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Reviews in New York Times

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I have been reading John Rockwell's reviews in the New York Times for a year or two. Is it just me or are they not very good? I can't get much from them and wonder if I don't know enough about the ballets he writes about or does he not develop his thought too well.

Perhaps someone can direct me to well written reviews (assuming the Rockwell reviews are not the greatest).

Is every performance of the major ballets companies reviewed?

I notice that the ABT, for example performs the same ballet for about a week and changes principal dancers. How do they decide which performance to review? Why don't they compare them? Wouldn't this be instructive and useful?

What IS the impact of a review? Does it change the career of the dancers mentioned? Or are advancement and promotion decisions made inside the company without concern for reviews?

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I'll leave others to comment on Mr. Rockwell :clapping:

I'd suggest reading Robert Greskovic in The Wall Street Journal (it's not on line, and he's not in every day, but there's usually a heads up on a forum here if he has an article). He's been watching ballet Forever and his reviews are extremely knowledgeable. Joan Acocella writes occasionally in The New Yorker. Tobi Tobias (a long-time reviewer for New York magazine until they cut their dance coverage) writes regularly for Bloomberg.com Deborah Jowitt in The Voice and Robert Gottlieb in The Observer are two more long-time New York writers. Also, I humbly refer you to http://www.danceviewtimes.com All the reviewers are professional writers/critics and one of the goals is to provide good criticism. We have a new issue up every Monday and back issues are on line. Also, I hope you check Ballet Talk's Links. Every day, dirac or Mme. Hermine puts up every link to a ballet review or story. You can read them and decide which reviews are useful or helpful.

Newspapers have cut back drastically on reviews in recent years. The NYTimes used to cover every cast change and no longer does. To be fair, though, companies used to have 2, 3 cast changes tops, and today there can be 6, 7, 8, and that's a lot to try to cover. Reviews of ballet and opera and classical music performances are not read as often as reviews of movies and pop music. The newspaper standard has changed. It's no longer the goal of a newspaper to have people "scouting" what's good and writing about it, or reporting on everything in the cultural life of the city. It's covering stuff that people alrready know about. Or, at least, that's my very biased take on things.

The change started in the '90s, when newspaper readership fell off. I've written for the Washington Post since 1979 and used to cover, say, all four casts of an ABT full length over a weekend. Each program was covered, each cast was covered. That's no longer the case. Generally, each program is covered, but rarely is each cast covered. (And one could make the argument that this is part of the fall-out of the end of the Ballet Boom. It was one thing to write about Makarova and Baryshnikov in a new role, or an up and coming Martine van Hamel and Fernando Bujones, and another to try to cover today's scene.)

I don't know how the Times works. Most papers will cover the first night. If there's another major debut -- David Hallberg, on a third performance, say -- that might get covered. It's not up to Mr. Rockwell, Iw ould imagine. He probably suggests things, and may well want to cover more than he's given to cover. the editors decide. It can depend on the day. If something really big is happening, like the Super Bowl, or American Idol final night, then there may not be any room for dance that day.

I don't think reviews should have any effect on a dancer's career. I've been told by dancers that that is not the case. Whether that's perception or reality, I can't say.

Editing to add: Some publications which still print full season reviews, all quarterly: England's Dance Now; Canada's Dance International; New York's Ballet Review. And DanceView, of course :flowers:

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Hey! Wake up! This is a good question!! What do regular NYTimes readers think? And others, generally. Work, y'all :)

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I know the question is about The New York Times, but I'd like to mention arts coverage outside of New York. Often, but not always, a daily newspaper will have one -two general performing arts critics, who will cover some combination of theater, ballet, opera, classical music and/or sometimes architecture and plastic arts, with possibly some freelancers. For many ballet companies that do not have multi-month-long seasons including mixed bills, there is a one- or two-weekend stand for single programs at a time. There's a hybrid in San Francisco, where except for full-lengths (sometimes), two programs are performed alternately over two-three weekends, and Ballet Arizona has ended at least two seasons with a Balanchine Festival with two separate, alternating programs.

This generally means that each program is reviewed, once most often on opening night. Rarely are subsequent casts reviewed "realtime," although weeklies can publish a multiple-cast first weekend review that is published before the second weekend. If the company is lucky -- assuming the review is well-written and, for the most part, positive -- it will be published in time to drive ticket sales for the rest of the weekend and for subsequent ones. Recently, in Phoenix, the Balanchine Festival programs were not reviewed until the Monday after the run closed, which was a shame, because both Sunday programs were fantastic.

