The biggest difference between Robert de Warren the author and Robert de Warren the ballet director is movement. Even at 76, de Warren, the retired artistic director of Sarasota Ballet, doesn’t sit still — unless he’s in his Bird Key home, holed up in his study, writing with vivid clarity stories pulled from his life.
De Warren’s 402-page memoir, “Destiny’s Waltz: In Step with Giants,” published in July by Eloquent Books, not only required stillness, it gave de Warren, a man who has spent more than four decades directing and choreographing ballets, back pain so nagging his doctor ordered him to stretch every hour.
“I’m one of those people who can get lost in their work, no matter what it is,” de Warren says. “Ballet taught me how to concentrate and focus, but I’ve never had to be sedentary.”
He trusted his storytelling instincts and let the words flow for long periods of time despite his doctor’s orders. Often, his wife, Jacqueline, to whom the book is dedicated, would enter his office at night, snapping de Warren out of a trance-like state, urging him to go to bed.
“I suppose, in a way, there’s a similarity between choreographing and writing,” he says, crossing his legs and smiling. “There’s vocabulary and expression. When I’m choreographing, I get a sequence of ideas in my head and I have to get them out as they appear. I’m not one of those choreographers who plans every movement in advance.”
When de Warren turned in his first draft at 350,000 words, his editors insisted he whittle it in half. When he pruned it down to 120,000 words, they asked him to beef it back up.
“Prose is so much more complicated,” de Warren says. “Your ideas have to be succinct. Writing has taught me how to measure my ideas with as few words as possible.”
The book’s original titled, “Dance My Destiny,” was changed to “Destiny’s Waltz,” and its subtitle, “In Step with Giants,” was a suggestion from friend Michael Halpern, a longtime Sarasota Ballet patron.
The memoir was mostly inspired by his experiences in Iran, where he lived for 11 years while he directed the National Ballet of Iran and, later, the Mahalli Dancers of Iran, a job that introduced him to British and Persian royalty, including the Shah of Iran and his wife, the Empress Farah Pahlavi, with whom he still communicates.
He started writing the book in 1980, shortly after leaving the Middle East following the Iranian Revolution, but was soon forced to abandon the project after being appointed artistic director of Northern Ballet Theatre Company, in West Yorkshire, England, and later, La Scala Theatre Ballet, in Milan, Italy.
“It wasn’t all rosy,” says de Warren, mentioning the last chapter in the book in which he describes his time spent by Rudolf Nureyev’s bedside. The famous Russian ballet dancer, who was a close friend and colleague, died of AIDS in 1993.
“If anything,” de Warren says, “I wished I had written it sooner. Some things I look back on and I wonder, ‘What on earth was I thinking?’ But I suppose that’s how it goes when you’re writing about your life. You must be truthful and sincere no matter how crooked or wicked or nice.”
Contact Heidi Kurpiela at firstname.lastname@example.org
To order hardcover copies of Robert de Warren’s memoir, “Destiny’s Waltz,” visit www.destinyswaltz.com. Copies are also available on Amazon.com.
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