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"Apollo's Angels" by Jennifer Homans

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bart, are those Balanchine Foundation quotations accessible? I've just looked there, and I didn't see any. Are their contexts included? (OT, to be sure.)

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Thank you for your kind response. I looked up the quote "ballet is about behavior" and saw where I initially read it, in a New York Times article about Garielle Whittle, children's ballet mistress at NYCB, who attributes it to Balanchine (she was in the company in the 1970's).

Gosh, all of you diamond and silver circle and 5 star commenters and I, a mere nobody, in your midst! I am reading Apollo's Angels and I love it! I also adored Toni Bentley's review, because it was so emotionally true, not just reportage, yes, lavender prose and all. I think Jennifer Homans is brilliant - though I haven't gotten to her pessimistic epilogue yet. However, she has given me an insight. Her selection of photos of Apollo Musegete, the original Balanchine ballet of the 20's, costumed in 20's style, echoed with a strange familiarity for me. Where had I seen those headpieces? At NYCB last season, in Ratmansky's Namouna, a Grand Divertissement, where the ballerinas are all wearing what look like odd helmets or swimming caps. Could these inexplicable caps be an homage to the original costuming of Apollo? Though Homans doesn't mention Ratmansky at all, when I read an excellent writer (and see her choice of illustrations), I make connections to my other ballet experiences. I can't be as critical as the more experienced commenters here. I am still in a state of - well, aesthetic joy. Homans connection of ballet as an expression by physical means of a moral purpose speaks to me - even if ballet didn't exactly ennoble Nureyev. Wasn't it Balanchine who said, "ballet is about behavior"? Correct me if I'm wrong.

Thank you for telling us your thoughts on the book, Eileen, and I imagine your own experience is more extensive than you realize.

Balanchine reportedly said, "La Danse…c’est une question morale," although your quote about behavior may be correct - it just doesn't ring any immediate bells with me. It's subject to a wide variety of interpretations.

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bart, are those Balanchine Foundation quotations accessible? I've just looked there, and I didn't see any. Are their contexts included? (OT, to be sure.)

Jack, i found them on Facebook after adding the Foundation to my list of "Likes." The quotes are free-standing, without context or background informationl.

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I just got the book. A birthday present from my friend... :)

Will report back...

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I'm rethumbing this book and I really think the strongest part of the book is the opening chapter on French court dance, and how it evolved into what we now know as "ballet." It really is a wonderfully written chapter. The pictures of the book are also as I said wonderful. It was one thing to read about the original five positions, another to see a period drawing of the courtiers and the original five positions.

The book really has some wonderful qualities, obviously the result of some painstaking research.

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Jennifer Homans was interviewed by Terry Gross on her NPR (or is it PRI?) radio program "Fresh Air". It was broadcast Dec.13th. 7pm EST. I'm sure there is probably a link now to the broadcast at their website. Ms. Gross' first question was a little surprising to me, but also what I expected a general audience with little interest in ballet, beyond the lurid imaginings of "Black Swan", would want to know. So maybe she was right to ask.

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Apollo's Angels is on the New York Times list of the ten best books of the year, (In the Sunday Book Review). :clapping:

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Jennifer Homans was interviewed by Terry Gross on her NPR (or is it PRI?) radio program "Fresh Air". It was broadcast Dec.13th. 7pm EST. I'm sure there is probably a link now to the broadcast at their website.

Thanks, 4mrdncr. The link to the audio is here.

Interview Highlights

On Apollo's relationship to dance

"From the earliest moments of ballet, the idea was to create some kind of Apollonian image — an ideal sort of body. Even the technique allowed you to modify your, perhaps, imperfect proportions. If you're too tall, maybe you would lower your arms a bit — maybe so you don't appear so high up."

On the fear of being dropped

"I never was thinking that, because within the flow of the movement, you have complete confidence in the partner that you're working with, and so those kinds of considerations are not to the fore. Now, if you're working with somebody you don't quite trust or there's a lift that's particularly difficult, then I think there can be a certain tension. And that's something you want to try to get rid of in a performance. One of the great ballerinas once told me, 'When you start to have a dialogue in your head while you're performing, that's when you know it's gone wrong.' In a way, you want to get rid of those words and enter a different way of existing for the time that you're onstage."

On the transition from dance as an aristocratic pastime to a professional discipline

"You start to have a more difficult technique that even the most diligent aristocrats can't keep up with by the end of the 17th century. And then dancers are becoming professionals, and that's when you have more and more separation between the aristocrats who are watching the dance and the people who are performing it. And the dancers at that point are much more exclusively drawn from the lower orders of society. They are learning, in a way, to become aristocrats. On stage, they appear as noblemen, even if in society they're emphatically not."

