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Alastair Macaulay @ NY Times

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The discussion over at ArtsJournal has not run its course, it should be noted. John Rockwell, among others, has contributed his two cents. Worth checking out.

Thanks for the link -- I'd lost track of that particular conversation.

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Thanks for that Link. Here's a single paragraph that shows his skill at describing physical movements, coupled with a willingness to reveal his own emotional responses to those movements.

When Nureyev danced Romeo to Margot Fonteyn’s Juliet, he took his time to kneel and kiss the hem of her dress with as much piety as if this were the Holy Grail. And even though Fonteyn was 56 the one time I saw her dance Juliet, her reaction to his gesture was one of innocent wonder pitched on a tidal scale. After looking down at him in amazement, she threw her arms up and looked up through them to the heavens in glory, held them motionless, then brought them down, down over her face, down over her body, down in a wave that made the whole house gasp in emotion. I was 20. If there was a single moment in my life that turned me into a ballet obsessive, that was it.
Impressive and unforgettable stuff.

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Bart, I agree! Didn't anyone else read this? We've had so much discussion about good writing (or not) in the NY Times, I thought this would cause comment. No. I thought it might cause a few cheers!

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Bravo for his writing skill and ability to merge description and personal emotion!

While I've always disliked R&J (the episodic score forces too many boring crowd/sword scenes), it is a great star vehicle. Certainly Macaulay takes a star-oriented perspective in his article. I wonder how he'll respond to Peter Martins's non-star production (although SAB students really are often stars...), and to other ballets of more choreographic substance (perhaps his Four Temps remarks are a promising clue)?

... And so, from the back of the fourth ring, I saw City Ballet dance Balanchine’s masterwork “The Four Temperaments” ...

Nothing in “The Four Temperaments” was narrative, but all of it was dramatic, and nothing I had ever seen in any theater had been of such power. This wasn’t sexy; it was too volcanic for that. Some 28 years later I am still haunted by the memory of the bellowslike alternation of through-the-body convex and concave shapes made by Bart Cook’s Melancholic and Merrill Ashley’s Sanguinic.

At the least, I will be anxiously awaiting his reviews in the Times, and I cannot remember that ever being true before...

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What a voice, to fuse dance history and personal experience in such a personal, visceral way! If this is "dry" writing, I'll take it any day.

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Best essay I've read in the times in a very long time - I actually felt like I was in the audience with some of his writing. I hope he continues on this path! What great stories for all of us - especially the younger generation who missed all of these great artists!

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Looking at the thrust of this now long thread, is the thread becoming a streaming BT Comentary on Macaulay's artistry, where each forthcoming review is held up to admire, perhaps to deconstruct, and to find its unique insights and defects and type these points as to whether they are colored by different sensibilities from ours, we the ones who've been with local ballet work through its naisance, its wet nurses, and feel we know it too: or at least have been in its house? Perhaps as ideas synthesize from dialogue with his writing, and even with Mr. Macaulay himself, a community of some effective power can evolve to make the hesitant ballet masters move on to do their true duties, to bring performances to the level that the people may see as Macaulay can see The Four Temperaments.

A practical first shot: to cause an effort by Bart Cook and Merrill Ashley to put on a Four Temperments like the one they danced 28 years ago.

Bringing Back Balanchine.

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I can certainly see the possibilities there, drb. Especially since Macaulay seems definitely to have a thoughtful and structured set of values and standards.

I'd also put a vote in for more NYT coverage of serious ballet throughout North America -- especially by its new senior critic.

The US and Canada are blessed in having a large, intricate ballet culture and institutions. These spread all the way down to local schools in the Carolinas or the NorthWest, and includes companies in Winnepeg or Miami or Arizona that do superb work under very difficult conditions and with little in the way of national attention.

Ballet in North America is structured like a pyramid. NYCB, ABT and NBofC may be at the apex. But every pyramid needs a strong base. The NYT, which aspires to be a truly "national" newspaper, needs give serious attention to that base. It can do this by reviewing more work and artists in parts of other country, and by putting more effort into documenting the rich cross-fertilization of dancers, choreographers, works, and influences from bottom-to-top as well as top-to-bottom.

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My initial gut reaction was "This is going to be good for Dance!"

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drb writes:

While I've always disliked R&J (the episodic score forces too many boring crowd/sword scenes), it is a great star vehicle. Certainly Macaulay takes a star-oriented perspective in his article....

Very much so. I thought it a trifle gushy, in fact, and would have preferred more dispassionate discussion of choreography and score. Still, it's his debut, and maybe he got a little overexcited.

At the least, I will be anxiously awaiting his reviews in the Times

It's the dawn of a new era, no question!

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I can certainly see the possibilities there, drb. Especially since Macaulay seems definitely to have a thoughtful and structured set of values and standards.

I'd also put a vote in for more NYT coverage of serious ballet throughout North America -- especially by its new senior critic.

The US and Canada are blessed in having a large, intricate ballet culture and institutions. These spread all the way down to local schools in the Carolinas or the NorthWest, and includes companies in Winnepeg or Miami or Arizona that do superb work under very difficult conditions and with little in the way of national attention.

Ballet in North America is structured like a pyramid. NYCB, ABT and NBofC may be at the apex. But every pyramid needs a strong base. The NYT, which aspires to be a truly "national" newspaper, needs give serious attention to that base. It can do this by reviewing more work and artists in parts of other country, and by putting more effort into documenting the rich cross-fertilization of dancers, choreographers, works, and influences from bottom-to-top as well as top-to-bottom.

