In Dancing on My Grave, former American Ballet Theatre star Kirkland wrote of her ascent from skinny-legged student to principal dancer, her romances with Peter Martins, Mikhail Baryshnikov and Patrick Bissell (who are evaluated for their performances both on and off their feet), and her skirmishes with cocaine addiction. The Shape of Love begins in 1986, when a drug-free Kirkland, absent from the stage for two years, makes a smashing comeback with the Royal Ballet and finds a new career as a teacher. While Dancing on My Grave may have had wide appeal for the names named and the drugs inhaled, The Shape of Love will be of interest chiefly to Kirkland fans and balletomanes fascinated with the intellectual and emotional challenges of interpreting choreographers Kenneth MacMillan and Marius Petipa.
One can't help but admire Kirkland's struggles, passion and guts—a stress fracture slows her down but doesn't stop her. But too often she comes off as a prissy schoolmarm railing against today's callow, leotard-clad youth. And frequently her writing has the tang of melodrama: "The random madness of the outside world hit me again. Were any of us really immune? Would our sublime ideals protect us?" At those moments, the reader may be tempted to mutter, "Put a toe shoe in it, Gelsey." (Doubleday; $19.95)