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Preview of Book Talk in the Chicago Sun Times

In an event preview, the Chicago Sun Times discusses Janice Ross’s book Like a Bomb Going Off: Leonid Yakobson and Ballet as Resistance in Soviet Russia. Ross’s book talk takes place Sunday, January 17, 2016, at 2 p.m., at Chicago’s Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning and Leadership, 610 S. Michigan. She will talk about Yakobson and share archival footage of his work uncovered during her research for the book.

“Like A Bomb Going Off” on Wendy Perron’s 2015 Book List

Author and Dance Magazine editor Wendy Perron lists “especially engaging” dance books of 2015.

From the list:

Leonid Yakobson and Ballet as Resistance in Soviet Russia
By Janice Ross
Published by Yale University Press
An unabashed provocateur, Leonid Yacobson (1904–1975) was one of the leading choreographers of Russia for decades. He was a favorite of both Plisetskaya and Baryshnikov, but his work was considered too sexy (close embraces were called pornographic), too modernist, or too Western for the Soviet authorities. That he survived the Stalin purges was amazing. In the ’70s he created many inventive works for his company, Choreographic Miniatures, but the troupe was forbidden to tour. The Soviet strikes against him were constant, and Ross highlights his heroism in standing against the totalitarian regime. A must-read for anyone interested in the development of Soviet ballet.

“Leonid Yakobson Rediscovered” – review of performance and author talk at 92nd Street Y

Bonnie Rosenstock reviews a Fridays at Noon discussion and performance at the 92nd Street Y’s Harkness Dance Center titled “The Hidden Erotic Body of Soviet Ballet: A Tribute to Leonid Yakobson on the 40th Anniversary of his Death (1904-1971).” Janice Ross delivered a lecture about Yakobson’s legacy and life drawn from her book Like a Bomb Going Off: Leonid Yakobson and Ballet as Resistance in Soviet Russia, and trainees of the San Francisco Ballet School danced sections of Yakobson’s repertory in an open-rehearsal style with feedback from the repetiteurs and a discussion.

Read the review

Janice Ross featured in Stanford’s A Company of Authors

Stanford Professor Janice Ross talks about how she came to study the work of a Cold War choreographer barely known in the west. He is the subject of her book, “Like a Bomb Going Off: Leonid Yakobsen and Ballet as Resistance in Soviet Russia.” She spoke at the 12th Annual “A Company of Authors” event held at the Stanford Humanities Center on April 25, 2015.

Robert Johnson reviews “Like a Bomb Going Off” for Forward

Dance critic Robert Johnson reviewed Janice Ross’s book Like a Bomb Going Off: Leonid Yakobson and Ballet as Resistance in Soviet Russia for the publication Forward.

From the piece:

In a world where obtuse government functionaries made aesthetic decisions, this artist insisted on creating a new vocabulary for dance, rejecting the familiar tropes of classical ballet and replacing collective ideals with a personal vision. His approach resembled American modern dance. And from a Soviet official’s point of view, these things were worse than the gentle awakening of “The Kiss” or the sexual violence of “Minotaur and Nymph.”

In Ross’s account, it becomes clear that what Soviet officials objected to was not simply the ballet’s ending, in which an impoverished schlemiel despairs when his true love’s parents arrange for her to marry a wealthy man.

But what concerned the officials even more was the ballet’s affirmation of a Jewish identity separating the dancers’ bodies from the body politic in which citizens of the USSR were meant to submerge their differences.

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New York Times review: Sexy Soviet Ballet Steps, Once Delivered as Protest

The New York Times reviewed a book presentation by Janice Ross and performance of Leonid Yakobson’s work by San Francisco Ballet trainees at the 92nd Street Y.

From the review:

This was “The Hidden Erotic Body of Soviet Ballet,” a presentation by Janice Ross, a professor at Stanford and the author of a recent book about Yakobson, “Like a Bomb Going Off: Leonid Yakobson and Ballet as Resistance in Soviet Russia.” After an introduction by Ms. Ross, dancers performed excerpts from Yakobson’s “Pas de Quatre” (1971) and “Rodin” (1958). Nikolay Levitskiy and Vera Solovyeva, who were members of Yakobson’s company and who now stage his ballets, gave the dancers some coaching notes, and a panel discussed how much (or how little) of Yakobson’s legacy might be retrievable.

Early in her talk, Ms. Ross showed a photo of Pussy Riot, the Russian feminist protest group. “Before there was Pussy Riot, there was Yakobson,” she said. She presented Yakobson as artist who used ballet to challenge authoritarian rule. Under the threat of censorship (and potentially much worse), he resisted in covert ways, she said, “claiming ballet was innocuous while making it a weapon.”

Read the piece


Marcia B. Siegel review: Choreographer Leonid Yakobson — Soviet Rebel Under Cover

In Boston online arts magazine The Arts Fuse, dance critic Marcia B. Siegel reviews Janice Ross’s book Like a Bomb Going Off: Leonid Yakobson and Ballet as Resistance in Soviet Russia and reconstructions of ballets by Yakobson danced by members of Boston Ballet. 

From the piece:

Stanford University dance historian Janice Ross and Boston Ballet artistic director Mikko Nissinen offered the best possible insight into Yakobson’s work this week, with a book-length study and performances of five of Yakobson’s works.

Ross details how Yakobson clung to dissident themes and movement material under the Soviets, when classical tradition, experimentation, and social realism in turn became official conduits for ballet art.

What’s clear from the book, and from the pieces bravely performed here as reconstructed by Yakobson’s former dancers Nikolay Levitskiy and Vera Solovyeva, with assistance by Boston Ballet’s former principal dancer Larissa Ponomarenko, is that something was emerging toward the end of his life that might have averted the hard-edge violence that passes for eroticism in today’s contemporary ballet.

Read the article

Artforum looks at Yakobson in context

Claudia La Rocco reviews Like a Bomb Going Off and discusses Yakobson’s work in artistic and political contexts.

From the piece:

Yakobson is the subject of Janice Ross’s new book Like a Bomb Going Off: Leonid Yakobson and Ballet as Resistance in Soviet Russia (Yale University Press). Ross, a prominent dance history scholar, has just given a series of talks in San Francisco on Yakobson, including one at the ballet tracing connections between him and Ratmansky and another at the Contemporary Jewish Museum called “Disobedient Dances: A Jewish Choreographer in Soviet Russia” that featured live snippets of his work performed by two San Francisco Ballet students.

Severe, stylized, and danced barefoot, these briefest of moments from Rodin Sculptures, 1971, performed so carefully by these gleaming youngsters, were terrifically intriguing. Also tantalizing is Ross’s portrait, twenty-five-years-in-the-making, of Yakobson as a ceaseless experimenter who saw it as his life’s work to protect and encourage modernist impulses in ballet, despite facing systematic intimidation and erasure. “I believe he carried it to safety,” Ross said in closing her museum talk. “He was the through-line to innovation.”