On dancing en pointe

"It's really the point in which popular traditions feed into a high operatic, high balletic art. Marie Taglioni is the ballerina we most associate with en pointe work. She was working in Vienna at the opera house, but a lot of Italian troupes were passing through. These troupes often did tricks, and one of the tricks they'd do was to climb up on their toes and parade around. This kind of trick was then incorporated into classical ballet. It was given an elevated form, so instead of stomping around, it became an image of the ethereal, a wispy sylph or somebody who can leave the ground or fly into the air."

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I heard the Terry Gross interview on my car radio. It was, indeed, delightful. (Gross was a polymath, though it was clear that her knowledge of, and interest in, ballet was less than she brings to the microphone with other cultural forms.)

Llistening to Homans -- gracious, knowledgeable and articulate -- made me happy that I have this book on order. (Click the Amazon button at the top of the page; if you place your order from there, Ballet Talk gets a small share.. :thumbsup:)

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As enjoyable as are Toni Bentley's reviews of the dance books of others, even more enjoble is a dance book by Toni Bentley. I look forward to her book on "Serenade."

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I heard the Terry Gross interview on my car radio. It was, indeed, delightful. (Gross was a polymath, though it was clear that her knowledge of, and interest in, ballet was less than she brings to the microphone with other cultural forms.)

Llistening to Homans -- gracious, knowledgeable and articulate -- made me happy that I have this book on order. (Click the Amazon button at the top of the page; if you place your order from there, Ballet Talk gets a small share.. :thumbsup:)

Well, I have two quibbles, aimed at Gross: (1) the way Gross began with a focus on sex veered on prurience (and made me think of Curtis White's somewhat snarky sendup of Gross in his 2002 book, The Middle Mind); (2) Gross badly misjudged Homans's age when she guessed that she must have come to SAB (which she called the "New York City Ballet") in the sixties! But it was great to hear ballet discussed for almost 50 minutes on an American radio program.

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Well, I have two quibbles, aimed at Gross: (1) the way Gross began with a focus on sex veered on prurience (and made me think of Curtis White's somewhat snarky sendup of Gross in his 2002 book, The Middle Mind); (2) Gross badly misjudged Homans's age when she guessed that she must have come to SAB (which she called the "New York City Ballet") in the sixties! But it was great to hear ballet discussed for almost 50 minutes on an American radio program.

I totally agree with both your quibbles, and final statement.

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Jennifer Homans was on PBS' Charlie Rose Show last night, interviewed in the first half-hour. Sorry that I caught this late and could not alert anyone. Hopefully others saw it, too. Homans came across very well, in general, although it may not have been fair to describe Maya Plisetskaya as "vulgar"...at the end of a string of more appropriate words, such as "Soviet brashness." Rose appeared to be gushing and hanging on her every word. As an intro, Rose read from Toni Bentley's bombastic (IMO) review, calling this the first and only true, all-emcompassing history of the artform of ballet (!!!).

I have now read Homan's tome. Not bad, in general. In some sections, such as the French Beginnings and America-Balanchine,quite thorough and enjoyable. For what it includes, I give her four stars. HOWEVER, I am quite disappointed that someone who purports to have written a truly "thorough" history of ballet -- and who has based her sad Epilogue of this "thorough" research -- has overlooked/totally omitted key segments of contemporary ballet, such as:

Ballet in Cuba - 'Alonso' is not even mentioned. Not once in the 672 pages! [she also could have written about the Ballet Craze in other parts of Latin America, such as Brazil, Argentina, etc.]

Ballet in Japan (and the rest of the Far East) - the art form thrives in Japan and Korea, and is 'getting there' in China.

International Ballet Competitions, their popularity and influence - the word "Varna" does not appear in the 672 pages!

...and, quite glaringly...

Ballet in the Age of the Internet - any self-respecting historian of ballet writing in 2010 should at least mention the influence of the internet in many aspects, such as: (a) the on-line availability of tickets and casting (often months in advance, even in the 'hidden theaters' of Russia), (b) the power of YouTube, including the way in which the Balanchine Trust & similar organizations 'in the ballet industry' now police it...and how now ANYONE with access to the internet can compare 10 Rose Adagios in a way that used to be done in the past only by 'ballet insiders' in the industry with access to rare company films, ( c ) the power of ballet fora such as our own balletalert or ballet.co.uk or criticaldance or the Russian sites, which have 'blown the lid' off the heretofore-clubby world of the ballet industry, where opinions could be 'controlled' and knowledgeable fans ignored.

Knowledge is Power...and, in the past 15 years, that knowledge on details of ballet is all there for those with access to internet. I cannot believe that the internet has not converted many fans to the art.

Happy New Year! Our art of choice most definitely lives on and thrives. it's too bad that Homans ignored all of the above signs.

