award as Best Actor in a Play. (A shortened version of the work was filmed for PBS and is available on DVD from the Dallas Public Library. Call this part a “jewel in the crown” of Pigott-Smith’s own stellar career, as this veteran performer became an overnight sensation at age 68.

In his final chapter, Pigott-Smith reflects: “I wish I didn’t take acting as seriously as I do, or love the theatre so much that these things dominate my life. … I think I act for the mystery — when a play happens, either on the rehearsal-room floor or in front of an audience, it is a beautiful experience. For me, those wonderful nights are when I myself have hardly been present; the play has moved through me and the cast, and there has been a powerful sense that the total of the evening is far greater than the sum of its parts. And I believe that is the Holy Grail that the theatre actor aspires to; we are trying to capture the smoke, to enable, and experience the mystery.”

Rest in peace, Tim Pigott-Smith, and thank you for introducing us to a fascinating era of British arts history, history graced by your presence as an undeniable Man of the Theatre.



A Body of Work: Dancing to the Edge and Back

By David Hallberg

Touchstone Publishing, 2017

ISBN 9781476771151

425 pp.

This book is available at the Dallas Public LibraryCLICK HERE 



I’ve never taken dancing lessons, but I was quite the balletomane in my youth, reading every ballerina biography I could grab, and writing several grade-school term papers on various ballet-related topics. I’ve always enjoyed watching such productions live and on film, though, as I grew older, it saddened me to learn how physically brutal ballet can be on dancers, their bodily stress often exacerbated by continuous psychological pressure as well.

Though I’ve tried to stay aware of the major names in the field over the years,  I apparently missed 2011’s astounding news, when American Ballet Theatre (ABT) Principal Dancer David Hallberg became the first American to join Russia’s legendary Bolshoi Ballet, also as a principal dancer. But I’ve now been enlightened: in a well-written memoir. Hallberg chronicles his career, those years with the Russian company, and the many challenges he faced, via a book that adds much to the “ballet confessional” genre.

He shares his major theme quickly: “Since childhood, I have had an insatiable hunger for dance. I cannot control it. It controls me. And it has set me on a path dictated by one essential principle: never be afraid to go where your passion leads you.”

Hallberg was born in South Dakota but spent much of his youth in Phoenix. Seeing Fred Astaire dance on television entranced young David, and with family encouragement, he studied ballet in Arizona and Paris, eventually joining American Ballet Theatre’s Studio Company in 2000. Hallberg rose rapidly, and he officially became an ABT Principal Dancer in 2006, traveling the world with the company.

In 2011, Hallberg was invited by Bolshoi Artistic Director Sergei Filin to become either a guest artist or principal with his troupe, and he chose the latter option. Uprooting his New York City life to become a permanent Moscow resident was daunting, but Hallberg’s near-mystical attachment to dance in general and the Bolshoi in particular cemented his choice, despite the less-than-generous welcome he received from many of his new Russian dancing colleagues.

However, Hallberg still returned to New York for periodic one-off ABT appearances, and he chronicles in detail the physical and psychological strain he endured from seemingly nonstop traveling, “taking class” daily, and performing, with very few genuine rest stops along the way. Perhaps inevitably, his body began to rebel, and he suffered a severe ankle injury in 2014.

Several unsuccessful surgeries left Hallberg desperate for answers; after much soul-searching, he put his fate, literally, in the hands of the Australian Ballet, where on-site experts in dance rehabilitation/physical therapy would break Hallberg down physically and mentally before resurrecting him from the ground up, with the goal of enabling him to perform once again. Hallberg’s descriptions of the treatments he endured and the battle he waged to become whole again are riveting.

His affiliation with the Bolshoi officially ended in 2017, but Hallberg eventually made it back to the ABT stage, and is today a Resident Guest Artist with The Australian Ballet. He tells a gripping tale, a further testament to the 24/7 centrality of the body to ballet dancers, the traumatic shock and awe that ensues if/when that body revolts, and the determination needed to re-shape a dance career after serious injury.

