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Macaulay After one YearHow's He Doing?


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#1 kfw

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Posted 10 April 2008 - 05:52 PM

Mod's note: This thread was broken off the earlier thread on Macaulay's arrival at The New York Times.
--carbro


On the Mariinsky: NYCC thread Aurora writes

I wish he would just review the ballet(s). There is never much of a review--ballet history? yes. But review of dancers, not so much.

as was quoted in today's links, he said the most recent visit to the Kirov left him thinking:
"Maybe I don't like ballet after all?...Almost all of it left me cold."

His friends admitting they felt the same reassures him that he does in fact like ballet, however I've seen nothing in any of his reviews for the times to indicate that he likes very much of it, certainly anything that isn't by Balanchine.

MacCauley would vex me too if he sniffed at a performance I'd been thrilled by. And he sure gives his critics ammunition with this morning's confession -- I laughed out loud. But in that review alone he described the dancing of Vishnena, Lopatkina, Sarafanov, Tereshkina, Somova, Lobukhin, most or all of which he characterized in previous reviews this season.

Choreographers besides Balanchine he has expressed enthusiasm for in the pages of the Times include Wheeldon, Tudor, Ratmansky, Robbins, Millepied, MacMillan, Alleyne, Gaines and, of course, Petipa, and he has yet to review performances of work by Ashton, Bournonville or Joffrey.

I don't know of any critics who think we're in a great age of ballet performance, and of course given that the great choreographers are gone or still emerging, that's no surprise. In the interim, I value critics who give me close descriptions of what they like and dislike. MacCauley doesn't gripe anymore than Croce did, and who has had the more interesting moment in history?

#2 vipa

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Posted 10 April 2008 - 06:18 PM

[quote name='kfw' date='Apr 10 2008, 09:52 PM' post='224835']
On the Mariinsky: NYCC thread Aurora writes
[quote]I wish he would just review the ballet(s). There is never much of a review--ballet history? yes. But review of dancers, not so much.

as was quoted in today's links, he said the most recent visit to the Kirov left him thinking:
Maybe I dont like ballet after all?...Almost all of it left me cold." [quote]

For me he is mostly on target. I think he is a critic of substance which is much needed. Also, my husband who is also a former dancer emailed Mr. Macauley and received a wonderful and insightful response. I only mention this to support my contention that he is not only a critic of substance, but someone who truly cares about dance.

I think we all, including myself, tend to like the critics we agree with and dislike the critics we don't agree with. At the same time I appreciate Mr. Macauley and Ms. Acocella (New Yorker) as the two remaining thoughtful dance reviewers that we have in the US. Honestly, with everyone else I skip over most content to get to the names to see if it was a thumbs up or down performance.

#3 bart

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Posted 10 April 2008 - 06:53 PM

Thanks, kfw and vipa, for reviving this thread. Time has passed, and it does seem time to discuss how we think Mr. Macaulay has done. In that Kirov thread, Mashinka quoted a poster who wrote:

I was very, very annoyed by Alistair MacAuleys review. He should return to UK, I think.

Here's Mashinka's response:

Oh no, you wanted him and you're stuck with him as Alistair MacAuley is one emigrant I really don't want to see returning. I seem to remember some 15 pages eulogizing over A.M. on this forum when he first went to the New York Times with mine being just about the only dissenting voice.

so please forgive this Londoner with a very long memory for saying: I TOLD YOU SO

.

Others -- I am one -- still find his recent reviews insightful and educational, though perhaps not so effective as descriptions of the performances being reviewed as they once were. Descriptions of ballet -- the ability to convey in printed words what one is seeing on the stage how this feels -- has been in the past a strong point of Macaulay at his best.

So --after a year or so on the job at the New York Times -- what do you think?

#4 Panda

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Posted 10 April 2008 - 09:11 PM

I have to say I am not a native English speaker. I therefore may not get his point exactly what he nuanced. However, after I read his reviews about the Kirov, he sounds he dose not enjoy classic ballet at all....or at least he does not like the kirov. An art is a subjective thing. Everybody has their own opinion. But I think that they also should respect others' . The Kirov is an epitome of classical ballet and the director,coaches, teachers and dancers all know ballet very very well of course. They choose programs and productions with their taste which was nurtured under the long tradition. In a sense they know the best. His way of criticism appears he lacks respects for this century old ballet tradition.

I have many things I want to say about his review since I really disagree with him at many points. But I'll stop it this time.

#5 atm711

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Posted 11 April 2008 - 03:45 AM

So --after a year or so on the job at the New York Times -- what do you think?


