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Macaulay After one Year

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Responding to a few points (none of them on Macaulay, but we might as well accept that the thread has morphed beyond that) I thought popularlibrary's comment on Shaw was interesting, but I have reservations. That sort of aesthetic warrior is fine in a small community where the supposed audience is also seeing the same art. Inflammatory commentary then becomes part of the dialogue. But another function of critics, like it or not, is that they create the record. The response to that sort of writing when you have no opportunity to see the subject firsthand is different - you're at the critic's mercy and have no choice but to see things through his or her eyes. To use a past example, I can't say how much I learned from reading Croce, but there was also an awful lot I had to unlearn, and her Olympian tone seemed calculated to squelch critical analysis. You were too seduced by the oratory power.

Papeete, we who are about to write salute you :)

Having made the primary source and written about it as a secondary form, critical writing is easier. It's a defined task rather than a birth of expression. But still, there is an art to the craft. Kenneth Tynan did argue that it was a standalone art - I agree with him in that - as noted above, as time goes on, your writing may be read by people who never saw the primary object (to be sure, most critical writing will never see this point)

There is an element of craft I've found is the same in writing as in choreography - or actually any art that takes place in time rather than all at once. Pacing. The thing I enjoy most about critical writing is figuring out how to regulate the flow of information so the reader gets an analogous impression to the one in the theater. What facts come in what order - what impressions, what criticism? And to tie in from what I said earlier, another interesting element of craft is cultivating a voice with as much vigor and style as I can manage that still allows the reader the freedom to have a different viewpoint.

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There is an element of craft I've found is the same in writing as in choreography - or actually any art that takes place in time rather than all at once. Pacing. The thing I enjoy most about critical writing is figuring out how to regulate the flow of information so the reader gets an analogous impression to the one in the theater. What facts come in what order - what impressions, what criticism?

That sounds like a really interesting task, and one that your experience as a choreographer would make all the more interesting. In "The Dance Criticism of Arlene Croce" (McFarland and Company; 2005), Marc Raymond Strauss quotes a passage from Edwin Denby's essay "Forms in Motion and in Thought": "But the action of the step determines the ramifications, the rise and fall of the continuous momentum. . . . They dance, and as they do, create in their wake an architectural momentum of imaginary weights and transported presences . . ."

Strauss then writes that "this passage recalls Aristotle's classical principles of aesthetic satisfaction, and cathartic sequencing of events -- events that carry us along with a formally compelling power. The inherent drama of a performance revisited in memory becomes, then, not unlike the formalist's enlivening examination of the artwork itself. In both Denby and Croce's view, the memory of the event subsequent to the performance becomes the scrutinized art object . . . . As the critic seeks to give form to that memory, his or her imagination recreates the "architectural momentum" established by the initial performance. In other words, the manner in which the forms of both the performance and the memory of the performance cohere in the viewer's imagination recapitulates the vital energy of that performance."

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[A]nother function of critics, like it or not, is that they create the record. The response to that sort of writing when you have no opportunity to see the subject firsthand is different - you're at the critic's mercy and have no choice but to see things through his or her eyes.
An important point. The NY Times is, after all, a "paper of record" and is read throughout the US and in much of the rest of the world as well. And, due to the internet, the record will last into a kind of cyber-eternity.
[Croce's] Olympian tone seemed calculated to squelch critical analysis. You were too seduced by the oratory power.
Croce can be remarkably descriptive, but many of the judgments she plunks down on the table are more or less unsupported by her text. To test this impression, I opened Dancing in the Dark randomly at a page towards the end (1996). There I was informed that Keith Roberts, as a classical dancer, makes Angel Corella look "flat and facile" and that Julio Bocca is a "dance performer rather than a dancer." Vladimir Malkhov, on the other hand, is a "pure dancer, in his own terms, as Kyra Nichols is in hers." There are obiter dicta like this tossed around constantly in her reviews.

I wonder, does Macaulay do the same?