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Have Homans and her reviewers and interviewers completely ignored Lincoln Kirstein's writings (i.e. Four Centuries of Ballet: Fifty Masterworks or Movement and Metaphor)?

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Have Homans and her reviewers and interviewers completely ignored Lincoln Kirstein's writings (i.e. Four Centuries of Ballet: Fifty Masterworks or Movement and Metaphor)?

Kirstein's book is included in the huge bibliography, and, of course, he is mentioned as a catalyst in the creation of New York City Ballet.

I was impressed by the breadth of the material Homans uses, including archival material and publications from the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries.

Impressive also, in these days of publication-on-the-cheap, is the clear and detailed footnote apparatus and the illustrations (limited in number, of course, but of high quality and printed on glossy paper). The Acknowledgments include a number of cultural historians, most of the high-level critics alive today, and such writers as Ivor Guest, Clement Crisp, Alastair Macaulay, Jann Parry, Elizabeth Kendall, Lynn Garafola, Philip Gosset ("whose own path breaking work on opera has been an inspiration and who kindly read my chapter on Italian ballet"), as well as a bevy of other contacts in Denmark, Russia, France, the UK, and here in the U.S.

Ballet and ballet history are to a remarkable extent handed down in classrooms and companies, from one generation to another. I especially loved the following:

To my dance teachers I owe everything. I was fortunate to study with many of the best. Melissa Hayden and Suzanne Farrell were mentors, and their example and friendship taught me much of what I know about ballet. The influence of Jacques d'Amboise is everywhere in these pages; he kindlly read sections of the manuscript, and I cherish his fierce, generous comments scrawled in the margins. I am also beholden to Maria Tallchief, Mimi Paul, Sonja Tyven, Robert Lindgren, Dinna Bjorn, Suki Sschorer, Alonso King, Kazkuko Hiraabyashi, Francia Russell, and the late Stanley Williams, and to an older generation of teachers who first gave me a sense of the "pastness" of ballet: Alexandra Danilova, Felia Doubrovskka, Antonina Tumkovsky, Helene Dudin, and Murial Stuart.

There are, of course, many more.

Natalia, I love your list of things NOT included. There's ANOTHER entire book there, still to be written. :clapping:

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Have Homans and her reviewers and interviewers completely ignored Lincoln Kirstein's writings (i.e. Four Centuries of Ballet: Fifty Masterworks or Movement and Metaphor)?

I'm not near my library so I can't state that this was one of Homan's many, many referenced books. She DID cite hundreds of references - even categorizing them into 'Tier 1' and 'Tier 2' for each chapter! So she definitely read monographs on specific ballet topics, countries, teachers, etc.

I get your point, though.

By the way, I don't think of Kirstein's wonderful book as an all-encompasing history, as it is primarily a listing -- mini-essays -- of what he considered to be the 50 principal works in the history of ballet, a-la Clarke-Crisp and Krassovskaya. This is the same reason why I would not include Robert Greskovic's delightful Ballet 101: A Complete Guide to Learning and Loving the Ballet in the short-list of complete narrative histories, as his approach is to analyze specific eras and styles while referring to easily-available films and videos...not a cover-to-cover narrative history, although it certainly delves into history. (That said, I DID look for the name 'Greskovic' among the hundreds of referenced books in the Homans and was appalled that it was omitted. I did not specifically look for Kirstein but I wouldn't be surprised if it, too, is missing.)

Note: I saw bart's note after writing the above...Kirstein is cited. But, doggone it, Greskovic is not and that bugs me! :)

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Very intelligent interview. Funny how Natalia was just mentioning how Homans didn't mention ballet on the internet, but in the interview she talks about it:

TBB: What do you think about ballet on the internet?

JH: I think is great, I don’t see why there shouldn’t be ballet on the internet. It doesn’t mean people won’t go to the performances. On the contrary, I think they would go more. I am always on YouTube, it is a great research tool. The Balanchine Foundation has severely limited what is available, but for me it’s a great pity, it is a mistake. Of course, I don’t know what are the legal and financial implications are, but it is a great resource. You can go online and watch Margot Fonteyn, and how great is that? You are never going to see her live, so you can at least watch her on film!

One thing I found by reading the book was that Homans repeatedly mentions in her history how ballet as an art form was "dead" before a great personality revived it by will and talent. It's this cyclical quality of her history of ballet which makes her prologue seem out of place.

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Thank you, Bart and Natalia. :bow:

I guess that ever since I discovered Kirstein on the library shelf (when you're first allowed access to the adult books) and read everything there before moving on to anything else, I've conflated the collected works into one big glorious multi-volume book in my head. :blushing: Silly me.

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This is how Homans addresses the "ballet is dead" issue in the interview linked by miliosr.