We all have enough knowledge of ballet to support our own entrenched opinions but I very much support Macauley's judgment and I, for one, am glad to have him at the Times. I think I know where he is coming from in his recent review of the Kirov's "Raymonda/Paquita/Bayadere" program. I also felt I was at one of those 'Stars of Tomorrow' programs (I only attended once--which was more than enough!); like eating too many sweets---not enough beef? When I recall the marvelous repertoires of Ballet Theatre, Ballet Russe, and the Sadler's Wells I realize what Ballet has lost; we have been sinking back to the 19th century for too many years now. I do get a bit weary of the cult of personality.

#6 Mashinka

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Posted 11 April 2008 - 04:02 AM

When I recall the marvelous repertoires of Ballet Theatre, Ballet Russe, and the Sadler's Wells I realize what Ballet has lost; we have been sinking back to the 19th century for too many years now. I do get a bit weary of the cult of personality.


I would imagine commercial considerations play a big part in repertoire choices. When Gergiev brought two imaginative programmes to London as part of the Shostakovich festival, it was made very clear that new works weren't wanted and I imagine that future programming will reflect that rejection.

#7 Farrell Fan

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Posted 11 April 2008 - 08:43 AM

It seems to me that ballet has taken on new prominence in the arts pages of the NY Times since Macaulay became chief critic and that's certainly a good thing. I find his reviews consistently interesting and the writing is livelier than it has been since Clive Barnes moved to the Post. I sent Macaulay an email correcting an error in one of his Sunday pieces (he referred to Balanchine as NYCB's "ballet master in chief," which he never was) and he responded immediately, thanking me and making the correction. As far as I'm concerned Macaulay is doing great!

#8 kfw

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Posted 11 April 2008 - 09:24 AM

It seems to me that ballet has taken on new prominence in the arts pages of the NY Times since Macaulay became chief critic and that's certainly a good thing.

Yes, in a mere year he's reported from London, Miami, Chicago, Seattle, San Francisco and Washington, DC. I don't remember Rockwell or Kisselgoff reporting from outside NYC so frequently.

#9 dirac

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Posted 11 April 2008 - 09:26 AM

What Farrell Fan said.

We are very lucky to have Macaulay at the Times. I think it pretty much goes without saying that he likes ballet. :wink:

#10 atm711

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Posted 11 April 2008 - 10:14 AM

When Gergiev brought two imaginative programmes to London as part of the Shostakovich festival, it was made very clear that new works weren't wanted and I imagine that future programming will reflect that rejection.


The public has to be educated. That's what Balanchine did in New York starting in the '40's. I will never forget my initial shock of seeing 'Concerto Barocco' for the first time in Leotards. I hated it.......but not for long.

#11 bart

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Posted 11 April 2008 - 10:50 AM

I have many things I want to say about his review since I really disagree with him at many points. But I'll stop it this time.

Please, Panda, don't hesitate to post on this. The Kirov has many fans and advocates here. All will benefit from a variety of knowledgeable opinion on this issue.

I would imagine commercial considerations play a big part in repertoire choices.

Indeed. This raises the question of a reviewer's responsibility to consider such issues. How sensitive should a reviewer be to a company's feeling that it must dance a certain repertoire, or in a certain manner, in order to pay the bills?

The review that sparked this recent discussion was of a specific Kirov program:

During most of the third program in the Kirov Ballet’s season at City Center ” a quadruple bill of excerpts from late-19th-century ballets by Marius Petipa ” an alarming question kept flashing into my mind: “Maybe I don’t like ballet after all?” Here were virtuoso episodes from “Le Corsaire” and “Don Quixote”; here was the “Diana and Acteon” pas de deux; here came salvo after salvo of audience applause. And almost all of it left me cold.


This kind of gala program, indeed, make one wonder just a teeny bit about just how serious an art classical ballet remains. Macaulay is not alone in responding to such programs in that way.

His complete review -- and the larger body of his critical writing -- suggest to me that he is personally committed to the idea that classicism in dance is a living force and needs to be peformed as such. This may explain his pique when he feels that classical ballet is being danced in a manner which, to him, is less than it ought to be. Here's the heart of the criticism of this program, it seems to me:

I don’t actually care if what we’re shown isn’t authentic Petipa; I just want to see dancing that feels like dancing ” musical, spontaneous, connected. But the Kirov has spent decades honing these chunks into material that makes ballet feel like a graduation exercise or professional competition.

The emphasis becomes so point-scoring and prize-oriented that there’s far less difference than there should be between the first three ballerinas.

It's damning, but not, I think, because Macaulay doesn't like classical ballet.

#12 kfw

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Posted 11 April 2008 - 11:07 AM

How sensitive should a reviewer be to a company's feeling that it must dance a certain repertoire, or in a certain manner, in order to pay the bills?