There is an element of craft I've found is the same in writing as in choreography - or actually any art that takes place in time rather than all at once. Pacing. The thing I enjoy most about critical writing is figuring out how to regulate the flow of information so the reader gets an analogous impression to the one in the theater. What facts come in what order - what impressions, what criticism?
This rings very true, and I can feel it in your writing, Leigh. Such a process must take time as well as judgment. Most of Macaulay's pieces are written on very short deadlines, I assume -- certainly shorter than Croce or Denby, who had the comparative luxury of more time to deliberate, weigh, and balance what they were putting down on the page.

Is it your impression that Macaulay just doesn't have time to do this side of the job thoroughly? Or do you think he is not terribly concerned about it?

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When I was a graduate student at Oxford, I noticed that the Brits are not "concerned" to support their statements with examples. As an American, it seemed arbitrary -- but then I noticed that what they were saying was remarkably pithy and interesting. The drawback of the American method is that it's easy , VERY easy, to get some facts together and then make an argument using the materials you have to support your case, whether it's interesting, insightful, TRUE, or not -- of course it's TRUE, the facts are there -- but it's often just something safe to say, a very uninteresting, even trivial truth. And worse, it's a good way to disguise a rationalization, and an excuse to avoid going REALLY deep into the matter, which will often require you to go on some hunches, or insights you can't account for. They actually encourage opinionated eccentricity, like Clement Crisp's -- who is rarely eccentric in his judgments, just in his manner of expression.

They're responsible in a different way.

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Having just read Michael Popkin's review of the Kirov in DanceViewTimes I recommend it to any here who have been disappointed with Macaulay's unrelentingly grumpy reviews. It's in Links today.

Thank you, Michael.

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Having just read Michael Popkin's review of the Kirov in DanceViewTimes I recommend it to any here who have been disappointed with Macaulay's unrelentingly grumpy reviews.

Thanks, zerbinetta. At the heart of Michael's thought provoking piece is this observation:

Seeing this repertory performed on one of Balanchine's stages, the interesting thing was how much the results (either intentionally or not) resembled many of that choreographer's one act ballets

He goes on to describe the "recipe" Balanchine took from Petipa for ballets such as La Source, Donizetti, Raymonda Variations, Walpurgisnacht Ballet, and Cortege Hongrois.

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I like Macaulay's writing but he drives me up and over the wall by including a reference to Balanchine in what seems like every review he writes. He did it again today in his review of ABT's all-Tudor bill. (He mentioned Balanchine's enthusiasm for Tudor's Romeo and Juliet.) I know he holds Balanchine in high regard but it's starting to become a cliche that some reference to Balanchine will occur in every review he writes.

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I think we're in the golden age of dance criticism at the NY Times thanks to Alistair Macaulay. I couldn't be more pleased.

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I think we're in the golden age of dance criticism at the NY Times thanks to Alistair Macaulay. I couldn't be more pleased.

Dear Farrell Fan I concur.

I am extremely jealous that newspaper critics in New York can have so much space devoted to writing about ballet compared to their counterparts in London.

I trust Alistair Macaulay reviews because having read them regularly in London and from New York. I trust them because he has revealed his personal taste and expertise, which is what he is paid for. Over time, established critics will reveal themselves and their values and never have I hoped their prejudices.

There has always been a problem among some readers of ballet criticism. This is especially so, if they have acquired some preferential ownership of taste, in respect of particular dancers or choreographers. When this happens, the difference between a fan and an honest critic becomes apparent.

I am sorry that Mr Macaulay arrived in New York when NYCB is generally considered to be experiencing a decline, when he personally admires Balanchine so much. I am glad however that he has the ability to show enthusiasm for a choreographer when so much time at the ballet is spent in enthusing about dancers.

Ballet reviews at best and especially for works that are new or not well known, should talk about the ballet and its production because most readers will not have seen it and thus they become informed about the art and its genre.

I think it was legitimate in an article to quote Balanchine when talking about Tudor as Balanchine is entitled to be considered to have an authoritative view whether one personally agrees with it or not. I have not always concurred with Mr Macaulay’s opinions, but I sorely miss him from the London scene where I have only two or three critics, among what has become a plethora, to rely upon for some kind of intelligent and informed writing about ballet when the others appear to be only really interested in 'dance.

