Monday, March 30, 2015

Apollo's Angels by Jennifer Homans

Posted by Rebecca Brendel


Reviewed by: Becky Brendel

What I Read: Apollo's Angels: A History of Ballet by Jennifer Homans

Find It @YCLD: Here!

What It's About: Written by a former professional ballerina, this comprehensive work covers the entire history of ballet, from its beginnings to what the author sees as a present-day stagnation. Each country's approach to ballet is given an equal amount of attention, with special emphasis placed on how the dance's forms reflected and shaped the culture of that country at the time. The book therefore becomes not just a history of dance, but of how cultures borrow and modify each other's content to create something they believe reflects their individual national characters - and of how any art form must evolve over time if it's to survive.

What I Thought: I knew nothing about ballet before beginning this book - I'd picked it up in the hopes of learning the plots to famous ballets - but Homans's passion and precision shone through every page. The book worked just as well as a comprehensive history of Europe as it did as a ballet book; I ended up checking out more history books after finishing this one because I wanted to find out more about the events she was only able to allude to here. The bigger questions Homans asks about art also remain relevant: does codifying art stifle it? Is it necessarily bad when things change? How do people remake and reinterpret existing stories (or dances) in their own images? This book made me think, but the lively cast of dancers and directors - including Louis XIV the "Sun King" of France, himself, who used to dance as Apollo in court ballets - and Homans's writing style also kept me engaged.

Readalikes: Chasing Venus by Andrea Wulf, for more well-told history with a twist; From Splendor to Revolution by Julia P. Gelardi, for more opulence (and anyone particularly interested in the Russian chapters)

Or look this book up on NoveList!

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