Jennifer Homans’ Apollo’s Angels: A History of Ballet (Random House), the first cultural history of ballet ever written, chronicles how this art form has stood at the center of Western civilization for more than 400 years.
Homans, a Distinguished Scholar in Residence at NYU, details how ballet was shaped by the Renaissance and Classicism, the Enlightenment and Romanticism, Bolshevism, Modernism, and the Cold War. Such an undertaking is formidable as ballet has no written texts or standardized notation. Rather, it is a storytelling art passed on from teacher to student. Moreover, while ballet’s language is shared by dancers everywhere, its artists have developed distinct national styles. French, Italian, Danish, Russian, English, and American traditions each have their own expression, often formed in response to political and societal upheavals.
A former professional dancer, Homans traces the evolution of technique, choreography, and performance, unveiling the intricacies of the art with descriptions of dances and the artists who made them.
“Homans’ accomplishment is akin to setting the most delicate and beautiful of all the imperial Fabergé eggs into a fissure high on Mount Rushmore and tracking its unlikely survival,” writes the New York Times Book Review, which named the work one of the “10 Best Books of 2010.” “And the question of ballet’s survival lies at the core of Homans’ moving story.”