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Macaulay After one YearHow's He Doing?


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#16 papeetepatrick

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Posted 11 April 2008 - 03:10 PM

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.


Bart--there's very little difference in what he says about the Kirov here and what you linked me to in his disparaging of POB's 'point-scoring' campaign (since I'm going to call it that, not seeing it that way myself). That, combined with his 'refreshingly unsophisticated' love of Minkus's organ-grinder claptrap makes him of no interest to me personally; if he has a fondness for this sort of trash, then talking about how a program of virtuoso pieces that brought 'salvo after salvo of audience applause' still is not very convincing in the alarm he experienced upon wondering whether he liked classical ballet or not. It is not as pretentious as Stanley Fish on art, or on the same level of screamy umbrage as Lewis Segal's talk about 'irrelevance'. It is more along the lines of Cleveland Amory's old TV Guide reviews of 'television as a vast wasteland' or people reviewing the Academy Awards ceremonies as if they should be a cohesive artistic whole in themselves. Almost all of these kinds of writings are some form of attempt to identify with something thought 'higher than' all this populism. Probably anyone else doing this job would be about the same, so he's all right with me--I don't read him except in excerpt here.

Leigh is right about letting the companies be who they are. After all, 'New York City Ballet at its most ideal point' is over and gone and can never be retrieved. It is very clear that New York City Ballet is not THE star of the ballet world at all any more, and that there are several companies that are better than its current configuration. I'd definitely go see either 'Romeo and Juliet' and 'Giselle' at ABT at this point than anything at NYCB; the ABT stars are a thousand times more exciting to me, although ABT is not one of the companies I meant as being 'greater'.

#17 Panda

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Posted 11 April 2008 - 04:56 PM

Thank you for encouraging me to write.
I like one of Balanchine''s words,

Ballet is important and significant -yse. But first of all it is a pleasure.

I feel that Mr.Macaulay is missing "a pleasure".

#18 kfw

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Posted 11 April 2008 - 05:34 PM

combined with [MacCauley's] 'refreshingly unsophisticated' love of Minkus's organ-grinder claptrap makes him of no interest to me personally; if he has a fondness for this sort of trash, then talking about how a program of virtuoso pieces that brought 'salvo after salvo of audience applause' still is not very convincing in the alarm he experienced upon wondering whether he liked classical ballet or not.

I don't know, I bow to your much greater musical sophistication, but isn't there a place for simple pleasures, for hot dogs as well as beef bourguignon? Sometimes I want a three course dinner, sometimes I want a dog (make mine Chicago-style, please).

Leigh is right about letting the companies be who they are. After all, 'New York City Ballet at its most ideal point' is over and gone and can never be retrieved.

NYCB is past its prime because Balanchine is gone; fans who saw the company in Balanchine's day don't fault Martins' for that, but for the fact that he hasn't adequately passed on the spirit of the ballets. Petipa has been gone much longer than Balanchine, and I guess if MacCauley is correct, complaints about the way his own company danced his ballets date back at least as far, and have an authoritative precedent as great as, Fokine. Still, at this late date it's probably futile for MacCauley to complain about corruptions in text and tone (his real concern, he says). The Kirov dances Balanchine with an accent too. It will be interesting to see if MacCauley finds fault with that.

#19 papeetepatrick

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Posted 11 April 2008 - 05:57 PM

isn't there a place for simple pleasures, for hot dogs as well as beef bourguignon? Sometimes I want a three course dinner, sometimes I want a dog (make mine Chicago-style, please).


Absolutely there is, and I am not quite sure why I cannot stand 'Paquita' even when well-performed and do like 'Don Q' when well-performed (and thinking here of the same company)--they're both Minkus. It may have to do with what LaCotte did, although I have no way of knowing. 'Don Quixote' is boisterous and as broad as possible--but if I get to see my new Belle Aurelie Dupont, I am never complaining...But this PAQUITA!! it is one endless corps boredom after another, punctuated with brilliant male variations--so that I just don't understand how someone who can't stand the way POB 'makes a silk purse out of a sow's ear' (and despite all this unbelievable tedium, POB has the good humour to dance it like it amounted to something important), how he could then start talking about this 'irrestible music.' I mean, isn't 'Coppelia' also broad and simple? And yet I love to see it. It must be that with 'Don Quixote' the Minkus music actually is slightly brought to life it wouldn't otherwise have by an Aurelie or a Nina Ananiashvili. But what I noticed in 'Paquita' was Minkus not at least being redeemed somehow by the choreography it served. You hear Minkus naked--and it is NOT a pretty sight! The thing that I found most objectionable is his attempts to write more reflective, quiet, piano sounds--and yet they still sound deafeningly loud in some sense. Saint-Saens is a pretty good example of someone who can also write these very easily accessible and raucous things, but there is not always a loudness! :wink: I don't know how else to explain my annoyance at that score, but I never meant to imply that we needed only late Beethoven.

I LOVE good hot dogs!

It's the Kirov Balanchine I'll be seeing, so I agree it will be interesting if he doesn't like the Kirov tone on Balanchine too. But the things he's objected to in the Kirov and POB--down to using the exact same term 'point-scoring'--I already don't have sympathy with. There is much in both Kirov and POB today that is most entrancing and magnetic. I also know, both from reports here and having been to a good number of NYCB performances from 2004-Xmas, 2006, that there is much that is still good at NYCB, but I've stopped going--they are in no way magnetic to me in the way that several other companies are.

