dirac

Alastair Macaulay @ NY Times

216 posts in this topic

Does anyone else think the Times would be delighted with Wolcott's response?

I'm wearing rose colored glasses, but I keep thinking a passionate argument about ballet, however vituperative, will bring positive attention. (Do you think we could get them to fight a duel?)

Yes! I'm sure it's good for business. :blushing: And good that people are reading it. In the best of all possible worlds, it will make them read Macauley (and Wolcott) and make up their own minds!!

Dale makes a good point, too. Are blogs supposed to be "fair and balanced"? I guess not, because there are no rules for blogs. They are supposed to be "a good read" -- entertaining, and that often means something outrageous, or making a point because of the effect a point will have -- and passionate arguments have always been good for ballet.

I'll raise Leigh's questions again, so they don't get lost:

Leigh wrote:

Let's address some of Wolcott's points. Do people find Macaulay's writing overly emotional?

Also, what about Dale's point about Wolcott and his remaining silent on his wife's position vis-a-vis the profession? Can you make that kind of attack and leave that information out?

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Re "over-emotional". I don't see it, though there is a kind of partisanship -- dismissing some, canonizing others -- emerging.

Before Macaulay came to the US, I had the chance to read mostly his longer pieces, rather than individual reviews for the daily papers. The longer pieces were, I thought, models of balance, analysis, and fairness.

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Re "over-emotional". I don't see it, though there is a kind of partisanship -- dismissing some, canonizing others -- emerging.

Wolcott was referring to a review in which Macauley wrote that he cried twice, and explained why. Is this something a critic shouldn't do? Or just something that a reader either likes, dislikes, or shrugs off?

On "dismissing some, canonizing others" -- there's the nub of it :) Whether or not I agree or disagree with a writer, I think s/he has the right to do this. I think one can do that -- be "fair and balanced" in the sense of not omitting a reference to someone who is Not Favored, say, and certainly writing that the Unfavored did well, or the Favorite had a bad night, when that happens -- while still being passionate. Am I being overly optimistic?

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There's more at work here than just Wolcott feeling Macaulay was too emotional, especially when he admits to practically having an orgasm when Part dances.

Yes, and another interesting point is that his wife, Laura Jacobs, whose work I love, frequently verges on the flowery, and for some people apparently crosses over. MacCauley weeps; she rhapsodizes metaphorically at length: two cognate tendencies it seems to me. Is Part's dancing also no more spiritual than an electric can opener?

Other than that, while my sympathies are with MacCauley, Wolcott's rant in pretty darn funny. Just what did Croce do in the Israeli Air Force?

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Does anyone else think the Times would be delighted with Wolcott's response?

I'm wearing rose colored glasses, but I keep thinking a passionate argument about ballet, however vituperative, will bring positive attention. (Do you think we could get them to fight a duel?)

Let's address some of Wolcott's points. Do people find Macaulay's writing overly emotional?

Also, what about Dale's point about Wolcott and his remaining silent on his wife's position vis-a-vis the profession? Can you make that kind of attack and leave that information out?

Wolcott mentions quite frequently on his blog and elsewhere that he’s married to Laura Jacobs; I really don’t think that he’s duty bound to mention it every time he talks about ballet or even criticizes a critic; it’s his blog, after all.

I, too, have found Macaulay’s writing for the Times a trifle, shall we say, lush – it was evident from the time of his debut article, but I thought he was just a little overexcited and he’d calm down. But it’s turned into a veritable tsunami of gush. If Wolcott’s undiplomatic remarks make him turn off the waterworks for a bit and stop tearfully waving his hankie as Kyra or whoever pulls away from the harbor and steams toward the open Atlantic, this Times subscriber will not, forgive me, cry about it. :)

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On "dismissing some, canonizing others" -- there's the nub of it :) Whether or not I agree or disagree with a writer, I think s/he has the right to do this. I think one can do that -- be "fair and balanced" in the sense of not omitting a reference to someone who is Not Favored, say, and certainly writing that the Unfavored did well, or the Favorite had a bad night, when that happens -- while still being passionate. Am I being overly optimistic?

I think critics writing for the informed audience you referrred to earlier not only have the right to make those judgments in print, but know that much of their audience is eager to read them. That frankness is one thing that makes Robert Gottlieb so valuable in the NY Observer. If that's too inflammatory, then perhaps we should skip reading reviews altogether and -- nod to Leigh's bemused hopes for impassioned critics -- the fans themselves should be dueling, perhaps in Lincoln Center Plaza after the Midsummer Night's Swing season. Strong art produces (wonderfully) strong opinions.

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Re: Woolcott. The idea of raising the passions in arts criticism sounds good in theory. Maybe it doesn't come across so well in practice. Consider this bit of ... (words fail me) ... from the Woolcott blog.