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In the truly provincial press (i.e., where I live now) reviews tend to fit a certain format.

1) Little teaser introduction, often descriptive or whimsical

2) Brief informational intro to each ballet on the program

3) Reference to something that occurred in each ballet, or to individual dancers. This is usually positive, but may also refer to a piece of scenery falling down, etc.

4) One obligatory negative statement, to show that the reviewer is no push-over.

The idea that there might be more than one cast is never even hinted at. Indeed, the reviewer may not even have heard of such a thing.

I am not kidding.

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I don't know whether to laugh or to cry, bart :)

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There's been good and bad in the Rockwell reign.

Bad: Rockwell doesn't seem to know much about ballet, in technical terms. Now, I don't think he should have to be able to throw around step names etc...several great critics didn't use a lot of dance terminology, but they were able to explain what they saw in an informative or even evocative way. Yes, he writes for a general audience and not ballet followers only, but sometimes his copy reads "he spins well, she jumps high." So, looking for depth there is pointless.

Good: Rockwell has taken to writing critics' essays on Sundays, hitting upon an interesting topic.

Bad: His arguments are usually half-thought through, full of holes. He'll also make pronouncements like "classical ballet is dead" and then he'll actually see a ballet and write "you know, this classical ballet aint half bad."

Good: He's gone on the road to review the companies in Boston, Seattle, Portland etc...

Bad: He's brought the above described to those reviews.

Good: He's brought in more writers. Sometimes during the season, they'll be several dance stories.

Bad: Some people have complained about the tone of those newer writers.

Good: Those dancers, companies etc.. that were receiving protection by Kisselgoff don't get the same treatment by Rockwell.

++++

I'd second some of the venues mentioned by Alexandra, such as the reviews in the Wall Street Journal, New Yorker, Ballet Review, DanceView, Dance View Times, ballet.co.uk magazine and the like.

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Rockwell has yet to establish a clear profile as a dance critic. Before he took over, there was fear that he'd downgrade ballet in relation to other forms of dance. This hasn't happened, but sometimes his reviews give the definite impression that he's learning on the job. His predecessor was definitely learned but sometimes her prose was not up to the task of conveying her thoughts clearly. Besides, as alluded to above, she was said to have her favorites. There was a time up till a couple of years ago when I could tell whether a Times review was written by Kisselgoff, Anderson, or Dunning, without having to look at the byline. With the addition of some new bylines, it's no longer possible. I guess that's a good thing. I'm still favorably disposed to Rockwell. After all, he reviewed Farrell's revival of Balanchine's "Don Quixote" at the Kennedy Center and and clearly recognized the importance of that event. I shudder to think what Kisselgoff would have written.

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Funny thing happened this morning. As usual I take my breakfast at a local coffee shop and read the NYT. Finally, I get to the arts section and lo and behold there is a review of this week's ABT performances of Giselle by Jennifer Dunning. Great because this afternoon we will see it!

What struck me as odd and perhaps this is over the top speculation.. but in this very thread I started about the strange nature of Rockwell's reviews and why doesn't a reviewer compare the dancers who perform the same ballet in a run at the ABT... and Jennifer Dunning did just that!

Thanks Jennifer!!! Perhaps critics are reading this board??? We missed the Vishneya / Malakhov performance on Wednesday, but will see Herrera and Gomes this afternoon armed with her commentary. I am very excited about my (hahahahhahaaha) impact on the world of ballet reviews!

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Perhaps critics are reading this board???

I'm not sure whether the Times writers read BT. If they do, they probably don't do so for helpful hints :blink:

I know you're joking, but for instance, I don't read any thread on the board on a ballet that I will be reviewing until I've seen it and turned in my copy (even then, I probably don't because by then it's a while after the event) Simple reason - don't want to plaigiarize even by accident.

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Of course I was joking! But the irony of the whole thing did not go unnoticed and I thought I would comment on it.

But why wouldn't anyone insterested in Ballet read whatever they can? Are we like that we are interested in something.... we search every nook and cranny to feed our curiosity and thurst for knowledge?

As an old fellow I am thrilled that I am able to learn about ballet here and have questions that pop into my head addressed instead of following some formal education of dance histiry.

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I think some read the boards. I think there was a reference to how her fans respect Bouder's exuberant falling and recently in Gia Kourlas' TONY interview with Bocca she mentioned speculation on a ballet board that Bocca would take over ABT, which was mentioned here (it was from a South American newspaper article). So yeah, they read.