When Hallberg looked at himself in a reflection before beginning his career-saving Australian Ballet regimen: “[It was] the reality of a dancer who had to do everything facing away from the mirror because he couldn’t stand the way he looked. The harsh reality that anyone can get injured, and this is what it looks like to try to climb back up from nothing. I wasn’t going to hide it anymore.”

While Hallberg’s prose becomes a bit purplish around the edges at times, especially in his rhapsodic thoughts on his love for ballet, A Body of Work is candid and inspiring, and offers much to us balletomanes and general readers alike.



No Way But This: In Search of Paul Robeson

By Jeff Sparrow

Scribe Publishing, 2018

ISBN 9781925321852

292 pp.

This book is available at the Dallas Public LibraryCLICK HERE



If ever this nation produced a “Renaissance man,” in the regrettably sexist sense of the phrase, it was Paul Robeson (1898-1976). All-American football star; Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Rutgers College; Columbia University law degree recipient; writer; concert singer and recording artist; stage and film actor; linguist, and passionate citizen of the world — oh, and African-American to boot, the son of a slave-turned-minister. No saint he, to be sure, but nevertheless a remarkable human being, performer and activist deserving never to be forgotten. But has he been?

In 1988, Martin Duberman wrote what may be the man’s definitive biography, Paul Robeson (available from the Dallas Public Library). Many other volumes about Robeson have appeared over the years, including his own memoirs, but Australian journalist Jeff Sparrow recently took a different approach.

This author chose to journey to locations that centrally impacted Robeson’s life: to walk in a few of his figurative footsteps, as it were, so as to keep the great man’s name and deeds alive for future generations. This book is the product of those travels.

As he states early in his text: “Robeson won ribbons for oratory…His phenomenal linguistic gifts meant he could perform in more than 20 languages…He became one of the first black box-office draws in Hollywood and among the finest Shakespearian actors of his age…a man adored from New York to Johannesburg for having the richest, purest voice of the 20th century. But, more than anything, Robeson was a man of commitment, who made personal and political choices that today seem almost unimaginable.”

However, because I’ve been a long-time Robeson aficionada, this is a challenging book for me to discuss. While I completely agree that Paul Robeson should be remembered and revered for his remarkable talents and life, Sparrow has mixed his subject’s biography with his own extensive travelogue stemming from the settings of Robeson’s accomplishments, and the latter content is not altogether successful.

But to be fair: how indeed to encapsulate a singular life so multi-faceted and accomplished, yet so controversial? Sparrow does manage to highlight the man’s accomplishments within the context of his own modern-day travels: Robeson’s storied stage career in works of Eugene O’Neill and ultimately Shakespeare’s Othello; his far-less-satisfying film output, largely consisting of stereotypical  characters in subordinate positions (though Robeson’s rendition of “Old Man River” in 1936’s Show Boat became legendary); and especially, Robeson’s unceasing political activism, taking him to far-flung corners of the world, where he concertized and spoke out in support of strikers, laborers and others, often inspiring near riots among his allies and detractors.

And perhaps most damaging to his career and life, there was Robeson’s oft-declared affection and respect for the Soviet Union and that nation’s seemingly wholehearted embrace of people of color, in sharp contrast to America, where Jim Crow still lingered. These were dangerous words to utter publicly when the “Red Scare” was running deep. Robeson paid a steep price, including the loss of his passport for several years during the height of his popularity and fame. Yet ironically, near the end of his life, Robeson became somewhat alienated from the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, dying in relative obscurity in 1976. 

Swallow visits many of the locales that witnessed Paul Robeson as performer, activist and artistic exile, making for a unique approach and framework surrounding the key events in Robeson’s life, but the lengthy travelogue digressions focusing on the author’s own reactions and impressions became somewhat tedious for me. The chapter portions he does devote to Robeson’s life are engrossing but seem too scattered at times.

That said, however, any book with the purpose of reminding current generations that such a man as Paul Robeson did live, create, and speak out against injustice throughout the world clearly deserves to be read. As such, Jeff Swallow’s efforts, caveats aside, likely fulfill their mission.