The flipside of Macaulay's hammy ardor is that he can be pettily pissy about dancers who have fallen afoul of clique consensus and cleave so devotedly to the death cult of Balanchine and the belief that everything has been a grievous falling-off ever since that he's unable to respond when something genuinely exciting comes along. The Alastair aesthetic is a tired hand-me-down of Arlene's aesthetic, with none of her sparky phrasemaking to keep the view through her visor alive. Balanchine died in 1983; he was a genius, one of the greatest geniuses of the 20th century, but he's gone, he's not coming back, stop pining for the past--the constant lamentations and condemnations of the parlous state of the NYCB under Peter Martins have become a nagging bore, a sawing-away at the same old string. Dry your sappy tears and you'll find your eyesight, your vision, ever so improved.

I appreciate that blogs operate under different standards from conventional journalism. I just didn't know the standards were so much lower. And, I have to admit, I fear for a generation of readers that really may not know the difference.

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I appreciate that blogs operate under different standards from conventional journalism. I just didn't know the standards were so much lower. And, I have to admit, I fear for a generation of readers that really may not know the difference.

The main problem with blogs is that they (and their authors) are in no way vetted. A dance reviewer for the New York Times at least has to have been invited by the editorial staff of the paper to join; a blogger needs no more credentials than the ability to register a domain name. Of course there are bloggers well worth reading who have much to say, but there also are bloggers whose writing would never see publication if they weren't able to publish themselves on the Internet. On a classical music forum I frequent, one poster refers continually to a blogger he considers the world's great expert on the music of a certain major composer. It's obvious to everyone on the forum that the poster and the blogger are the same person, and when I asked the poster to specify the blogger's credentials and publications, I was met with indignant hemming and hawing. It's bad enough that refereed books and articles can be published laden with inaccuracies and questionable argumentation; magnify the situation tenfold and you've got the Internet at its worst. But of course on the other hand, the Internet at its best provides knowledgeable people from all walks of life the chance to communicate their experiences and expertise, without the rituals, politics, and economics of traditional publication.

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"a veritable tsunami of gush" (dirac); "somova/allova" (Mel).

The funniest & wittiest writers seem to be at bt.

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"a veritable tsunami of gush" (dirac); "somova/allova" (Mel).

The funniest & wittiest writers seem to be at bt.

We should anthologize ourselves.

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We should anthologize ourselves.

Isn't that this?

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In Macauley's case, I'd also say that I doubt he's trying to impress people or show off what he knows, but that he (perhaps wrongly) assumes that he's writing to peers -- to people who are knowledgeable and sophisticated, who share his love of ballet, and understand at least something of its history and current aesthetic issues.
I am so glad you wrote this, Alexandra. Yesterday I was mulling this over, and my impression was that Macaulay has made the, perhaps misguided, assumption that his readers share a common knowledge of what is the history of classical ballet in the 20th century by the consensus of the main critics of that century. I wonder if Macaulay is in the position of teachers and writers who assumed that a well-educated populace had knowledge of history, Greek mythology, Shakespeare, and Latin, only to find this assumption overly optimistic.

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I wonder if Macaulay is in the position of teachers and writers who assumed that a well-educated populace had knowledge of history, Greek mythology, Shakespeare, and Latin, only to find this assumption overly optimistic.

As someone who teaches undergraduates, I would say any such assumption is misguided, begining with the basic assumption that the populace is well-educated.

sorry if that sounds jaded but once a generally bright kid writes about "the sun that followed Jesus around" (um, you mean a halo?) you learn not to take anything for granted!

:)

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We should anthologize ourselves.

Isn't that this?

No. An anthology would be a selective collection.

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I wonder if Macaulay is in the position of teachers and writers who assumed that a well-educated populace had knowledge of history, Greek mythology, Shakespeare, and Latin, only to find this assumption overly optimistic.

As someone who teaches undergraduates, I would say any such assumption is misguided, begining with the basic assumption that the populace is well-educated.

sorry if that sounds jaded but once a generally bright kid writes about "the sun that followed Jesus around" (um, you mean a halo?) you learn not to take anything for granted!

:)

I see nothing has changed since I left undergraduate teaching in 1985.

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I wonder if Macaulay is in the position of teachers and writers who assumed that a well-educated populace had knowledge of history, Greek mythology, Shakespeare, and Latin, only to find this assumption overly optimistic.

As someone who teaches undergraduates, I would say any such assumption is misguided, begining with the basic assumption that the populace is well-educated.

That's true, but then not everyone has the money or the interest to attend the ballet regularly. I'll guess that most of MacCauley's core readership has a decent arts and humanities education. And from that I think it follows that these readers will sense where their education is lacking and go fill it in. A good critic is a good educator.

