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Author to discuss history of ballet

Updated 2:45 pm, Tuesday, January 10, 2012
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Jennifer Homans, author of the hnational bestseller "Apollo's Angels: A History of Ballet," will speak at the New Canaan Library at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 10. Event co-sponsor Elm Street Books will be selling copies, which will be available for signing.

When "Apollo's Angels" was first published in hardcover last year, it received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Kirkus Reviews. The Washington Post called it "a delight to read, massively informed yet remarkably agile" while the New York Times Book Review praised it as "an eloquent and lasting elegy to an unlasting art."

Now available for the first time in paperback, the book is the first cultural history of ballet ever written, highly illustrated and creatively told.

Homans, historian and dance critic for The New Republic and herself a former professional dancer, spent a decade researching and writing this story of the evolution of ballet from its origins to the present. Drawing on extensive archival research and interviews conducted in Paris, Copenhagen, London, New York, St. Petersburg and Moscow, the book shows that ballet was not only artistic, but political: bound up with the fate of kings, courts and states. The `steps' were never just steps; they were a set of ideas and beliefs born of an aristocratic etiquette and reflecting the self-image of a noble caste.

"Apollo's Angels" follows ballet across continents and through time, from its beginnings as an elegant West European court art to its elaboration under the Russian Tsars; from its place at the forefront of 20th century modernism to its high water mark in Britain, America and the USSR in the Cold War years. Homans illuminates both the formal development of the art and the ways that revolution, war and the changing social and political landscape shaped dancers, choreography and performance.

The book includes portraits of ballet's pivotal figures and stars from Marie Taglioni to Galina Ulanova and George Balanchine; evocative descriptions of dances; and superb narrative set pieces ranging from Marie Antoinette's performance as a white-frocked shepherdess to the dramatic defection of the Kirov Ballet's Rudolf Nureyev to the West. It ends with a critical essay on the state of ballet today, reflecting on why the story of ballet may now be coming to a close.

Homans trained at the North Carolina School of the Arts and the School of American Ballet. She performed with the Chicago Lyric Opera Ballet, the San Francisco Ballet and the Pacific Northwest Ballet. She has also published with The New York Times, The International Herald Tribune, The New York Review of Books and The Guardian, among others. She holds a bachelor's degree from Columbia University and a Ph D in Modern European History from New York University and is presently a distinguished scholar in residence at New York University.

Admission is free, but reservations are recommended. Call 203-594-5040 or email programs@newcanaanlibrary.org. To preorder a book call Elm Street Books at 203-966-4545.