Great question. In this case, given the commercial success -- someone correct me if I'm mistaken -- that the Bolshoi had with unfamiliar work at the much larger Met in 2005, I'm not surprised MacCauley didn't feel constrained in his criticism.

atm711, thanks for sharing your memory. More blog posts, please. :wink:

#13 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 11 April 2008 - 11:26 AM

The review that sparked this recent discussion was of a specific Kirov program:

During most of the third program in the Kirov Ballet’s season at City Center ” a quadruple bill of excerpts from late-19th-century ballets by Marius Petipa ” an alarming question kept flashing into my mind: “Maybe I don’t like ballet after all?” Here were virtuoso episodes from “Le Corsaire” and “Don Quixote”; here was the “Diana and Acteon” pas de deux; here came salvo after salvo of audience applause. And almost all of it left me cold.


This kind of gala program of old warhorses can, indeed, make one wonder just a teeny bit about just how serious an art classical ballet remains. Another Corsaire? One more Don Quixote? Macaulay is not alone in responding to such programs in that way.

His complete review -- and the larger body of his critical writing -- suggest to me that he is personally committed to the idea that classicism in dance is a living force and needs to be peformed as such. This may explain his pique when he feels that classical ballet is being danced in a manner which, to him, is less than it ought to be. Here's the heart of the criticism of this program, it seems to me:

I don’t actually care if what we’re shown isn’t authentic Petipa; I just want to see dancing that feels like dancing ” musical, spontaneous, connected. But the Kirov has spent decades honing these chunks into material that makes ballet feel like a graduation exercise or professional competition.

The emphasis becomes so point-scoring and prize-oriented that there’s far less difference than there should be between the first three ballerinas.

It's damning, but not, I think, because he doesn't like classical ballet.


Without commenting on Macaulay's merits (He is a valued colleague. End of discussion.) I will say that I think that the above can be looked at another way. In the same way that Bob Gottlieb (another valued colleague and friend) judged the POB for not being enough like NYCB when they dance, I'd argue that Macaulay is not letting the Mariinsky be the Mariinsky. He may not like that, but plenty of other people (including the Russians) do. I say this as a Balanchine man - but the evolutionary endpoint of all ballet companies is not to become New York City Ballet even at its most ideal point. Let's let the company reflect the culture that surrounds it.

#14 popularlibrary

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Posted 11 April 2008 - 12:01 PM

Hmm. Since I'm not able to get to or sit in a theater anymore, I haven't seen the performances Macaulay is talking about, so I'm mute about that (By the way, hasn't the Kirov returned to its original name, or did the marketing people decide that a whole different name was too confusing for the American public?) But this great discussion does raise some important points about what a good critic does.

I pretty much agree with those who feel it isn't the critic's business to affirm fan passions or support and respect major enterprises. My notion of a great critic is the person in the crowd who sometimes just has to say (or snarl) "the emperor is naked!" S/he's the sensibility that focuses without fear or favor and has no hesitation about major heresy. He's the G.B. Shaw who went way over the edge denouncing Shakespeare because he was right about the issues of theater his generation's Shakespearolotry raised. Most of us have a whole set of assumptions and preconceived notions that a good critic should challenge constantly. We need to keep re-thinking things, and freshening our eye and our responses. And frankly, most of the critics who can do this are themselves obsessed by a particular vision of the arts, usually represented by some creative figure - for Shaw it was Ibsen and Wagner. For Croce it was Balanchine. It gives them a weapon, so to speak, to deal with the mediocre and meretricious, the empty and cliche-ridden. Otherwise as audiences we get fat, lazy and self-satisfied. We can tend to wallow in unearned emotions, like soap-opera fans, which I'm guessing was part of Macaulay's dissatisfaction with the recent Kirov programs. But it seems to me Macaulay's criticism is in the right vein, and I hope he continues to roil the critical waters and keep us all exercised.

#15 zerbinetta

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Posted 11 April 2008 - 02:49 PM

It seems to me that ballet has taken on new prominence in the arts pages of the NY Times since Macaulay became chief critic and that's certainly a good thing.

Yes, in a mere year he's reported from London, Miami, Chicago, Seattle, San Francisco and Washington, DC. I don't remember Rockwell or Kisselgoff reporting from outside NYC so frequently.


Also Boston. And didn't he review Nina's Georgian Ballet in Chicago as well?

He has been getting around which may explain a certain grumpiness I find in the Kirov reviews. He seems to be accentuating the negative, like the complaint on using the same drop for two ballets. The Kirov probably doesn't have a big selection of small drops as City Center is no doubt one of the smallest stages they dance on.


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