When she began as a student at the School of American Ballet, Jennifer Homans was an American kid from the Midwest and a typical child of the 1960s; her teachers were Russians, born in Imperial St. Petersburg at the end of the 19th century. They were unbelievably exotic, heavily perfumed women, shrouded in mystery, who insisted that the dancers follow the same etiquette and approach to life that they had learned from their teachers more than a half century earlier. They were, it seemed, links in a historical chain that could be followed all the way back to 16th Century France. From that moment Jennifer became intent on following that chain back, and she has spent the last ten years traveling the world to do so. The result is a truly remarkable book, informed equally by a passion for history and a passion for dance. It's absolutely unlike anything you've read before, and it is the definitive book on its subject.
Apollo's Angels begins in the courts of old Europe: at its origins, ballet was an aristocratic etiquette and a political event as much as it was an art. The story takes the reader from the 16th century through to our own time, from Italy and France to Britain, Denmark, Russia and contemporary America. The reader learns how ballet reflected the political and cultural upheavals of the past three hundred years, 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 '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 with the contemporary crisis in ballet 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 lavishly illustrated, it is the perfect gift and 'must read' for anyone interested in history, culture and art.
"Here is a book of immense ambition--a one volume history of ballet--and of considerable accomplishment....Homans shows herself to be both dogged and graceful as a historian--a rare and welcome combination of qualities...I follow her gratefully through the centuries as she traces the progress of ballet from its beginnings...Her deft intelligence and lively voice keep the book from sounding too academic, and its vast stock of information is cogently organized." --New York Review of Books
"It's hard to believe that a book like Jennifer Homans's Apollo's Angels, on a topic of such obvious interest and importance, has never been written before, but it apparently hasn't, and lovers of the ballet are lucky that it is Homans--herself a former dancer and the dance critic for The New Republic--who took up the task." --Harper's Magazine
"A magisterial and often moving history of the silent art...The author artfully choreographs a huge, sometimes unruly cast, producing a work of elegance, emotion and enduring importance." --Kirkus Reviews