I can say from ballet circles and sports circles, mainstream press writers do read boards and blogs. Now, whether it influences their writing is another thing. I don't think Dunning was influenced -- I would have been surprised if the Times hadn't reviewed Vishneva et al in Giselle. You just have to wait for it.

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The NY Times has TWO ballet reviews this morning and quite interesting, One by Rockwell comparing the Manon staged by the RB in Boston and the ABT at the Met. He included some bits about the Bocca Ferri partnership which "ends" in their performance of Manon on Thursday.

We saw Manon last night w/ Julie Kent and Carreno. My favorite part was when Manon danced with Lescaut and Des Grieux (I believe). It looked like weaving a beautiful piece of clothe from gorgeous human threads! It was quite a ballet, but I felt the third act did not compare to the first two as their story seemed to take a pretty rapid dive.

But maybe life IS like that.. slow on the uptake and the crash comes swiftly??? The staging had the feel of La Traviata and there were some parallels in the story about a fall from grace of a lovely young beauty.

Anna Kisselgof did a piece about Julio Bocca's career in anticipation of his final appeanance in Manon. It was a fair attempt to summarize a brilliant career in 10 or 15 paragraphs. You can tell that he will be sorely missed.

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Today we had two articles about ballet in the NYT, a review of the ABT Swan Lake with Dvorvenko with a stunnig picture of her and Beloserkovsky. That photo, quite large and in color is breath taking. Bravo to all.

I am psyched up to see Swan Lake tomorrow!

And the other article was about the Jackson competition which relates to the thread about ballet and sport. My impression is that it has an upside and a downside, but it is clearly modeled on the olympics which is about as much a sporting competition as there is!

Seems as if many dancers get their bounce into the "big leagues from there, but seems as if some complain there is too much emphasis on technique and not enough on art.

In any case, the Times is doing some interesting writing about dance these days.... or is it that I am more aware of it because of BT?

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I must say, I was surprized to read that ABT's version of Swan Lake is so tradtional! Unless they have changed the setting, the story, and the choreography markedly since last year, it is, for me at least, an absolute travesty, and anyone with the least knowledge of its history should know that. A traditional Swan Lake has a lot more than just the Ivanov white swan pas de deux and the Petipa Black Swan, and ABT's version is wrongheaded in so many ways, theatrically and choreographically.

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I must say, I was surprized to read that ABT's version of Swan Lake is so tradtional! Unless they have changed the setting, the story, and the choreography markedly since last year, it is, for me at least, an absolute travesty, and anyone with the least knowledge of its history should know that. A traditional Swan Lake has a lot more than just the Ivanov white swan pas de deux and the Petipa Black Swan, and ABT's version is wrongheaded in so many ways, theatrically and choreographically.

Cargill I agree with you 100% . It's unfortunate but these days when we are subjected to ballets called Swan Lake that feature Odette confined to a mental ward or Von Rothbart dragging a dead swan across the stage or a Can-Can in the third act I can understand how a mass market review can consider any production that hews to the basics of the story and includes some of the traditional choreography to be "traditional". Not only McKenzie's, even Martin's version is considered by some people to be traditional in relation to what's out there. Perhaps we need to start a truth in advertising campaign for ballet companies. I understand that Swan Lake fills the seats, but there should be some basic requirements for calling a ballet Swan Lake besides just using the Tchaikovsky score.

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I don't know how the Times works. Most papers will cover the first night.

It seems (at least this season) that the New York Times covers the first night, usually in a stand alone review (as in, its a review of the production overall and a single cast).

Then there will be a second review covering the next few casts.

For example with Manon--

it opened Monday, which was reviewed. Then there was a second review on thursday or friday, which included the casts for tues eve, weds mat and eve.

The scope however, makes the 2nd review rather cursory.

they don't bother with the rest of the casts, in part i think because there have for the most part, been about 4 main casts for each ballet--and they all get "covered" in this plan. Of course, dancers vary from night to night, some of the lesser but still important dancers will change, and even one or two of the principles might, but in general, every cast gets some degree of coverage.

On the whole, I think the reviews in the Times sort of stink!

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A traditional Swan Lake has a lot more than just the Ivanov white swan pas de deux and the Petipa Black Swan...

I think this needs to be repeated over and over again, until it is absorbed.

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A traditional Swan Lake has a lot more than just the Ivanov white swan pas de deux and the Petipa Black Swan...
I think this needs to be repeated over and over again, until it is absorbed.
Consider this one repetition. :wink: Preaching to the choir, perhaps, but let this be a starting point.

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