Apollo’s Angels - Jennifer Homans (3 stars)

A history of ballet from former dancer with San Francisco

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Apollo’s Angels - Jennifer Homans

(Granta)

This epic review of classical ballet’s occasionally glorious, often troubled past took Jennifer Homans ten years to write and research. From the artform’s infancy in the royal court of 16th century France, through its rise in Italy, Denmark and Russia, and eventual success in Britain and America, Homans sets each development against a backdrop of social and political change.

A former dancer with San Francisco Ballet, Homans writes about her subject from the inside out, and obviously ploughed as much effort into historical fact-checking as she did her dance technique. Which can make for heavy reading at times, only partly countered by mini-biographies of key players such as Cecchetti, Nijinsky, Balanchine, de Valois and Fonteyn. While there’s no disputing Homans has produced a concise, valuable and colourful guide to the ballet of yesteryear, her treatment of present day dance is less impressive. Major figures are omitted, and her depressing decree that ‘ballet is dying’ feels unnecessarily negative.

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