Bart, we have to give credit when it's due. During his time as chief dance critic, Rockwell did, in fact, cover ballet across the United States - there were reviews of PNB, PA Ballet, Boston, San Francisco and even some European coverage. So, the newspaper was heading in that direction. I hope it continues with Macaulay.

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That’s true. You could argue with what Rockwell had to say, but his willingness to get on a plane and report back was not in doubt.

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I agree that there is non-NYC coverage, which I should have acknowledged. I have the impression that this was more on a company-by-company basis, which did not always show the connectivities. Maybe I'm really asking for more "feature" coverage rather than individual performance reviews. Of course, ALL additional space would be delightful.

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It's the best dance-writing at the Times since John Martin.

Bound to stimulate discussion in every way. Very good for everybody.

May even make arts editors of other papers take a second look at their sections and decide that dance is back in fashion.

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I actually get the impression he loves classical dance.

Imagine that.

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I just got around to Joan Acocella's article on Matthew Bourne in The New Yorker (March 12, 2007, issue). There's a reference to Macaulay in what was, to me, a surprising setting:

At the Laban Centre [where Bourne started his dance training], the undergraduate dance-history course was taught by a young reviewer, Alastair Macaulay. (Next month, he will become the Times' lead dance critic.) Eight years ago, Macaulay published a book of interviews, "Matthew Bourne and His Adventures in Motion Pictures." This is an extraordinary document, the closest investigation on record of a choreographer's creative process. ... One of the things the book makes clear is how much Bourne was affected by Macaulay's course. He loved discovering the formulas that chroeographers of the past had used to represent their subjects, and he loved fnding out that those subjects -- male beauty, female beauty, the operations of hope and fate -- were the same ones that he cared about. Dance history frees you, he says. What it freed him from was modernism."
Incidentally, we have another thread going on the actual opening of Edward Scissorhands last week.

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Maybe what we need is someone who is able and willing to be a kind of missionary, persuading people about the the power and cultural importance of ballet. Denby, Croce ... they did this, and were conscious of doing so.

We have many excellent specialist and sub-specialist dance writers nowadays, reviewing for audiences that are already either quite knowledgeable or at least willing to do some homework before attending their next performance. We need something larger, too.

American ballet can only benefit from a writer who is also a talented story-story teller, a passionate advocate, who possesses an excellent eye and a loyalty to the traditions, and who is capable of seeing the larger picture. That -- especially it it has the forum of a publication with the prestige and the reach of the NY Times -- could really make a difference.

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Bravo for his writing skill and ability to merge description and personal emotion!

I agree drb. I'm so happy that Macaulay is with the NY Times :huepfen024: .

When he wrote for the Dancing Times I thoroughly enjoyed his

reviews; they were brilliant and sometimes humorous. To me, he's the

British version of Martin Bernheimer :). He communicates effectively.

Any dance journalist who is bold enough to call the six fairies in "Beauty,"

" 'Princess Aurora's godmamas,' " is a force to be reckoned with. He produces

English literature when he pens a ballet review. Here's a critic who pulls no punches,

calls it like he sees it, and knows & understands what he's seeing onstage.

Now, for some dancers and artistic directors out there, this means that

the honeymoon is over.

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drb writes:
While I've always disliked R&J (the episodic score forces too many boring crowd/sword scenes), it is a great star vehicle. Certainly Macaulay takes a star-oriented perspective in his article....

Very much so. I thought it a trifle gushy, in fact, and would have preferred more dispassionate discussion of choreography and score. Still, it's his debut, and maybe he got a little overexcited.

I think his approach and especially his choice of Romeo and Juliet was very intentional. The city is about to face a deluge of this ballet: two weeks at NYCB and then one at ABT. There will be a lot of first-timers, newbies, beginning their ballet watching lives with R&J, and articles like this will both encourage that attendance and reinforce its enjoyment. As Bart pointed out

Maybe what we need is someone who is able and willing to be a kind of missionary, persuading people about the the power and cultural importance of ballet.

His conclusion with The Four Temperaments was there to assure us, but also to plant a little bug in the minds of the newbies: Balanchine.

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Mr. Macaulay is not only interesting in what he writes, but also in what he doesn't. Since commenting on ABT's Gala, he's left their performances to other reviewers while writing on two modern dance performances and three by City Ballet.

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There is a level of dislike approaching scorn with which Mr Macauley has been treating the Martins family. First the "slap" article, then the review of Nilas in "Orpheus", attacking not merely his performance but his entire career, and now the review of Darci in "Liebeslieder".

There is an element of personal animus peeking through here which is curious and distasteful.

Can Ask la Cour be next?

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It's possible, but it's nothing different from what many of us have been saying for as long as I've been on the board: Kistler's technical skills have been diminishing badly and charm willl not replace technique for everyone, and Nilas Martins is not only inappropriaely cast, but he's had a semi-monopoly on these roles, to the detriment of other dancers.

When you cast your own family, there's extra scrutiny involved.

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Mr. Macaulay is not only interesting in what he writes, but also in what he doesn't. Since commenting on ABT's Gala, he's left their performances to other reviewers while writing on two modern dance performances and three by City Ballet.

But shouldn't a reviewer try to spread the different performances to be seen and not just review what he "likes?

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It's possible, but it's nothing different from what many of us have been saying for as long as I've been on the board: Kistler's technical skills have been diminishing badly and charm willl not replace technique for everyone, and Nilas Martins is not only inappropriaely cast, but he's had a semi-monopoly on these roles, to the detriment of other dancers.

When you cast your own family, there's extra scrutiny involved.

Really. I love Kistler but she's been getting along on her lovely arms and charm for a while now. And Nilas is a distinctly unremarkable performer. I don't think one would have to have an agenda to comment on these things.

Martins is walking on a real fine line with these and other considerations

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