Book Review: Apollo’s Angels

A vivid look back at an ever evolving yet constant art form which has impacted the culture and policies of countries around the globe.

How many times have you heard that ballet is the foundation of all dance? Yes, modern, jazz, lyrical and contemporary dance are all rooted in ballet, but what about ballet’s roots. Where did it originate? Who were its patriarchs? And like any art form, how has ballet evolved throughout the centuries?

Jennifer Homans answers these questions and much more in her highly anticipated book “Apollo’s Angels A History of Ballet.” Well-researched and written with clear intent and vivid descriptions, including dances such as La Sylphide, Giselle and The Sleeping Beauty, this book is a page turner for any avid dancer or dance lover.

Homans takes us on an eye-opening journey through time from King Louis the XIV’s court and the French Revolution to Peter the Great and Stalin’s Soviet Ballet to the British dance movement and the dance explosion here in America in the 1960s. Through all these economic and political changes ballet has not only survived but in many cases has thrived thanks to ballet pioneers and enthusiasts such as Jean-Georges Noverre, Marie Taglioni, Sergei Diaghilev, Vaslav Nijinsky, Frederick Ashton and George Balanchine and many more. I can’t thank them enough for dedicating their lives and risking everything to preserve the art form.

Unfortunately this isn’t the case today. Homans book ends on a kind of depressing note. As she bluntly puts it all the masters of ballet are dead and gone. This leaves the new generation of choreographers and ballet dancers without a guiding light to follow. Because of this Homans says she believes the art form is dying out.

“I now feel sure that ballet is dying. The occasional glimmer of a good performance or a fine dancer is not a ray of future hope but the last glow of a dying ember, and our intense preoccupation with re-creating history is more than a momentary diversion: we are watching ballet go, documenting its past and its passing before it fades altogether.”

I don’t believe this. Or maybe I don’t want to believe this. Ballet has survived far worse throughout its history and I believe the next great Balanchine is out there somewhere. We just have to wait. Until then, please continue to support the art form by going to performances and making donations. We can’t do anything about ballet’s past but we certainly can play a role in its future.

You can also see this review at Theater Jones.


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