, Salem, MA


October 11, 2012

The trouble with ballet

Dancer and scholar Jennifer Homans reflects on the art's past and future


Homans trained as a dancer long before she studied dance as a scholar, or wrote about it as the regular dance critic for The New Republic.

She was a student at the North Carolina School of the Arts, American Ballet Theatre and Balanchine’s School of American Ballet in New York and later performed with the Chicago Lyric Opera Ballet, the San Francisco Ballet and Pacific Northwest Ballet.

When she was learning to dance, Homans wanted to understand what she was being told to do and asked questions that were not always well-received by her instructors.

“Nothing was ever really explained,” she writes in the introduction to her book, “and the teaching seemed offensively authoritarian.”

But even after leaving dance for a scholarly career, and earning a Ph.D. in modern European history at NYU, Homans remained intrigued by ballet.

“It kept coming back, and I finally realized I could use the skills I had acquired as a historian to describe this art form that I loved so much,” she said.

She realizes now that, in her instructors’ minds, the rigorous training of ballet was connected to cultural values — often those of imperial Russia — that were above reproach.

“It is an art of high ideals and self-control in which proportion and grace stand for an inner truth and elevated state of being,” she writes at the end of “Apollo’s Angels.”

That insight also allows Homans to realize that vital connections to the culture at large are precisely what is missing in contemporary ballet.

The new works being produced seem lifeless to her, and have for many years. At the same time, she says, dancers and choreographers have become overly obsessed with tradition, in a way that stifles creativity.

These observations, which appear in a personal epilogue to her book, have been controversial, Homans said. But they suggest where people need to look for answers, if ballet is to be saved.

“Ballet may be dying,” she said. “If ballet’s in trouble, it’s something about public culture and etiquette and aesthetics.”

IF YOU GO What: "Why Art Matters," a conversation with Jennifer Homans When: Sunday, 3:30 p.m. Where: Tedesco Country Club, 154 Tedesco St., Marblehead Tickets and more information: $55 per person at 781-631-6262 or Copies of "Apollo's Angels" for sale.

Text Only | Photo Reprints
  • Wednesday's Best Bets Best Bets for Wednesday, Aug. 20

    Looking for something to do this afternoon? Check out The Salem News' Best Bets.

    August 20, 2014 1 Photo

  • Dear Abby: Husband who relives past should focus on present Dear Abby: I'm married to the love of my life. I can't imagine loving a man more than I love "Wayne," and I know he feels the same about me. The problem is, he's always telling stories about things he has done, including past relationships, in graphi

    August 20, 2014

  • Dear Abby: Young man with heart scar has options for covering it up Dear Abby: You printed a letter from "Self-Conscious in Georgia" (May 15), a young man who is insecure about the scar from his heart surgery. I have had three surgeries for congenital defects, my first at 2 years old. Because many women's fashions ex

    August 19, 2014

  • Dear Abby: Angry wife resents husband for hiding news of his health Dear Abby: When my husband is sick or needs to have surgery, he refuses to tell his family and doesn't want me to. This puts me in a very awkward position. I'm damned if I do tell them because he will be upset with me, and damned if I don't because h

    August 18, 2014

  • Dear Abby: Romantics should come back to earth Dear Abby: I have been single for a couple of years. I have always been levelheaded when it comes to romance, but I'm finding myself unable to control my feelings about the new man I'm seeing. "Brent" is smart, intelligent, sweet and loving. We have

    August 16, 2014

  • North Shore religion calendar Saturday, Aug. 16 Church Yard Sale, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., Our Lady of Fatima Church, 50 Walsh Ave., Peabody. Church-sponsored yard sale features home furnishings, clothing, children's items, furniture and more. Portuguese food will also be available. All

    August 16, 2014

  • North Shore religion news in brief The Church of the Holy Name is seeking artists and crafters to participate in the Fall Arts and Craft Fair on Saturday, Sept. 20, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the church, located at the corner of Monument Avenue and Thomas Road in Swampscott. A limited a

    August 16, 2014

  • This weekend's Best Bets Best Bets for Saturday, Aug. 16 and Sunday, Aug. 17

    Looking for something to do this weekend? Check out The Salem News' Best Bets.

    August 16, 2014 1 Photo

  • North Shore Gardener: Toad in your garden? That’s a good thing Q: There are several large toads -- some as big as a fist -- that live around the hosta on the shady side of my garden. They seem to especially like to be near the faucet, which sometimes leaks! Are they doing any harm? My small dog got one in his mo

    August 15, 2014

  • Dr. Kate's Parent Rap: Mission statement can help with co-parenting troubles More often than not, when I speak with parents today, they describe struggles with their children that originate in parenting conflicts. Parents often disagree when making daily decisions, and yet, they are steadfast in their beliefs that they share

    August 15, 2014

NDN Video
Comments Tracker