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It took me six weeks and two vacations to read Apollo's Angels: A History of Ballet by Jennifer Homans. That has nothing to do with quality. Instead, it has only to do with the length of the book. It's 648 pages long, and even though the last hundred pages are endnotes, bibliography, and index, it still makes for a lot of dense reading.

Homans takes us from the beginnings of ballet in the seventeenth-century French court all the way through the death of Balanchine in the 1980s, with an epilogue on the state of ballet today. At every stage, she intertwines the history of ballet with the history of the places she takes us, which gives the reader a context for what happens in the ballet world. Although it's a relatively dense history, it's not a hard read. The style is not quite conversational, but it doesn't read like dry academic prose, either. It reads much like a lecture. There is an audiobook version; if audiobooks are your thing, I imagine this one would read well.

Overall, I greatly enjoyed the book, and don't have much to say about it, but it does have three flaws worth talking about. First, it doesn't have a ballet glossary. There aren't really that many ballet terms in the book, but there were a few I didn't know, and a glossary would have been helpful. Secondly, her grasp of sexual identity terms is pretty shaky. She refers to someone as "homosexual (at times bisexual)" and says that someone else "was homosexual (although he also loved women and married one)." Unless she was relying on people's self-identification (which, given the time periods, I somewhat doubt), both of those sound like bisexual people. Thirdly, the book falls apart a little bit toward the end. Homans was herself a dancer trained at Balanchine's School of American Ballet, and she doesn't quite have the distance to talk about the more modern choreographers she covers. She also makes a lot of assumptions about the reader's knowledge of more modern ballet - one section begins with, "Everyone knows Jerome Robbins," and I didn't - where the book would have been stronger if she'd continued on with the assumption that the reader didn't know anything about ballet's history. The epilogue is a particular disaster. Homans bemoans the state of ballet today and doesn't have much hope for the future. The problem with this is that I wasn't sure if I could trust her judgment or if it was just a case of "things were so much better in my day." It's almost too bad the book was written two years ago; I'd be interested to see what she thinks about how the recent uptick in ballet-related TV shows (I watched three this summer) might affect the future of ballet.
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Ruth Sadelle Alderson

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