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Now there's an idea I'd like to see implemented. How about a link available/attached to every critic's review to a bio/resume giving the reader an opportunity to know the critic's background, years of professional experience, ballet experience, dancer training, theater, music, journalism training, books written, etc.

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Now there's an idea I'd like to see implemented. How about a link available/attached to every critic's review to a bio/resume giving the reader an opportunity to know the critic's background, years of professional experience, ballet experience, dancer training, theater, music, journalism training, books written, etc.

I'd prefer to see that attached to every blog, but too many frauds would be exposed.

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I'd prefer to see that attached to every blog, but too many frauds would be exposed.

I would like to see that on blogs too, but anybody can invent whatever on blogs...

To do so in the written media would be highly difficult to get away with I'd think...

Ok, bios for both!! Why not?! One looks in a Zagat often before trying a fine restaurant, one

hopefully checks backgrounds on doctors before walking into an office. In today's world, it should be

all too easy to link to info/resumes of critics via the Internet.

Maybe Gia ought to start interviewing some of the top dance critics of today for NYC's Time Out.... open them up to the public... I'd be interested....

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i'm probably not doing this right and any moderator that is so inclined can certainly fix or edit as they see fit.

i really like a lively discussion, and lively this one certainly is. for some reason it kept bringing to mind the following caricature by Alex Gard (of "Ballet Laughs" and "More Ballet Laughs"), which is not about critics really, but nonetheless i like a universe in which the matters of classic dance are seriously debated:

the photos are mine and i don't care what happens to them. it is in 2 parts as it was too large to scan in one.

http://img.photobucket.com/albums/v433/Mme. Hermine/PHOTOI407.jpg

http://img.photobucket.com/albums/v433/Mme. Hermine/PHOTOI409.jpg

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Mme. Hermine, those caricatures are a hoot! Thanks a lot.

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Colonel de Basil looks especially fetching. :unsure:

You're right, Mme. Hermine. This could easily be about any of us -- critics, dancers, fans -- who become impassioned, and perhaps a little bit insane at times, about the art and its practitioners.

Wish I knew what Macaulay, Wolcott, et. al., actually look like.

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Macaulay has an end-of-the-season wrap/thoughts piece in Sunday's paper:

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/07/01/arts/dan...a.html?ref=arts

After reading this, I was thinking that Macaulay took the approach that he was going to be upfront about being away from the New York scene, rather than just avoiding the fact. It's true that many of his reference points are from the Royal Ballet. But isn't that better than none at all (Rockwell) or from a company that lacks a great history?

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A word on the references to the Royal Ballet that I hope will be helpful. The Royal has long been on the NYTimes watch, starting with John Martin, partly because it was considered the major classical ballet company in the West and partly because its productions of the Petipa classics were the most authentic, based, as they were, on the Stepanov notations. Every new production of "Sleeping Beauty" was followed with intense interest -- since the Royal had staked its reputation on being the conservator of the classics, it was held up to scrutiny, and often also as a model. During the Ballet Boom, in New York, the Royal was as important to balletgoers as was NYCBallet, and many of the Times readers would be from that time. And when the Royal fell on troubled times, the NYTimes kept watch because it's an international paper, and the Royal is an international company. So I think Macaulay (as had Kisselgoff before him, and Barnes, and Martin) refers to the Royal in that way, not as his favorite little home company, any more than he quotes Shakespeare because he's his hometown poet. :unsure:

On the issue of what is, or should be, the Times standard of writing, I (not surprisingly) hope that it, and the Journal and the New Yorker, keep trudging along, beknightedly or not, in assuming a large part of its readership wants writing, and thought, of the caliber they're now getting. I thought of this reading some of Clive Barnes reviews this spring. Barnes is an excellent writer, often very witty, and now is squeezed into tiny little reviews at the NY Post. There are times when he can do wonders with the four or five sentences he's allotted, and he will write one-sentence descriptions of dancers that are absolutely poetic. If there's no depth, it's not because he can't do it, but because he doesn't have the space to do it -- and the readership wouldn't be particularly interested. It's as though a great chef were working at a diner, flipping burgers rather than making Beef Wellington, or doing something fantastic with sole. The burgers will have a special sauce and be served with flair, but ... there have to be SOME places left where one can get something that isn't a burger!

I'm late on this point, but wanted to say that Wolcott has a brief biography (including family ties :) ) on his About page, so he's covered. I hope he keeps writing about ballet. Maybe he'll start a trend!

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Macaulay has an end-of-the-season wrap/thoughts piece in Sunday's paper:

Wow, were those attacks on Darci, Nilas and Yvonne Borree really necessary? And they were attacks, not appropriately toned critiques. To spend 3 lengthy paragraphs savaging them (mainly Darci and Nilas), writing that they are examples of "declining standards". Certainly Darci is a great enough ballerina that she has earned more respect than that - the level of animosity is really too much.

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