I love the glass bottom boat analogy. I agree that his problem is inherent in the "History of (Fill in the Blank)" format.
The problem with Holmans's book may be that it is a survey text, much like "Art through the Ages," and suffers from all the limitations of that that genre - of having to skim history like a glass bottom boat (borrowing James Woods's metaphor).
I found that this bothered me not at all in the earlier part of the book, which covers material most readers will not be familiar with. Homans' themes, details, and story-telling there are very well-researched, skillfully crafted, and quite fascinating..
When we get to the 20th century, however, things might very well change, depending on the individual reader. Here, many though not all readers will bring more knowledge, first-hand experience, and emotionally involvement to the table. That means that these readers will be more likely to disagree about what is included, excluded, and concluded. Almost half the book is devoted to the 20th century. Almost all the criticism has been based on that half.
Take the long over-view of Jerome Robbins. Homans begins with the sentence: "Everyone knows Jerome Robbins." But the, just in case some of her readers don't know all that much, she feels obliged to give us a short, potted biography (required by the format) before going on to talking about the work that interests her most. West Side Story gets quite a lot of space. 13 pages into the Robbins section, she gets around to his work after returning to NYCB in 1969. It's worth reading. But there is much more might want to quibble with than in, for example, an earlier section on Noverre, or the long sub-chapter on Russian classiscism..
I found that the book worked best when I was willing to adjust my attention span and reading speed as I moved along. If you are prepared to skim over certain sections but keep your attention alive enough that you can POUNCE (and focus) when things starts getting interesting again, you'll probably enjoy the book. And find much there to think about.
I appreciate these thoughts, Quiggin. I especially appreciate your including "dance criticism" in the same league as "art criticism." Growing up in the 1960s, there was no question about this: ballet was a major art, producing brilliant, challenging, beautiful, and relevant work. As such, it was worthy of careful attention and evaluation by culture critics and intellectuals. How marvelous to think of this happening again. Perhaps a renaissance in criticism can have a positive effect on what choreographers, dancers, artistic directors, and audiences think and want to see. We are ALL "Apollo's Angels," after all, which is something to live up to, not just fret about losing.
To save Balanchine (which seems to be Homans's charge) and ballet, I think dance criticism has to be turned on its head in much the way art criticism was in the eighties with publications of the work of Robert Herbert on Impressionism as a harsh account of social changes, T J Clark's "The Painter of Modern Life" on Manet, and Picasso studies by Leo Steinberg, John Richardson, Yve-Alain Bois, Rosalind Kraus and Elizabeth Cowling.
Richardson and Cowling, who consider "Parade," "Mercure" and "Pulcinella" to be highly significant works, seem to have more to say on Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes, both critical and entertainingly anecdotal, than most dance critics other than Richard Buckle.
Only Arlene Croce (hopefully soon), and Alastair Macaulay (though limited by the tools of daily journalism), Tim Scholl, and Joan Acocella - in her trial-ballon seminar on "Balanchine and the Crotch" - seem to be working in some new direction.
With Balanchine perhaps there should be a temporary embargo on anything about "Apollo" and "Prodigal Son" and a reevaluatioon of everything that went before and just afterwards, such as Ballets 1933 which the 102 year old composer Eliott Carter thinks are among Balanchine's most audaciously experimental works. I would add that WPA mural of existentialism, "The Four Temperaments."
[size="4"]P.S. [/size] Regarding the physical book itself. My copy of Apollo's Angels came with the printing on the book's spine upside down. In a book from a major publisher like Random House, this kind of problem with quality control astonished and depressed me. I kept the book anyway, rather than go through the hassle of returning it to Amazon. But it made me look with extra care at other production details, especially the proofreading and the footnote apparatus. Both of which, by the way, seem to be in good shape.