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Apollo's Angels: A History of Ballet

3.94  ·  Rating Details ·  1,201 Ratings  ·  222 Reviews
One of The New York Times Book Review’s 10 Best Books of the Year

For more than four hundred years, the art of ballet has stood at the center of Western civilization. Its traditions serve as a record of our past. A ballerina dancing The Sleeping Beauty today is a link in a long chain of dancers stretching back to sixteenth-century Italy and France: Her graceful movements re
Hardcover, 643 pages
Published November 2nd 2010 by Random House (first published January 1st 2010)
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Feb 13, 2011 Maria rated it it was amazing
The subtitle, "A History of Ballet," says it clearly, and this is very probably the most definitive, satisfying book of its kind I've come across in years by an observant and savvy insider. Succinct, almost exhaustively detailed (but not, because the details are so interesting), there are two parts, France and the Classical Origins of Ballet, and Light from the East: Russian Worlds of Art. Part 1 has 6 chapters: Kings of Dance; the Enlightenment; French Revolution; Romantic Illusions & Rise ...more
Aug 06, 2016 Sarah rated it it was amazing
The history of ballet is presented as beautifully as you could hope. I expected to be bored by descriptions of 16th century court life or the Cecchetti method versus the Vaganova, but this is primarily an account of what ballet has meant to different people at different points in history, and it's fascinating. Some of it was unsurprising; for instance, ballet functioned as a code of mannerisms, to teach nobles how to be really good-looking while walking down the street. What I never knew is that ...more
Jun 23, 2014 Phoenix rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Cassandra Kay Silva
Jul 24, 2011 Cassandra Kay Silva rated it it was amazing
Beautiful! Beautiful writing, well compiled A+! This makes me want to dance, it makes me want to see all of the greatest ballets, it makes me want to live eat and breathe ballet. I loved the history, I loved that she explored the connections between ballet and music and I was blown away by the ending. I thought she put together a hard case and then just blasted you at the end with the conclusion. Ballet is a dying art! How many people would quickly jump to defend the great dancers of today, but ...more
Apr 10, 2011 Emily rated it liked it
Shelves: set-aside
This would be a great read for someone who doesn't know much about European history or culture but wants to read a 600-page book about ballet. (Whoever that may be.) As for me, I was frustrated by the chapters I read, passim, looking for as good an evocation of dance as I found in the introduction to the book. Instead I mostly found lengthy discussions of court politics, broad historical trends, and analyses of the music and literature of the day. All of which I'm interested in, but also suffici ...more
Tanushree Baruah
Aug 20, 2014 Tanushree Baruah rated it it was ok
Shelves: read-in-2014
A rather arduous read - Apollo's Angels starts off cumbersomely slow and can be quite dry. It is ironic for a book that has been written by a practitioner of the art, it is incredibly passionless. I love the ballet and I am very interested in its evolution - but this book to me read more as a barely skimming the surface history text. It seems detailed but in reality consists of a lot of space dedicated to two bit players and the political and cultural environments of the era. The book could have ...more
Sep 14, 2011 Susan rated it it was amazing
This history of ballet is breathtaking in the scope of its research. More than the story of the dancers and choreographers, it places the dance form in the larger context of the times and societies in which it originated and evolved. From the French court to revolutionary Russia to modernist New York, the author takes a deep look at the meaning of ballet and what it reflects about the culture that it represents. She addresses why such an aristocratic art form could establish itself so firmly in ...more
Apr 06, 2015 Duckie rated it really liked it
Shelves: all-the-sparkles
"Ballet training could easily lapse into a narrow and meaningless set of gymnastics exercises." - Jennifer Homans.

Ouch. Someone's not a fan of acro.

Aaron Arnold
Oct 28, 2016 Aaron Arnold rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history, read-in-2016
To my surprise, this appears to be the first general history of ballet ever written. That's a real shame, because as Homans shows, ballet is more than just another slowly dying elite artform like opera. Not only is it intimately linked to the other cornerstones of Western culture like music, theater, and film, it continues to set the standard for demonstrating how the movement of the body can produce beauty. You don't have to be a ballet fanatic to enjoy this book, but some familiarity helps, as ...more
The Library Lady
Feb 18, 2015 The Library Lady rated it it was ok
As someone who has been in love with ballet all my life and who dances (badly) twice a week, I wanted to love this book. But I didn't.

