Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Apollo's Angels

Apollo's Angels by Jennifer Homans is a massive, meticulous book that chronicles the history of ballet. I wouldn't necessarily recommend it for everyone (hudrends of pages dissecting the origins of ballet within 18th century royal courts might be best left for ardent ballet fans), but I found it to be an interesting and enjoyable read that has given me a new level of appreciation for an art form that I've always loved.

Having studied ballet for many years growing up, and having continued to go to ballet performances as an adult, I felt that I came to this book with a little more knowledge than the average person on the street. Once I got into it, though, I discovered how superficial much of my prior understanding of ballet had been. After covering the aforementioned court dances of European royalty, Homans breaks down the history of ballet on a regional basis-- Italy, Denmark, pre- and post-Revolutionary Russia, England, and America. This structure allows her to delve into the cultural nuances and historical developments of each location and how they resulted in very specific technical and artistic styles of dance.

The author's writing is smart and engaging throughout the book, but becomes truly poetic in the chapter about the American ballet tradition that grew up around George Balanchine during the 20th century. Homans herself studied at the School of American Ballet and danced professionally in several companies that subscribe to Balanchine's style. It's clear from her writing that this piece of ballet history holds a special place in her heart. Because of this, it's all the more poignant when she reaches the conclusion of her epilogue- that ballet is, indeed, a dying art form. Homans states that, in writing this book, she had hoped to use history to find the seeds of the future of ballet. What she found instead was a bleak outlook for dance. She argues that the fact that most major ballet companies are simply reviving the works of the major choreographers of the past and not taking dance in any new directions that will truly advance the tradition (she dismisses most of the avant garde works being created) means that ballet will continue to become less and less relevant to popular culture (as opposed to the momentum it found at other points throughout history, when crowds would line up for tickets to performances in New York, London, and St. Petersburg).

As I said, this isn't a book for everyone, but if you have an existing interest in ballet, I'd highly recommend reading it as a way of deepening your ballet knowledge...before it (perhaps?) becomes extinct.

1 comment:

  1. I know next to nothing about ballet, but it still makes me sad that it may be a dying art form. I really hope that isn't the case as it is so beautiful and expressive and there is really nothing like it.



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