Luna Gale

By Rebecca Gilman

Photo: Tim Long
Lisa Fairchild in Circle Theatre's Luna Gale

Dramatic Publishing Company, 2015

ISBN 9781583429952

102 pp.

This book is available at the Dallas Public LibraryCLICK HERE


Caroline is a close-to-burnout veteran social worker who becomes embroiled in the case of a teenage drug-addicted couple accused of neglecting their baby, a situation Caroline has found sadly typical in the past. But when she arranges for the baby’s grandmother to take over the infant’s care, that decision leads to an unforeseeable chain of events ultimately resulting in deeper life changes than expected on several fronts. Playwright Gilman offers her usual mix of social issue awareness (this time, tackling the beleaguered welfare system) with powerful character development manifesting itself in meaty roles for actors. The play premiered at Chicago’s Goodman Theatre in 2014. Fort Worth’s Circle Theatre will present the work from March 22 through April 14.


» Pages from the Arts appears on the second Wednesday of the month in TheaterJones. 





  • February 2017: A Mary Martin biography, Joel Grey's autobiography, Jack Viertel's book about the structure of musicals, and a book about playwriting by T.J. Walsh of Trinity Shakespeare Festival
  • March 2017: A memoir from Broadway legend Barbara Cook, a history of the Bolshoi Ballet, and a helpful primer on classical music.
  • April 2017: Two biographies of legendary pianist Van Cliburn, namesake for the upcoming 15th Van Cliburn International Piano Competition; a story of African-American opera singer Ryan Speedo Green; a chronicle of a summer repertory production of Much Ado About Nothing; and gorgeous book (and CD) for musical Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812.
  • May 2017: A book about Chicago's famed Steppenwolf Theatre, a portrait of how Venezuela's El Sistema became a model for publicy funded music education, and a biography of the late comedian Joan Rivers.
  • June 2017: Three memoirs from classical musicians: Andrea Avery's Sonata: A Memoir of Pain and the Piano; Min Kym's Gone: A Girl, A Violin, a Life Unstrung; and Marcia Butler's The Skin Above My Knee: A Memoir.
  • July 2017: Dominic Dromgoole's chronicle of taking the Globe Theatre's Hamlet to nearly 200 countries; a new biography of dance/choreoraphy legend Gene Kelly; and the script of Lynn Nottage's Pulitzer Prize-winning play Sweat.
  • August 2017Biographies Sam Sephard and stage and screen actress Teresa Wright; and the script of David-Lindsay Abaire's Ripcord. 
  • September 2017:A biography of Sarah Vaughan, an informative journey through theatrical history, and the scrip of Martyna Majok's play Ironbound
  • October 2017: A biography of choreographer Katherine Dunham, a new book by acclaimed set designer David Hays, and the script of the play Application Pending
  • November 2017: A biography of singer Julie London, a history of the stand-up comedy club The Improv, and a look at Annie Baker's 2016 play John.
  • December 2017Memoirs by jazz musician Fred Hersch and coloratura soprano Charity Tillemann-Dick, and a biography of turn-of-the-20th-century actor M.B. Curtis.


  • January 2018: Biographies of acclaimed and award-winning actress Anne Bancroft, quixotic pianist Glenn Gould, plus the scripts of Lucas Hnath's Hillary and Clinton, and Quiara Alegría Hudes' Elliot, A Soldier's Fugue.
  • February 2018A memoir by director/producer Harold Prince; an introduction to classical music by Jan Swafford; Rick Elice's love letter to the late Roger Rees; Jenna Fischer's survival book for actors; and the script of Marco Ramirez's The Royale.
 Thanks For Reading

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Pages from the Arts: March 2018
In this month's review of performing arts books: Memoirs by ballet dancer David Hallberg and actor Tim Pigott-Smith, odes to conducting and Paul Robeson, and Rebecca Gilman's Luna Gale
by Cathy Ritchie

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