For a book on ballet, it has very little on the actual physical dance itself. I challenge you to find actual ballet terms in French mentioned in most chapters. There is very little on the clothing that is the essence of ballet. How the heck can you write a book about the history of ballet and brush past the development of the pointe shoe, that icon of ballet, or g
Jan 21, 2012 Valerie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Valerie by: Leslie Guzman, Bill Ward
This book ends on a mournful note, the ballerina staring wistfully back to the stage, as she exits stage left. The great composers who lived for the ballet are gone, the great ballet makers have left us, and ballet itself must soon take its final bow. However, as anyone who has seen a ballet will know, that final bow, can last as long as the closing act. The curtain swooshing open to reveal yet another artless arrangement of dancers, thanking us for our patronage.

That final chapter of ballet lea
Apr 11, 2013 Aoi rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Attempting to write a comprehensive history about the evolution of ballet is a daunting task; and Ms.Homans acquits herself in grand style. A note though: at 700 pages, this is a fairly detailed read, and it may not appeal much to readers unfamiliar with the ballet world.

The authorsketches the tale of ballet from its earliest origins in the European courts- its blossoming under the patronage of Louis the Sun King, the athletic rough-and-tumble style of the Italians, its maturing to be an indepen
Jul 23, 2012 Annie rated it liked it
I was so eager to read this book but by the end I was completely bored with it. Yes, it's a history of ballet, but I don't really have a better understanding of the art, even after 550 oversized pages. There was lots of talk of technique and steps, etc, but as a reader I had no baseline understanding of any of these things so I had no idea how they adapted or changed, depending upon the era or artist being discussed.

I'm not a dancer, but I appreciate dance and love attending the ballet. The aut
Eva Stachniak
Jan 12, 2014 Eva Stachniak rated it it was amazing
What a great book. A story of the ballet written by a gifted dancer and a historian. Each page delights and enlightens. It is a book to cherish, learn from and delight in.
Lise Petrauskas
Apollo's Angels: A History of Ballet by Jennifer Homans is excellent. It's definitely for people who are interested in the vocabulary of dance, but it's a very interesting history of Europe from the 15th century onward. Ballet started out as a court art and it transformed itself so fascinatingly through the French Revolution and onward to the present day.* To think that what began with Louis XIV was somehow to become the feather in the cap and pet project of Josef Stalin is pretty remarkable. It ...more
May 03, 2011 Becky rated it it was amazing
The hype has been that Homans says ballet is dead (or in a deep sleep) but that’s totally beside the point - it’s not the story she tells.

Not only is Apollo’s Angels authoritative and definitive, it’s also the first written history of ballet as a whole. Homans is in a good position to write it, she’s dance critic for the National Review. She was a professional dancer who danced with a number of first class US ballet companies and with a wide range in her repertoire. She is also a PhD in Modern
Nov 05, 2014 BookReader rated it really liked it
I am a complete novice to ballet and its origins, but Homans' book is illuminating on so many levels. I very much enjoyed the ways in which she describes the courts, the histories and the people. I think a lot of what popular culture says about ballet and a lot of European arts is that they were methods for recruiting the poor or for finding ways in which to take advantage of women's new found freedom, but this book really turns all of that wrong information into a new and enlightening context a ...more
Dara Salley
Feb 08, 2015 Dara Salley rated it liked it
This book is fun for those who would like to read an exhaustive (~600 page) history of ballet. I have a feeling that statement eliminates at least 90% of readers. If you’re still tuned in, this book is a gem. In the forward the authors states that she is a retired ballerina. No offense, but I had no idea ballerinas were so eloquent. Jennifer Homans takes an enormous amount of information and turns it into a (mostly) coherent narrative. The history of ballet encompasses political, economic, socia ...more
Bryan Park
Jul 21, 2016 Bryan Park rated it really liked it
A mostly great book. Homans traces the history of ballet from the court of Louis XIV in France, through Italy, Denmark, Russia, England, and America. It's like a field of dandelions. Ballet takes root, sprouts, flourishes, and then goes into decline in one place, but the seeds get carried to another place, where it again takes root, sprouts, flourishes, and then goes into decline, but again, the seeds drift to somewhere else. Some of the chapters are a slog, like the chapter on Soviet Russia. Pl ...more
Jan 05, 2013 Rachel rated it really liked it
Shelves: ballet-books
An astonishing achievement, read it from cover to cover and then bought the audio version which I dip into regularly. A massive sweep from the origins to the present day of the development of ballet, it's not the perfect history, there are glaring omissions in the sections on British ballet and some countries are bypassed altogether, and I don't agree with everything she says. For instance, my bug bear: Kenneth MacMillan is dealt with way too superficially and dismissively - the man was a troubl ...more
Olivia Waite
Aug 23, 2012 Olivia Waite rated it it was amazing
Shelves: five-stars, history
It's hard to write a comprehensive history of anything that is both thorough and engaging, and especially hard when the topic is ballet, which has a history of declining and reemerging at various times in various places around the world. Oh, and it has no system of notation for dance steps, so describing past dances is incredibly challenging.

