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Apollo's Angels
Cover of Apollo's Angels
Apollo's Angels
A History of Ballet
Borrow Borrow

NATIONAL BESTSELLER

For more than four hundred years, the art of ballet has stood at the center of Western civilization. Its traditions serve as a record of our past. Lavishly illustrated and beautifully told, Apollo's Angels--the first cultural history of ballet ever written--is a groundbreaking work. From ballet's origins in the Renaissance and the codification of its basic steps and positions under France's Louis XIV (himself an avid dancer), the art form wound its way through the courts of Europe, from Paris and Milan to Vienna and St. Petersburg. In the twentieth century, émigré dancers taught their art to a generation in the United States and in Western Europe, setting off a new and radical transformation of dance. Jennifer Homans, a historian, critic, and former professional ballerina, wields a knowledge of dance born of dedicated practice. Her admiration and love for the ballet, asEntertainment Weekly notes, brings "a dancer's grace and sure-footed agility to the page."

NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY THE NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW

  • LOS ANGELES TIMES
  • SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE
  • PUBLISHERS WEEKLY



  • NATIONAL BESTSELLER

    For more than four hundred years, the art of ballet has stood at the center of Western civilization. Its traditions serve as a record of our past. Lavishly illustrated and beautifully told, Apollo's Angels--the first cultural history of ballet ever written--is a groundbreaking work. From ballet's origins in the Renaissance and the codification of its basic steps and positions under France's Louis XIV (himself an avid dancer), the art form wound its way through the courts of Europe, from Paris and Milan to Vienna and St. Petersburg. In the twentieth century, émigré dancers taught their art to a generation in the United States and in Western Europe, setting off a new and radical transformation of dance. Jennifer Homans, a historian, critic, and former professional ballerina, wields a knowledge of dance born of dedicated practice. Her admiration and love for the ballet, asEntertainment Weekly notes, brings "a dancer's grace and sure-footed agility to the page."

    NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY THE NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW

  • LOS ANGELES TIMES
  • SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE
  • PUBLISHERS WEEKLY



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    • Chapter 1

      Kings of Dance

      Music and Dancing, not only give great pleasure but have the honour of depending on Mathematics, for they consist in number and in measure. And to this must be added Painting and Perspective and the use of very elaborate Machines, all of which are necessary for the ornament of Theatres at Ballets and at Comedies. Therefore, whatever the old doctors may say, to employ oneself at all this is to be a Philosopher and a Mathematician.

      -Charles Sorel

      According to Aristotle, ballet expresses the actions of men, their customs and their passions. -Claude-François Ménestrier

      The king's grandeur and majesty derive from the fact that in his presence his subjects are unequal. . . . Without gradation, inequality, and difference, order is impossible. -Le Duc de Saint- Simon

      It is to this noble subordination that we owe the art of seemliness, the elegance of custom, the exquisite good manners with which this magnificent age [of Louis XIV] is imprinted. -Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand

      WHEN THE FRENCH king Henri II wedded the Florentine Catherine de Medici in 1533, French and Italian culture came into close and formal alliance, and it is here that the history of ballet begins. The French court had long reveled in tournaments, jousting, and masquerades, but even these impressive and lavish entertainments fell short of those traditionally mounted by the princes and nobility of Milan, Venice, and Florence: flaming torch dances, elaborate horse ballets with hundreds of mounted cavaliers arranged in symbolic formations, and masked interludes with heroic, allegorical, and exotic themes.

      The ballet master Guglielmo Ebreo, writing in Milan in 1463, for example, described festivities that included fireworks, tightrope walkers, conjurers, and banquets with up to twenty courses served on solid gold platters with peacocks wandering on the tables. On another occasion, in 1490, Leonardo da Vinci helped to stage Festa de paradiso in Milan, featuring the Seven Planets along with Mercury, the three Graces, the seven Virtues, nymphs, and the god Apollo. The Italians also performed simple but elegant social dances known as balli and balletti, which consisted of graceful, rhythmic walking steps danced at formal balls and ceremonies, or on occasion stylized pantomime performances: the French called them ballets.1

      Catherine (who was only fourteen when she married) dominated the French court for many years after Henri's death in 1559, bringing her Italianate taste to bear on French courtiers-and kings. Her sons, the French kings Charles IX and Henri III, carried the tradition forward: they admired the floats, chariots, and parades of allegorical performances they saw in Milan and Naples, and shared their mother's keen interest in ceremonial and theatrical events. In their hands, even strictly Catholic processionals could morph into colorful masquerades, and both monarchs were known to promenade through the streets at night dressed en travesti, adorned with gold and silver veils and Venetian masks, accompanied by courtiers in similar attire. Chivalric themes enacted with dancing, singing, and demonstrations of equestrian skill made for impressive theatrical collages, such as the joust held at Fontainebleau in 1564, which included a full-scale reenactment of a castle siege and battles between demons, giants, and dwarfs on behalf of six beautiful nymphs in captivity.

