Apollo's Angels

Apollo's Angels

A History of Ballet

Book - 2010 | 1st ed
Average Rating:
Rate this:
One of The New York Times Book Review 's 10 Best Books of the Year

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. A ballerina dancing The Sleeping Beauty today is a link in a long chain of dancers stretching back to sixteenth-century Italy and France: Her graceful movements recall a lost world of courts, kings, and aristocracy, but her steps and gestures are also marked by the dramatic changes in dance and culture that followed. Ballet has been shaped by the Renaissance and Classicism, the Enlightenment and Romanticism, Bolshevism, Modernism, and the Cold War. Apollo's Angels is a groundbreaking work--the first cultural history of ballet ever written, lavishly illustrated and beautifully told.

Ballet is unique: It has no written texts or standardized notation. It is a storytelling art passed on from teacher to student. The steps are never just the steps--they are a living, breathing document of a culture and a tradition. And while ballet's language is shared by dancers everywhere, its artists have developed distinct national styles. French, Italian, Danish, Russian, English, and American traditions each have their own expression, often formed in response to political and societal upheavals.

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. It was in Russia that dance developed into the form most familiar to American audiences: The Sleeping Beauty, Swan Lake, and The Nutcracker originated at the Imperial court. 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 is a historian and critic who was also a professional dancer: She brings to Apollo's Angels a knowledge of dance born of dedicated practice. She traces the evolution of technique, choreography, and performance in clean, clear prose, drawing readers into the intricacies of the art with vivid descriptions of dances and the artists who made them. Her admiration and love for the ballet shines through on every page. Apollo's Angels is an authoritative work, written with a grace and elegance befitting its subject.
Publisher: New York : Random House, c2010
Edition: 1st ed
ISBN: 9781400060603
Branch Call Number: 792.8 HOM 2010
Characteristics: xxv, 643 p., [40] p. of plates : ill. (some col.) ; 25 cm


From the critics

Community Activity


Add a Comment

etccdb Oct 25, 2015

fascinating, but a slow read

Mar 20, 2012

I just finished this book a month ago and had to rent it again! This was an amazing book about the history of ballet. It was very in-depth and I got a lot of information out of it for my research project. It's also cool because my dance teacher (Jennifer Owens) new Jennifer Homans personally.

Sep 22, 2011

Lovely book on the history of ballet

sandy5958 May 23, 2011

A wonderful book about how ballet evolved; written by a gifted dancer, Apollo's Angels is dance history seen from the inside. A wonder how much this accessible beautifully crafted book reveals about the times and places in which ballets were made; it makes culture come alive.

madame_librarian May 10, 2011

Some may ask, "How many people could possibly be interested in such a lengthy and erudite history of ballet?" I certainly cannot offer an exact number, but as a confirmed balletomane (i.e., ballet geek), I was pleasantly surprised to find out that this 600 plus-page book was chosen by the New York Times as one of the ten best books of 2010. The library's copy has had a hold list for it since its release last fall. Homans is an unlikely creature--a talented ballerina, a thorough historian, and a skilled writer.

She takes us back to the court of the "Sun King," Louis IV (1638-1715) whose balls, pantomimes, and galas--highly stylized and extravagantly presented--evolved into the performing art we now recognize as ballet. In the course of creating the timeline of classical dance, Homans also presents us with a cultural history of Europe, since dance, along with literature, painting, architecture, and music, followed the interests and trends of the times just as it does today. Politics and nationalism played their parts, too. Since ballet developed under the auspices of a monarch, each nation had its particular "school" of dance. The spread of the art form to the middle class further influenced the different styles and content. One needs a good deal of imagination to conjure up what it must have been like to see ballet in the court theaters of the 17th and 18th centuries, but as Homans brings us to the modern age of dance, there are exquisite photographs to help you grasp the nuances of the art. And, if like me, you have attended your fair share of live performances or seen some of the excellent PBS specials now available on DVD, Homan's descriptions of the world of dance in the modern age will strike a chord (or should I say pose) in your mind.

-Madame Librarian

debwalker Jan 24, 2011

A National Book Critics Circle Awards Finalist 2010

Age Suitability

Add Age Suitability

Jul 06, 2013

La_Danseuse thinks this title is suitable for 15 years and over


Add a Summary

sandy5958 May 23, 2011

Excellent historical evolution of classical ballet up to the latest 20th century techniques... Every dancer should live withthis book, of course, but every person who loves lit and history, who is word-struck and story-addiscted, should give themselves a treat and treasure this trreasure.


Add a Quote

sandy5958 May 23, 2011

"At the origins of ballet lay two ideas; the formal mathematical precision of the human body and the universality of human gesture."


Add Notices

There are no notices for this title yet.

Explore Further

Browse by Call Number


Subject Headings


Find it at SL

To Top