TBB: Well, on Twitter for example, you had opinions from all the different dance tribes. The dancers, for instance, were saying "how can ballet be dead? This is what we are doing!" JH: But I don't say that "ballet is dead." In fact in the second to last paragraph of the book, I say "I hope I am proven wrong". I, of all people, want to be proven wrong, and I leave the door wide open, I say "this art form has renewed itself across its history and we are in an uncertain moment, we don't know what's going to happen, let's not take it for granted."

TBB: True, and you do say in the beginning "when cycles change it is worth looking back and taking stock"… But we think there are various ways of reading all this, depending on whether you are a critic, a dancer or an audience member; to some it might have looked as an attack…

JH: I think if people really read it in the spirit of the book, they will see that I am trying to be as tough with the art form as it is with itself. When you say something is dying and people get all worried about that, you know you've touched a nerve, there is something amiss today. What I say is "bring it on! I'll talk about it, let's discuss it!" Already just the fact that I've asked the question has put it right back in the centre and I've been in every BBC program they have on the radio for the last two days. Partly because of this epilogue. I didn't plan it that way, believe me! But if it opens the discussion and it makes them want to talk about ballet, it is all good.

I bought the book but haven't read it yet. This is certainly not what Gottllieb came away with when he read the book. A question to our members who HAVE read it: does Homans' statement accurately reflect what appears in the booko? Or is she being disingenuous?

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Jennifer Homans was on PBS' Charlie Rose Show last night, interviewed in the first half-hour. Sorry that I caught this late and could not alert anyone. Hopefully others saw it, too.

This 23+ minute interview can still be seen at:

http://www.charlierose.com/view/interview/11376

Homans came across very well, in general, although it may not have been fair to describe Maya Plisetskaya as "vulgar"...at the end of a string of more appropriate words, such as "Soviet brashness."

This is not how I remember what Homans said. If my memory is correct, she was describing the Russian style (as opposed to the French style) when she used those words. I didn't hear it as using the word "vulgar" to describe Plisetskaya individually. In fact, Holmans even hesitated trying to find a word that would convey the more heavy-handed, "weighty" style the Russians added to the French ballet style they inherited. In that slightly awkward moment while Holmans hesitated I spoke out loud to the TV set: "imperial". I thought her word delivered the concept far better than mine would have. At any rate, the word she used spoke to me (and I felt the word quite appropriate at the time precisely because of its "shock" value).

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Alastair Macaulay's picks for what he is looking forward to in 2011:

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/31/arts/31forward.html?_r=1&pagewanted=all&ref=dance

To my mind, this is an unintentionally revealing list about both the state of the ballet and the modern dance. Other than the Indian dance program, the lead critic of the New York Times cites:

-- A ballet dancer whose primary repertory comes from two choreographers who have been dead 27 and 12 years respectively,

-- A recently-deceased (at the age of 90) modern dance choreographer whose company is about to join him in the afterlife,

-- A modern dance choreographer who is 80,

-- A modern dance choreographer who is 54, and

-- A legacy ballet which is 169-years-old.

I love the Old Masters and the legacy companies as much as the next person but it's hard not to conclude from this list that there's not a lot going on choreographically in the US by anyone under the age of 50.

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Alastair Macaulay's picks for what he is looking forward to in 2011:

http://www.nytimes.c...d=all&ref=dance

To my mind, this is an unintentionally revealing list about both the state of the ballet and the modern dance. Other than the Indian dance program, the lead critic of the New York Times cites:

-- A ballet dancer whose primary repertory comes from two choreographers who have been dead 27 and 12 years respectively,

-- A recently-deceased (at the age of 90) modern dance choreographer whose company is about to join him in the afterlife,

-- A modern dance choreographer who is 80,

-- A modern dance choreographer who is 54, and

-- A legacy ballet which is 169-years-old.

I love the Old Masters and the legacy companies as much as the next person but it's hard not to conclude from this list that there's not a lot going on choreographically in the US by anyone under the age of 50.

Well, it might also be unintentionally revealing about Macauly's field of view. :wink: There's plenty of interesting stuff going on out there. I can think of at least five young / youngish choreographers whose next new work I'd like to see pronto. Most of them don't do ballet, and they don't routinely produce masterworks, but they're definitely worth watching.

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Well, it might also be unintentionally revealing about Macauly's field of view. :wink: There's plenty of interesting stuff going on out there. I can think of at least five young / youngish choreographers whose next new work I'd like to see pronto. Most of them don't do ballet, and they don't routinely produce masterworks, but they're definitely worth watching.

Oh, you're right, of course. But I do have to wonder if the 'NOW' stuff the under-50 crowd is producing will be very 'THEN' soon enough.

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Today, in the New York Times, MacAuley reviews and replies to the book. Here is the link.

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