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Apollo's Angels: A History of Ballet | [Jennifer Homans]

Apollo's Angels: A History of Ballet

For more than 400 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 16th-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.
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Publisher's Summary

For more than 400 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 16th-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, 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.

©2010 Jennifer Homans (P)2011 Tantor

What the Critics Say

"[The] book is a delight to read, massively informed yet remarkably agile." (The Washington Post)

“The only truly definitive history of the most impossibly fantastic art form, ballet . . . an eloquent and lasting elegy to an unlasting art.” (The New York Times Book Review)

“Intellectually rigorous, beautifully written, brilliantly structured.” (San Francisco Chronicle)

What Members Say

Average Customer Rating

3.9 (43 )
5 star
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4.1 (32 )
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3.7 (32 )
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Performance
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  •  
    Paul Krasner 12-05-11 Member Since 2005

    I like books that have interesting characters and easy to follow plots. For example, Cormoran Strike, is a great character for me.

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    "Was sad when it ended"

    I thought this was one of the best non-fiction books I've ever listened to. I don't know what book some of the other reviewers listened to who gave mediocre reviews but I don't think they really listened all the way through. Although a little slow in the beginning, I began to get the rhythm of the read about 1/4 of the way through and then was captivated. I'll go back and re-listen to the first 1/4 since I didn't really appreciate it then. What an amazing feat, Ms. Homans has accomplished. I have to admit complete ignorance about ballet but she changed my mind by pure education. Before I listened to the book, I had no idea that an art form that was the pure fabrication of the ultimate decadent aristocracy of the French became the standard cultural icon of the totalitarian Stalinist State. How could this happen? Ms. Homans makes the transition so understandable and rational that when I finished that section, I had to stop, take a deep breath and think about what the author had done and then she did it again with the United States. The book made me go to youtube and find every ballet clip that I could click on. Plus, the reader was great.

    4 of 4 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Louise Tremblay Cole 09-21-11 Member Since 2002
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    "Great - except"

    The book is fascinating and well-written. The narrator reads well, except for her inability to pronounce proper names and foreign phrases. Her many errors are jarring.

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Mary McCall, ID, United States 08-22-12
    Mary McCall, ID, United States 08-22-12 Member Since 2008
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    "Better than you think!"
    Would you listen to Apollo's Angels again? Why?

    Yes. The history of Europe told in this book was a surprise. I'd like to review it all!! And recently we had the privilege of hearing and seeing the author tell her story in person. She made the book come alive in her demonstration of steps and reasons why and how they progressed with time.


    What did you like best about this story?

    This story was not about just ballet. It was a surprise saga of the progress and influence made on theatrical performance starting at square one! I found the social impact of "The Dance" in early European times fascinating, learning about royal and male dominance and social implication of dance in the early periods, how marriages between the French and Italian monarchy influenced theater, opera and dance. It was more or less personal stories of the players involved. MUCH more interesting than I ever imagined!


    What about Kirsten Potter’s performance did you like?

    She sounded like she had written the book herself.


    Any additional comments?

    This book was on a list of books to be read for a Writer's Conference we attended and I put off reading it, thinking I wasn't interested. Then, when I finally downloaded and listened to the book, I was totally fascinated, as was my husband! There is much more to this saga than you'd think!

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Silma Johannesburg, South Africa 04-14-11
    Silma Johannesburg, South Africa 04-14-11 Member Since 2010

    opinionated octogenarian,loving the twenties, I regard detectives as ideal sleep time reading.love ballet.enjoy USpolitics,and some selfhelp

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    "a great book poorly read"

    how sad that the reading was not edited, 'The mispronounciations of especially names made listening a sort of puzzle game.,Maybe a bit over researched but on a scale of 1 to 10 a 7

    3 of 4 people found this review helpful
  •  
    christophe Brooklyn, NY, United States 12-01-11
    christophe Brooklyn, NY, United States 12-01-11
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    "How a bad narrator can kill a book..."

    Jennifer Homans history of ballet is outstanding! Beautifully written and well documented ...
    Alas, who pick that narrator…?
    Kristen Potter is appalling! she systematically butcher the pronunciation of every single foreign names, which the book is full of since the history of ballet starts mostly in France and Italy. It’s a real pity and such a disservice that that wonderful book.

    2 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Tim Valenta AZ, USA 08-21-11
    Tim Valenta AZ, USA 08-21-11 Member Since 2010

    Tim

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    "Too Technical"

    As a lover of both history and dance, I felt confident I'd enjoy A History of Ballet. While portions of it were enlightening (particularly the Soviet era), this was far too technical a work for the average reader. More textbook than anything, it does make for good bedtime listening (if you have trouble falling asleep).

    2 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    CK Chicago 06-28-14
    CK Chicago 06-28-14 Member Since 2011
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    "Great book but..."
    If you could sum up Apollo's Angels in three words, what would they be?

    Thorough. Compelling. Long.


    What other book might you compare Apollo's Angels to and why?

    It's unique. I can't compare it to another book.


    Would you be willing to try another one of Kirsten Potter’s performances?

    NO!! Her cringe-worthy pronunciation gaffes were too distracting!


    Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

    No. It is so dense with information you need time to digest.


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Simone 12-10-13
    Simone 12-10-13 Member Since 2006

    Join me on GoodReads too!

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    "Not For Novices"

    Beware the mood you are in when you download books to read later! What on EARTH was I thinking!!!! Why did I think this would interest me? I amaze myself sometimes.

    I have to admit that parts of it were interesting but I will never retain any of the information and overall I was pretty indifferent. I ploughed through because I am cheap and rather waste my time than my money.

    I can see how to someone who is more knowledgeable about dance and ballet than me would really like it, it’s very thorough and does provides a lot of detail so it still rated 3 stars in my opinion - but it’s certainly not for novices nor people with just a passing interest.

    I agree with what others have said about the narration: a narrator should be able to pronounce foreign words and names correctly!

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Alton santa barbara, ca, United States 12-09-13
    Alton santa barbara, ca, United States 12-09-13

    I am a writer and an image maker who is possessed of a towering passion for the ballet and Russian ballerinas......

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    "A Great Treasure"
    Would you listen to Apollo's Angels again? Why?

    I am going to listen to Apollo's Angels again. A fantastic book for those who have a passion for the ballet


    Who was your favorite character and why?

    Too numerous to mention


    Have you listened to any of Kirsten Potter’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

    No


    Any additional comments?

    A ballet masterpiece.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Kit Pang Brookline, MA 09-14-12
    Kit Pang Brookline, MA 09-14-12
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    "Pretty Good"
    Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

    This is a very informational and is packed with many great details. It is hard to listen to everything in one sitting but if you love ballet then this is the book for you!


    Any additional comments?

    Great information about everything ballet! A must for ballet lovers!

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
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