MUSING: Jennifer Homans Was Wrong: Ballet Is Experiencing a Mini-Renaissance
It started with a simple Facebook post by my former NYU/Tisch Professor Giada Ferrone. In it, she asked, “Do you think ballet is dead or dying?”
I dashed off a comment about how ballet isn’t dying; it is, in fact, enjoying a resurgence. I wrote this as someone who, by fall of 2017, had seen and written about multiple new ballets, some of which excited me. The comments section of Giada’s post was riddled with absolutes: Ballet is dying, ballet is surviving, ballet is thriving. During the lively discourse that one can expect on social media, I was told I needed to “get educated and read a book” (the person has since deleted that comment after discovering, I’m assuming, that I’ve not only read a book, I’ve written a few, plus I have a master’s degree), and I hurt the feelings of a well-intentioned but ill-informed commenter about the meaning of The Nutcracker. So, in other words, it was just your average field day. It would have stopped there, save for the fact that a fellow graduate of NYU and my friend Eliza PMed me. For several feverish days, we discussed how and why the evidence points to a mini-renaissance of ballet. We talked about the most famous assertion of ballet's decline, which appeared at the end of Jennifer Homans' Apollo's Angels, and all the ways it hadn't come true. She encouraged me to write an article about this ballet renaissance; after going back to reread Homans' afterword, I decided to do just that. I pitched my editor at The Dance Enthusiast, Christine Jowers, who kindly acquiesced and was gracious enough to let me go over our 1000-word limit by 181 words. Even with that generosity, I only hit the top notes (which I support with the 21st-century version of footnotes — hyperlinks), and I left out the many, many other signals. In no particular order, these include James Whiteside, the popularity of ballet competitions, streaming, Wattpad’s various #ballet stories, click-based advertising, YouTube, ballet documentaries, the NYU Center for Ballet and the Arts (of which Homans is founder and director), blogs, forums, etc. I wrote this back in October before allegations of harassment and abuse were leveled at Peter Martins, who recently retired from his position as Ballet Master in Chief of New York City Ballet. This bodes well for the future of ballet — dancers speaking up AND being heard.
While it's too soon to say whether this will all prove to be a blip on the radar, ballet seems to be gaining more fans than it's losing, thanks to a new generation on- and offstage. That's a good thing to me.
FOUR MINUTES TO READ
PREVIEW AND LINK FOLLOW AFTER PICTURE
It would’ve been funny if it weren’t so infuriating. In 2010, at the end of her meticulously researched cultural history of ballet, Apollo’s Angels, Jennifer Homans predicted that ballet was in an irreversible decline. She used her feelings (“I now feel sure that ballet is dying”) and gross generalizations (lumping all contemporary choreographers and dancers together) to project a dismal future for ballet.
In retrospect, the epilogue seems like a shrewd ploy to create buzz around a 600-page tome that’s appeal may be limited. Homans’ predictions seem quaint, the clucking from someone who was dismayed that the aughts sure didn’t look like the eighties (the decade at which Apollo’s Angels ended).
Like many rash and dire warnings, Homans’ . . .
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