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by Carol Easton.
Little, Brown, 560 pages,
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Agnes de Mille (1906­1993) has been described as "perhaps the best dancer ever to write and the best writer ever to dance." As a choreographer, "she created new ways of seeing and thinking about dance." And "she brought fresh air into ballet and irrevocably changed dance on the Broadway stage" with her work in Oklahoma, which converted dance from the peripheral ornament of a musical show to an integral part of the action. As a writer of elegant, witty, sometimes impassioned memoirs, she exercised the autobiographer's traditional right to tell things her way. Practically speaking, she condensed the trivial, minimized the embarrassing (unless it could be turned into comedy), and omitted what she preferred not to remember. Ms. Easton's biography follows De Mille regarding the trivial and, to some extent, the embarrassing, but what the dancer chose not to remember has been thoroughly researched and proves thoroughly interesting. Her mother, the daughter of Henry George of the single-tax theory, was a more possessive and misguided parent than De Mille ever admitted, and her uncle Cecil, the director of flamboyant Hollywood epics, a source of unprovoked resentment. Ms. Easton's analysis of the content of De Mille's ballets is intelligent, her use of quotation adroit. Her biography can only add to De Mille's posthumous stature as a major contributor to dance in America. De Mille could be hell to work with, but she was a grandly amusing woman and a wonder of accomplishment.

Don't Die Before
You're Dead

by Yevgeny Yevtushenko.
Random House,
415 pages, $25.00.
Buy Don't Die Before You're Dead

Mr. Yevtushenko's exciting novel about the 1991 attempt to overthrow Mikhail Gorbachev's government puts the reader right on the barricades along with the author. It throws together personal observation, real and imaginary characters, actual and fictional events, satire and tragedy, past and present, prose and poetry. The fictional characters include an honest, and therefore disaffected, policeman, an émigrée poet returned from Paris, and a former soccer star fallen into drunken decay. The real characters, with the exception of Gorbachev, Boris Yeltsin, and the author, are given generic names such as "the Crystal-Clear Communist" and "the Great Degustator." The fictional characters permit the author to portray aspects of Soviet society such as the expatriate literary colony in Paris and the future of superannuated athletes. The soccer player provides some superb comedy--a ludicrous teenage drinking party and a tournament in which a team of creaky but wily veterans tries to lose at least one game to its generous but inept local hosts. The dazzling variety of effects in Mr. Yevtushenko's semi-history winds down with a wistful poem, "Goodbye Our Red Flag," and a postscript denouncing the war in Chechnya: "Now Russia is nowhere--between the past and the future. Nevertheless that is better than ending up behind the barbed wire of the past. Maturity is measured by the number of lost illusions."

The Octopus's Garden

by Cindy Lee Van Dover.
Addison-Wesley, 183 pages, $20.00.
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Ms. Van Dover is an oceanographer and a former pilot of Alvin, a deep-sea submersible used to explore the ocean floor, once thought to be lifeless, now known to harbor a variety of organisms. At 9,000 to 12,000 feet below the surface strange creatures cluster around hydrothermal vents and subsist on chemicals extracted from the erupting water. The vents sometimes create chimneys that can collapse at a touch, which makes maneuvering Alvin a delicate matter, and there is a constant possibility of landslides and earthquakes. The author describes this bizarre underwater world with a mixture of almost lyrical visual pleasure and a run of technical terms to mind-boggle the uninitiated. She also reports some unnerving details: deepwater shrimp are disgustingly inedible, and Alvin, which is the size of two bathtubs, carries three people on its nine-hour hitches.

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