So yeah, Jennifer Homans' project was ambitious -- and she totally nails it.

We go from the Sun King's court through the Romantics and Industrial Age, from S
Jun 19, 2012 Shauna rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Mar 10, 2011 Marks54 rated it it was amazing
This an amazing book - a complete history of ballet written by a trained historian who is also a trained dancer. I had not known anything about ballet with the exception of trips to the Nutcracker as a kid, but reading this got me to look up recordings of the stars on YouTube. The author also is skilled at shifting back and forth between the broad and general, such as ballet in the Cold War era, and the particulars, such as the lives of particular stars to the background behind specific ballets. ...more
Fascinating history, nor only of ballet, but of the geo-political factors influencing ballet in each major country or time period. While I disagree with her assessment that ballet is at an end-point (I believe it is once again in a period of lull, and will reinvigorate itself in some area of the world), she certainly is much more knowledgeable than and has a clearer viewpoint of the overall arc of ballet. I do wish she had touched slightly on ballet in Cuba; obviously strongly influenced by Russ ...more
Feb 08, 2015 Emily rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, dance
I liked about 98% of this book. The rich history, intriguing tidbits and portraits of the choreographers, dancers, and others who made ballet into what it is today were amazing. I took a lot of notes and marked lots of pages.
However, I disagree with Homans' conclusion that ballet is a dying art. I've seen lots of innovative choreography over the years. There are ballet companies everywhere it seems--at least one in every state. To me, ballet seems to be growing and becoming more democratic in it
Nov 09, 2016 Flora rated it really liked it
Discusses the origins of ballet and its development, which are heavily tied with historical events and zeitgeist of a particular era. It may be helpful to already have some background knowledge on the relevant events (e.g. the French Revolution, Imperial and Communist Russia). The book is divided into sections detailing the history of ballet in France (of course), Italy, Denmark, Russia, the UK and USA, along with the life histories of important choreographers (Bournonville, Diaghilev, Nijinsky, ...more
Brad Hodges
Jan 11, 2011 Brad Hodges rated it really liked it
This year I again embark on reading each of the books the New York Times has selected as the ten best of the year, and I start with Apollo's Angels, by Jennifer Homans. One of the reasons I like to do this is because I end up reading about things I otherwise never would have. This book, for example, is on a subject I knew hardly anything about: the history of ballet.

It is a coincidence that I was reading this book when I saw the wonderful film Black Swan, giving me a double-dunking in the waters
Dec 30, 2016 Marie-Anne rated it liked it
There was much that was interesting and informative in the book. I liked the early history and detailed information about ballets. In my opinion, it was very much centered on a few main eras, and much was left out or summarily dismissed. Definitely with a NYC Ballet bias. I especially did not care for the final conclusions of Balanchine as the pinnacle and the end of ballet.
Dec 09, 2016 Charlott rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Dana Mills
Nov 27, 2016 Dana Mills rated it it was amazing
best book about ballet I know. Masterpiece.
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Jennifer Homans is a former professional dancer trained at the North Carolina School of the Arts, the American Ballet Theater School, and the School of American Ballet. She performed with the Chicago Lyric Opera Ballet, the San Francisco Ballet and the Pacific Northwest Ballet. Currently the dance critic for The New Republic, she has also published with The New York Times, The International Herald ...more
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“In the period from 1945 to 1960, the number of orchestras in the country doubled, book sales rose some 250 percent, and art museums opened in most major cities. Ballet was quick to catch up: between 1958 and 1969 the number of ballet companies nationwide with more than twenty members nearly tripled.” 1 likes
“Behind this populism, however, lay a serious purpose. Balanchine wanted nothing less than to build a new civic culture in America. In 1952 he wrote to Kirstein, explaining that it was vital to have free performances of ballet, drama, and opera for children: “The new generation which would come to the performances will be the future citizens of the United States.…We have to do something for their souls and minds.” Or as he later put it in an interview in which he complained about the country’s rampant commercialism, “Nobody advertises soul. Nobody even mentions it, and that’s what we lack.” 1 likes
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