Apollo's Angels | Granta

  • Published: 01/09/2011
  • ISBN: 9781847082565
  • 140x20mm
  • 672 pages

Apollo’s Angels

Jennifer Homans

Apollo’s Angels is a major new history of classical ballet. It begins in the courts of Europe, where ballet was an aspect of aristocratic etiquette and a political event as much as it was an art. The story takes the reader from the sixteenth century through to our own time, from Italy and France to Britain, Denmark, Russia and contemporary America. The reader learns how ballet reflected political and cultural upheavals, how dance and dancers were influenced by the Renaissance and French Classicism, by Revolution and Romanticism, by Expressionism and Bolshevism, Modernism and the Cold War.

Homans shows how and why ‘the steps’ were never just the steps: they were a set of beliefs and a way of life. She takes the reader into the lives of dancers and traces the formal evolution of technique, choreography and performance. Her book ends by looking at the contemporary crisis in ballet now that ‘the masters are dead and gone’ and offers a passionate plea for the centrality of classical dance in our civilization. Apollo’s Angels is a book with broad popular appeal: beautifully written and illustrated, it is essential reading for anyone interested in history, culture and art.

Superb history of ballet from a dancer turned academic

Sunday Times

Homans, a former dancer, is exceptionally good at placing dance in the context of its times and explaining why events such as the French Revolution or the abolition of serfdom in Tsarist Russia affected the course and development of this art form

Sarah Crompton, Daily Telegraph

Homans writes with translucent beauty and authority of [Ballet's] lost past ... The case that Homans makes wholly convincingly, in the case of Taglioni and others, is that the great dancers and choreographers of the 18th to the 20th centuries succeeded at least in part because of their ability to reproduce the "emotional tone" of the eras in which they lived

Luke Jennings, Observer

The Author

Jennifer Homans was a professional dancer, trained at Balanchine’s School of American Ballet. She has a doctorate in European and American cultural history and is a Distinguished Scholar in Residence at NYU, where she is the Founding Director of the Center for Ballet and the Arts. She lives in NYC and is the dance critic for the New Yorker. Her debut, Apollo’s Angels: A History of Ballet (Granta, 2011) was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award.

More about the author →

From the Same Author

Mr. B

Jennifer Homans

George Balanchine did for dance what Picasso did for painting: he changed the art and the way we see the human form. In this magisterial cultural history, Jennifer Homans follows Balanchine from his childhood in Tsarist St Petersburg, through the upheavals of the Russian Revolution, two World Wars, and the cultural Cold War, to New York, where he co-founded and ran the New York City Ballet.

His influences were myriad: he considered himself Georgian, yet did not visit his ancestral homeland until his fifties; he was deeply impressed by the grandeur and beauty of the Orthodox Church, but equally absorbed by the new rhythms coming out of Harlem in the 1930s. He was part of the Russian avant-garde and excited by surrealism and other artistic movements, collaborating broadly, with figures like Matisse, Diaghilev and Stravinsky. Above all, he was inspired by the young dancers he worked with, sculpting their bodies even as they reshaped his imagination, often to the point of romantic infatuation. Mr B. gathered around him successive generations of people who believed in his artistic vision as fervently as he did, and both the passions that animated him and the difficulties of his life – personal losses, bouts of ill health, and spiritual crises – resonate in his dances, which speak poignantly of love, loss and mortality.

With unprecedented access to his papers and those who knew him, Homans tells a story of love and exile; of colossal talent and the boundless energy it took to reimagine dance. This is an epic portrait of one of the most fascinating figures of the twentieth century.