Becky's Reviews > Apollo's Angels: A History of Ballet

Apollo's Angels by Jennifer Homans
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's review
Dec 01, 2010

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 European history from New York University where she teaches the history of dance. She knows her stuff.

The book starts with the statement that ballet has come to an end. She ends the book with the statement that ballet has come to an end. What falls between is everything that happened from the marriage of Henry II to Catherine de Medici in 1533 when the history of ballet begins, to the death of Balanchine in 1983.

Homans moves from the origins in Renaissance France to the developments of the Enlightenment, the storm of the French Revolution, the acrobatics of Italy, the preservation in Denmark, Russia before, during and after their Revolution, the English revival, Balanchine’s America and finally, an Epilogue - the end of ballet as we’ve known it she says - and she backs this claim.

The book is incredibly well researched and documented. It’s easy to read if you’re interested and have some small background. The wonder is that it’s Homans’ first book - but maybe the book she was meant to write.

I don’t know if I agree with Homans about the state of ballet today or not. Ballet has changed so much in the last 500 years that I really think a dry spell of 25 or so years makes it a bit too early to tell.
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