For sixteen years, from 1959 to 1975, Richard Buckle's articles in the Sunday Times were the most eagerly awaited and passionately perused ballet criticism in the English-speaking world. Before that he had written for the Observer and for his own magazine Ballet. Although most of the pieces included in this book are from the Sunday Times, a few date from as far back as the mid-1940s: this anthology is therefore the harvest of thirty-five years' ballet going. The qualities which brought Buckle a wide readership beyond the specialist circle of balletomanes were undoubtedly his wit and humour. Most weeks his column could be relied upon for a laugh, for some unexpected burst of fantasy or for an unexpected comic twist to a shrewd opinion. Yet Buckle himself always counted it a blessing that he was not tied down to writing a humorous article every week; for the enforced jocularity of the professional comedian soon grows wearisome, and after a year or two nobody wants to read him any more. Everyone always wanted to read Buckle.
In addition, Richard Buckle had a knack for putting his finger on a ballet's strong point or weak spot, for extracting the essence of a work and expressing it in evocative prose. Prose, however, is not all this book contains. Buckle's 'occasional verse', some of it published for the first time, also finds a place in this book. The author can parody Shakespeare in blank verse as well as he can write heroic couplets and ballads, or can encapsulate the book of Genesis in a limerick. Perhaps Buckle's most important work was as a talent-spotter and prophet of new forms. He was the first to champion Balanchine when the New York City Ballet came to London in 1950; but this did not prevent him from acclaiming Martha Graham's very different kind of dance four years later. For a quarter of a century, as editor and exhibition designer, Richard Buckle worked with some of the outstanding artists of the day; and some of them have illustrated this book.
Intended to be "more like a keepsake than a chronicle," this generous, breezy collection brings together scores of short reviews - mostly from London's Observer and Sunday Times in the Fifties, Sixties, and Seventies - by the author of Njinsky and Diaghilev. Buckle groups the pieces first by company (a half-dozen American ones, Russia's big two, England's many-choreographered Royal Ballet), then by ballet (different performances of classics like Giselle, Swan Lake, and The Sleeping Beauty) - plus brief looks at companies in Western Europe, a section on "New Trends in Britain," and, sprinkled throughout, little notes on personalities, cross-cultural goings-on, and other miscellanea. An agreeable format - but the resulting volume isn't terribly impressive. Buckle certainly deserves credit as an early, occasionally eloquent, London champion of Balanchine, Robbins, and Martha Graham; he's ever open to ground-breaking ideas (though Twyla Tharp gets only a half-page sneer); and his lively, slangy, shorthand descriptions of onstage action are sometimes snappily evocative. Often, however, they are flip, superficial, or limply quasi-poetic - just as the critical reactions tend to bounce to and fro between generalized gush ("great," "wonderful," exclamation points) and petulant carping ("Not to be believed!"). Furthermore. the chattiness and brevity here frequently seem an excuse for avoidance of the tough, crucial work of criticism: a less-than-a-page review calls Glen Tetley's Field Figures "one of the most important creations of our time" but hardly devotes two sentences to the specifics of the achievement. And this rather cavalier aroma is compounded by Buckle's self-celebratory manner: lots of the imperial "we," much namedropping, finger-wagging at fellow critics, inclusion of in-joke poems to friends Robbins and Kirstein, and campy titterings ("There are times I could willingly strangle Margot Fonteyn"). Still, as he himself says: "I feel about ballet audiences like my grandmother did about some cousins of ours. She said 'The Yorkes are very easily amused.' " So many balletomanes will probably welcome Buckle's airy, cutesy excesses - and even those who don't may find his at-the-moment record of some memorable performances (especially those at the less-widely-chronicled Royal Ballet) a jaunty supplement to more serious, substantial treatments. (Kirkus Reviews)