Jennifer Homans: Traitor to Savior?

September 3, 2014

When Jennifer Homans argued that ballet was dying in her epic 2010 ballet history book Apollo’s Angels, she drew the ire of many in the dance world. But it looks like those pages weren’t meant to be an obituary—they were a call to arms.


It’s just been announced that Homans will run a new ballet think tank at New York University opening this month. According to The New York Times, the Center for Ballet and the Arts aims to establish ballet as a subject worthy of serious academic inquiry in the same manner that art and literature are studied. The center also hopes to expand the conversation about ballet beyond the dance world: Among the first group of fellows is documentary filmmaker Frederick Wiseman (who will work with choreographer James Sewell to turn one of his films into a ballet); David Vellman, who writes about ethics and moral psychology; theater director/producer Gregory Mosher; as well as dance world stalwarts like Heather Watts (who plans to analyze Balanchine ballets, possibly to develop an app), Broadway choreographer John Carrafa, John Michael Schert and Christopher d’Amboise. All of this activity is underwritten by a $2 million grant from the Andrew W. Mellon foundation, which will fund the center for the next three years, with hopes for a renewal in 2017.


At the moment, the center won’t teach college courses or serve students, but Homans told the NYT she hopes for it to be a forum for research and cross-pollination so that ballet gains a greater toehold in the larger cultural conversation. The center’s website says that initial programs will include seminars, open classes, lectures and residencies. A full fall schedule is coming soon, but so far the one event on the lineup is a Q&A with Alexei Ratmansky on October 8. Seems like a fitting start—Ratmansky was the first choreographer many of us pointed out to prove Homans’ dire predictions false. He might be just the man to breathe some balletic life into this conversation.