Turning to Nostalgia
A celebration of the geniuses of ballet's past is also a plea for its future
A History of Ballet
by Jennifer Homans
$35.00 List Price
In her magisterial history of classical dance, Jennifer Homans tells the story of ballet's life over four centuries: dance conventions and dance-obsessed people, ideas and political movements, sacred and profane gestures. Apollo's Angels is a cultural history of the highest order—like Anne Hollander's Seeing Through Clothes or Frances Yates's The Art of Memory. The book, with its quiet, encyclopedic knowledge, relates more than a decade spent in archives around the world, reading generations of scholars. The result is neither a digital-age mash-up nor an overlong compilation of "the greatest dance stories of all time." Homans is wholly uninterested in the culture wars dominating academic discussions about the performing arts. Backstage gossip and cults of personality don't monopolize her attention but are instead harnessed into a greater narrative: that of the humanizing function of dance—the historical role of ballet as a Platonic ideal. By watching beautiful ballets, we become more noble versions of ourselves.
Homans—the widow of the late historian Tony Judt—brings to the page a practical knowledge gained in an earlier career as a dancer. Thus she leaps easily from big-picture political trends in one sentence to the minutiae of a dancer's steps in the next, from how dances were made to who the patrons were. (The czars sat in a gold-encrusted box in the middle of the theater and made a display of their entrance; Stalin snuck in through a private entrance to a bulletproof bunker with its own stash of vodka.) As for what types of government forge the best conditions for