      These festivities, so seemingly gay in their extravagances, were not mere frivolous diversions. Sixteenth-century France was beset with intractable and savage civil and religious conflicts: the French kings, drawing on a deep tradition of Italian Renaissance...

    About the Author-
    • Jennifer Homans was a professional dancer trained at the North Carolina School of the Arts, American Ballet Theatre, and The School of American Ballet. She performed with the Chicago Lyric Opera Ballet, the San Francisco Ballet, and Pacific Northwest Ballet. Currently the dance critic for The New Republic, she has written for The New York Times, the International Herald Tribune, The New York Review of Books, and The Australian. She earned her B.A. at Columbia University and her Ph.D. in modern European history at New York University, where she is a Distinguished Scholar in Residence.

    Reviews-
    • Publisher's Weekly

      Starred review from February 28, 2011
      Holmes's magisterial history of ballet is even better in audio. Kirsten Potter has a deep, smooth, sensuous voice that sounds as cultivated as the art form she describes. With pacing that allows the listener to savor the musicality of former ballerina Holmes's sentences, their lulling alliteration and lively wit, Potter brings the ambitious study of ballet's 500-year history (and bleak prognostications for its future) to life. Potter's French accent could use a bit of work; it's clumsy and forced, but doesn't detract too much from the pleasure of this panoramic look at the art's singularity, the discipline it demands (in Holmes's phrase, it is "a grammar of movement"), and the liberation it allows. A Random hardcover.

    • Kirkus

      September 15, 2010

      A magisterial and often moving history of the silent art by a former dancer and current journalist.

      New Republic dance critic Homans confronts her historical problems immediately—most ballets are lost. Because of difficulties with notation, the evanescent nature of movement itself and the relatively late arrival of visual-recording technology, we will never really know how Vaslav Nijinsky moved—or how his many other predecessors created, defined and refined the dance. The author also expresses her fear that ballet is dying, a theme she revisits in a sadly valedictory section at the end. After stating these admonitions and worries, Homans leaps into European history, beginning with the 16th-century French, whose lavish court entertainments fathered the art. Later, she notes that Charles Perrault's 1697 story "Sleeping Beauty" would achieve enormous significance in ballet history (it was Balanchine's earliest and last dance experience). The author examines the increasing importance of story in ballets of the 18th century and credits Marie Antoinette for aiding ballet's success. In the 19th century, the ballerina began to soar in importance (here the author tells the story of Marie Taglioni). The scene then shifts to Denmark, where August Bournonville inspired a dance revolution. Next is Italy, where the art flourished before political and military matters fractured it. Unsurprisingly, Homans devotes many pages to the Russians, whose techniques of training and staging were dominant for decades. She looks at the Ballets Russes, Sergei Diaghilev, Nijinsky, Balanchine, Nijinska, Ulanova, Nureyev, Baryshnikov and other luminaries known and forgotten. The British had their (brief) time in the sun, but Homans shifts her focuse to Balanchine (who deservedly dominates the final sections), Joffrey, Robbins and many others in the American school.

      The author artfully choreographs a huge, sometimes unruly cast, producing a work of elegance, emotion and enduring importance.

      (COPYRIGHT (2010) KIRKUS REVIEWS/NIELSEN BUSINESS MEDIA, INC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.)

    • BOOKLIST, starred review « "Homans brings her intimate experience as a dancer and her discerning dance critic's eye to her fascinating and exquisitely detailed history of ballet, an art that combines rigor and idealism....[a] glorious landmark study of ballet's ideals and enchantment."
    • PUBLISHERS WEEKLY, starred review « "An important and original work of cultural history...Her cultural critique, as well as her expansive and penetrating view of ballet's history, recommend this book to all readers who care about the history of the arts as well as their present and possible future."
    • Jacques d'amboise "Each page of this luminous work delights, enlightens and beckons. Every dancer should live with this book, of course, but every person who loves literature and history, is word-struck and story-addicted, should give themselves a treat with Apollo's Angels. Treasure this treasure."
    • Richard Sennett, author of The Craftsman "This is a wonderful book about how ballet evolved. Written by a gifted dancer, Apollo's Angels is dance history seen from the inside. The wonder to me is how much this accessible, beautifully-crafted book reveals about the times and places in which ballets were made; it makes culture come alive."
    • Leon Wieseltier "A dancer who is also a historian -- who ever dreamed of such an improbable creature? But here is Jennifer Homans and her indispensable book. She puts the understanding of ballet on a whole new footing. Finally the delicacies of ballet have been restored to the indelicacies of history, and the art seems even more wondrous for it. Apollo's Angels is an enlightenment, a remarkable feat of scholarship and sensibility, an affecting mixture of criticism and devotion, an intellectual joy."
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