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Apollo's Angels: A History of Ballet

3.9 of 5 stars 3.90  ·  rating details  ·  831 ratings  ·  187 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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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
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
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The history of ballet is presented as beautifully as you could hope for. 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 ...more
Cassandra Kay Silva
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
Jan 21, 2012 Valerie rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  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
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
Eva Stachniak
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.
Tanushree Baruah
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
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
Bryan Park
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
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
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
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
Olivia Waite
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
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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
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
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
LAPL Reads
During this end-of-the-year holiday season, numerous presentations of The Nutcracker ballet are being performed with ballet dancers dressed as sugar plums, candy canes, waltzing flowers, and other holiday treats. Jennifer Homans’ Apollo’s Angels: a History of Ballet is especially wonderful to read right now. It will be of interest to everyone, not only balletomanes who may think they know everything about this dance form, but for those who know nothing about it, and in particular for those who h ...more
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
Wow. Wow. Wow. This book has been on my nightstand for a while now - I've been reading it in bits and pieces, but recently have been devouring it in large chunks. It really was amazing. Granted, you kind of must be quite serious in your interest in the topic to take in all 550 pages of ballet history. And it is quite an expansive and detailed history, up until Balanchine. I think this is where some critics start to have issues with Homans. She basically admits to thinking ballet has been dying a ...more
Brad Hodges
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 03, 2012 Janice added it
Brilliant, comprehensive history of ballet. I read the pre-20th century chapters with admiration for her scholarship and especially for her skill at contextualizing. Then I got to the Ballets Russes and Modernism, and I devoured the book the way i do a terrific novel. She writes with in-the-body knowledge of the New York City Ballet choreographers; I particularly appreciated her discussion of Jerome Robbins, with whose work I'm far less familiar than i am with Balanchine. A long quote about Robb ...more
I absolutely loved this book. Homans is a wonderful guide through the history of ballet. Her chapters are expertly crafted. Her descriptions are rich and engaging. This is one of the most wonderful books I have read in a long time.

As a former dancer, I had either danced or seen the canonical ballets she spends the most time discussing. However, when I watched or learned the ballets, I never knew their context. I had no idea the chrononological order of the ballets. Since reading this book I have
A history of ballet. I gave it 3 stars because it was mixed - the first half was so hard to get through - I almost gave up. But then the modern era kicked in and we moved to Russia and the book picked up steam.

If you are not a dancer or have not studied ballet (like me) then a lot of this book is confusing and not clear - it is hard to understand the differences in national styles or within positions if you don't dance. And ballet is a visual art so a verbal description just doesn't do it. The a
This book had great potential, but fell flat. Homans isn't a very good writer, is long-winded, and idolizes Balanchine to the point of canonization for sainthood. She also contradicts her arguments, stating in the preface, for example, that in this work she "tried to avoid...the materialist idea that art is shaped primarily (or exclusively) by economics, politics, and social relations," yet devoting entire chapters to ballet's foundation in 17th and 18th century French court (talk about materia ...more
Holly Cline
I loved this book so much. I probably enjoyed it more than anything else I've read in a long while. The disclaimer here is that it's right up my alley. I love history, and I love ballet. A perfect match. Ballet is the connecting thread through history as far back as the 16th century. As with all art, you're shown how the historical and political context of each major time period affected dancing and the dancers themselves (complete with mini mini history lessons outside of dance along the way).

Rachel C.
A 2010 NYT Notable, and one of their 10 best books of the year. Can't say that I think as highly of it. I mean, I LOVE ballet and even I found myself bored and skimming a lot. Homans clearly did a lot of research, but she also clearly had difficultly wrangling all of her material and editing it into a compelling narrative. It doesn't help her cause that dance is near impossible to describe on paper; it's something you have to see, hear and experience - even for dancers themselves.

Unlike theatre
I found this book to be quite interesting, albeit a tad slow moving at some points. Having danced my entire life, I did not have the issue of understanding the technical discussions (though it would be a huge problem for anyone who does not have an intimate knowledge of the technique of ballet).

My biggest issue with Apollo's Angels is the reverential tone that Homans takes when discussing Balanchine. Perhaps it is because I am not American, nor was I trained in the American style (RAD dancer ri
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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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