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Apollo's Angels: A History of Ballet Hardcover – November 2, 2010

4.5 out of 5 stars 79 customer reviews

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A Look Inside Apollo's Angels

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Nikolaj Hübbe in La Sylphide
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From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. In an important and original work of cultural history, New Republic dance critic Homans places ballet--an art often viewed as hermetic and esoteric--in the larger context of the times and societies in which it evolved, flourished, and flagged, only to be revitalized by an infusion of fresh ideas. That revitalization could come from a ballet master like Jean-Georges Noverre, presented by Homans as an important Enlightenment figure whose ideas on reforming ballet were consonant with those of Diderot on reforming theater. Renewal came from the genius of dancers like Marie Taglioni, the incarnation of romanticism, whose originality, Homans indisputably shows, reached far beyond dancing up on her tippy-toes. But in a closing section that will be hotly debated, this exhilarating account sounds a despairing note: "ballet is dying," she declares. Not only is the creative well running dry and performances dull, but more crucially, Homans sees today's values as inimical to those of ballet ("We are all dancers now," she writes, evoking what she sees as a misguided egalitarianism that denies an art rooted in discipline and virtuosity). Her cultural critique, as well as her expansive and penetrating view of ballet's history, recommend this book to all readers who care about the history of the arts as well as their present and possible future. Color and b&w illus. (Nov.)
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 672 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; First Edition edition (November 2, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400060605
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400060603
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.8 x 9.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (79 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #409,642 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By yan ek on December 24, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
From everything I heard and read prior to receiving and reading this book for myself I expected to be irritated by it. It is extremely well written and some obscure details the author brings out with great clarity. I enjoyed everything except the epilogue and even that is not as bad as what I'd feared. The author clearly thinks that the present moment in ballet is the final death knell. Print matter is supposed to be dead, the theatre is supposed to be dead, classical music is supposed to be dead... It is just too facile an assumption. Some of the points I agree with but cannot see them in such dire terms. Dancers have become universal in their technique and lots of "cookie cutter" dancers are manufactured. Some of this is very regrettable but it is the world we live in now. Globalization is not restricted in dance or anywhere else. Choreography certainly is not at the low ebb she suggests. There will not BE another Balanchine or Ashton. Get over it. So many interesting choreographers are working just now it is impossible to see enough to actually judge. Someone else will come up that grabs everyone's attention and for awhile everyone will love them and then think after that nothing they do is any good any longer. That is our fault as critics in not allowing them to develop freely and being patient in their choreographic life. Everyone wants the next great ballet!!! Great choreographers makes bad ballet sometimes but if even one is good that is enough.

When Balanchine, Ashton,Tudor and the other great lions of dance were creating it was a rare opportunity that the major voices in dance were invited in to make ballets for other companies. Balanchine created only a handful of works outside NYCB and the same is true for Ashton and the Royal.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Put everything down and read this book! It will hold you spellbound. A beautifully written and produced history of ballet, this is a book that will be treasured by the ballet lover. The author covers ballet's earliest history in 16th century court dance up to the present. There are plentiful illustrations and photographs, and the author's commentary (she is dance critic for The New Republic) is incisive and informed. She writes glowingly of Balanchine and describes his major work. Though I knew much of the history of ballet through my reading, the author's critical lens casts a new light on this evanescent art form. I give my wholehearted appreciation to Jennifer Homans for transmuting the beauty of dance to the printed page.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I know ballet history. And I love dance. I expected that Apollo's Angels would be a pleasant addition to my shelves of ballet books and maybe add a few tidbits of information I did not know.

But this book as so much more. It's written by a thinking ex-dancer who can put the history of dance into a philosophical and cultural context. I'm sure that at nearly every page I was exclaiming ``oh, that's why'' or ``now I know.'' I think her explanation of the origins of ballet in the etiquette and self image of the Sun King's court is the best I've ever read.

I don't think I ever really understood the deep spirituality that underlies Balanchine's choreography until I read this book. It made me go back and spend hours watching videos of long-gone dancers on YouTube.

I'd quibble over a few things. Why didn't she include Mark Morris for example? And what's coming out of China and Japan? And I'm not sure her prognosis about the future of ballet need be quite so glum.

But at bottom, this book is a must for anyone who is halfway interested in the history of ballet, or, for that matter, the cultural history of the early 20th century. Thank you Jennifer Homans!
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Format: Kindle Edition
This is a lovely effort by an artist to capture the history of her art. Unfortunately, it was written by an artist and while I enjoyed the book, as a trained historian, I really did want to bash it against the walls at times.

"Apollo's Angels" is billed as an expansive look at the history of ballet, but it is not that. At least, not after the first quarter or so of the book. The history presented is the party line, what dancers are taught to believe and not question. It is also quite narrow in scope, looking only at the ballet schools that toe the traditional line. The cheaper balletic entertainments and the traveling companies that do specialty presentation are not addressed at all -- and then the author has the audacity to say that there is nothing new in ballet! Well, it's like reading only classic books and then deciding advant garde is dead. It's not good scholarship.

However, the history detailing the evolution of courtly dance to the ballets that are considered classics in our own time is superb. If it's a narrow history, I will applaud the depth of the book in this one narrow area. It's fascinating to find out that ballets I know and like are much changed from their original form even when they are advertised as true classics, the stump speeches of dance.

The author, sadly, never questions her sources or considers their bias. She wrote down the party line even when her own research should have easily shown her the logical inconsistency of it. If Italy had no balletic tradition, where were all these fabulous visiting Italian stars coming from? And, if Balanchine didn't like his dancers a particular way, why on earth do they all look the same in the included pictures. Why was there a terrible backlash against his physical ideals.
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