Writing about ballet and especially classical ballet, should be intelligible as it is discussing what is at its best, a high art, based upon the aesthetics of millennia that may entertain but it should never be produced or performed as an entertainment. In a review, a critic has a “l'œuvre à faire”. The manner in which they go about it varies. Clement Crisp rather jollily is reported to have said that, “No one should write about Swan Lake until they has seen it 500 times.” He meant I believe that they should be informed. I think Macaulay is informed.

PS

What does one call a group of ballet critics? Is it a ‘howl’ of critics, ‘a screech of critics’ or ‘disappointment’ of critics, or is it as it some time appears to be, ‘a coven’ of critics?

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What does one call a group of ballet critics? Is it a ‘howl’ of critics, ‘a screech of critics’ or ‘disappointment’ of critics, or is it as it some time appears to be, ‘a coven’ of critics?
How about something related to movement: "swarm,"for instance, or "scuffle, "or "scrum" -- or, using the international language of ballet, the French word melee", with accent on the first "e"?

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Hmmm.

The only point I was making in my prior post is that Macaulay finds a way to include Balanchine's name in many of his reviews no matter how tenuous the connection to the subject at hand. I don't believe I said anything negative about the overall quality of his reviews, which are a big step up from those of John Rockwell and Anna Kisselgoff.

At the end of the day, I don't like the constant namedropping of Balanchine. Sorry -- we'll just have to agree to disagree on that score.

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At the end of the day, I don't like the constant namedropping of Balanchine. Sorry -- we'll just have to agree to disagree on that score.

...which makes two of us now. This is even more confusing-(and sometimes frustrating)- for someone who might have a little knowledge of ballet-(by having seen a considerable amount of performances in his/her lifetime)- but may be not familiar to Balanchine's works, because of several different reasons.

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He mentioned Balanchine's enthusiasm for Tudor's Romeo and Juliet.

In this case Macaulay is sort of complimenting Tudor on being (a bit of) a choreographer's choreographer. Also Balanchine seemed to have had an especially keen eye for what was true and what was phony.

In the overall of dance criticism, look at Croce and Garis and Denby, they wrote about Balanchine most of the time. Balanchine is like Beethoven or Mahler for music critics--how can you not refer to them again and again, albeit a little obsessively so (like a first love).

A gaggle of critics?

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Hmmm.

The only point I was making in my prior post is that Macaulay finds a way to include Balanchine's name in many of his reviews no matter how tenuous the connection to the subject at hand. I don't believe I said anything negative about the overall quality of his reviews, which are a big step up from those of John Rockwell and Anna Kisselgoff.

At the end of the day, I don't like the constant namedropping of Balanchine. Sorry -- we'll just have to agree to disagree on that score.

If it annoys you it annoys you. I was only referring to one particular review where I thought it legitimate to use the B name. As there are less than a handful of choreographic exemplars available to use, it is inevitable that the repetition of Balanchine or Petipa for instance could appear very, very frequently in reviews dealing with ballet. It is an example device perhaps established upon the assumption of Balanchine’s stellar career being based for a long time in New York and is therefore a commonly known reference point. Macaulay is after all writing for the hard copy New York Times not a national paper or international paper. I know no more than you do why he used Mr. B so often and I only offer a possible explanation.

Regards

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I've been following Macaulay's writing since he was in Britain. Although I can't say that I've noticed any pattern of constant and/or irrelevant references to Balanchine, Macaulay IS one of those writers -- llike Croce and Denby -- whose thoughts are formed by a well thought-out personal aesthetic and, possibly, by an ideal image of what dance can or even should be. He does nto hide this. It's something that separates him from many other dance writers whose reviews sometimes seem to isolate the dance form they're writing about.

As ballet paradigms go, one could do worse than Balanchine. :thumbsup:

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In this day of newspaper cuts/layoffs (as in the recently defunct New York Sun), we are very lucky (as Leonid mentions early in this thread) to have so much ballet coverage in NYC. As I've written before, I do know Mr. Macaulay casually (I sit behind him at the NYCB), and we have a bit of a professional connection. And yes, I am a fan even when I disagree with him (all or partly). He brings an energy and passion to his reviews that is most welcome (and he did the same with his theatre reviews for the Financial Times). I also enjoy Roslyn Sulcas's review in the NYT's, as well as Tobi Tobias's in the Village Voice (and elsewhere) and Eric Taub's (Ballet.co.uk), among others.

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