Edited to add: but part of my point that I almost forgot is that, given the joy of 'simple pleasures', why be so intolerant of an audience really getting off on an evening of showy warhorses? I could take that a lot better than the Minkus!

#20 Panda

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Posted 11 April 2008 - 10:29 PM

I am not really confident to be able to express well enough what I think. I'll try.

When I saw the Kirov was going to perform at City Center Theater,which is very small. I did not expect they would do full length classics. They obviously chose to do excerpts and perform like a concert. How do you expect some coherence of story in this context??? If we see "Paquita, grand pas" in a program, I think many people expect to see soloist dancers to show off their dancing skills and their individuality. Yes it is very show off piece. If you see Don Q pdd in a concert we expect to see super technique and we gasp and crap hands when a dancer dose incredible foette, of course. Then Mr.Macualay criticized these pieces not artistic? They are touring with restricted budget. Why dose he complain about back drops of DonQ pdd? What dose he want to put there? Don Q scenery? They did for another purpose. Le corsaire was composed of wonderful dancing pieces together from full length le corsaire to make a fun piece for the concert. When they performed as a full length ballet, three odalisques do not dance in the scene Le Jardin. Yes it's mixture. It dose not make sense. They know that. It is a dancing piece. Why dose he complain?
If they performed at the Met, they would do full length works and of course they would emphasize more artistic points rather than technique. By seeing this season's program only and criticize they pursue circus techniques is one sided view,I think. The kirov (classical ballet itself)has many kinds of things together. I enjoy many aspects of ballet like sheer technique , musicality and drama(Giselle,for example) which depend on what they do in which occasion.

They did very simple steps graciously and musically in the beginning of the Le corsaire with bell sound, he said NO choreograph. For him the beginning of La bayader , which is very simple ,doesn't bother at all. Some balanchine works also have many simple steps and NO meaning. Why does he praise these and dislike others?

Maybe I might be wrong. But the way how he describes is like from the top? Somehow he provoked some anger to the Kirov or traditional classical ballet fans, I think. I like serenade ,theme and variation,Symphony in C etc. I really enjoy them. Even so, I treasure old classics like the swan lake very much. The kirov is the best company who can do the swan lake artistically without any doubt. I never have thought Balanchine works are on the top over these classics. They are existed in parallel. And probably many people outside of the U.S. think like me.

That he prefers Balanchine to others is no problem. But I wish him to find better way to write. Whatever he thinks, the Kirov adjusted their way of dancing for this small theater and give us very intense beautiful performances everyday. They pour 100(120?)% energy. I was moved by them. They are giving us wonderful pleasure moments.

I am not sure I could make me understood well, though. If I misundestood what Mr. Macaulay wrote, I have to apologize.

#21 kfw

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Posted 12 April 2008 - 04:10 AM

Panda, thanks so much for telling us what you think. :) You expressed yourself very well. I don't think MacCauley undervalues Petipa. He calls "Raymonda," "La Bayadere," and the Grand Pas from "Paquita" "the core texts of ballet classicism," ballets from which "there is an infinity of detail to be learned." What he doesn't like is the way the Kirov tends to dance them, which he considers unmusical, and destructive of choreographic logic of the work. I think that's the heart of his complaint, that the dance is made to serve the dancer instead of the dancer serving the ballet. Only in that sense do I see that he prefers Balanchine: not Balanchine's ballets over Petipa's, but Balanchine's sense of how dancer, dance and music should relate over the Kirov's.

#22 canbelto

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Posted 12 April 2008 - 07:46 AM

I think the Macauley controversy stems from one basic fact: should a critic of a major newspaper such as the NYTimes have a wide variety of taste? MacCauley doesn't, and his biases are very obvious -- he loves Balanchine, most British ballet, some of the more academic classics, such as Sleeping Beauty, but has very little tolerance for anything else. He dislikes Russian ballet vehemently, and I've stopped reading his reviews of the ABT altogether. I admire his writing abilities, and his knowledge of ballet history, but very often I think he goes to performances with a closed mind.

I think MacCauley might work a lot better in a more "niche-y" environment, where he's not forced to review ballets and companies he has no interest in. To use another example entirely, I think Suzanne Farrell has done a great job coaching Balanchine repertoire in so many different companies around the world, but I'd never want to see her coach, say, Giselle. She has no interest in 19th century story ballets, and that's fine.

#23 Alexandra

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Posted 12 April 2008 - 08:00 AM

I think kfw put the distinctions very clearly.

For the past 20 years in America, at least, newspaper criticism isn't really criticism. It's been a very politically-aware tightrope act, trying not to offend companies or readers. As we often see on this board, what most ballet fans read is: "He hates my favorite dancer or company! Bad bad critic." Or, "She loves my favorite dancer and choreographer. What a brilliant woman!!"

Doing what Macaulay is real criticism: an intelligent man who knows his field and has seen an enormous amount of not only dance, but other live performance (theater, opera, concert music) to have a clear, uncompromising standard against which he measures what he is seeing now. "Objectivity" in criticism doesn't mean not having biases -- everyone has biases. It means looking at something from the outside, and judging what one sees, rather than merely writing, however attractively, about what one likes. I think he is upsetting people, but he's also bringing back people who gave up reading newspaper criticism years ago when it stopped being criticism and became boosterism. There are other opinionated writers out there (most notably Robert Greskovic of the Wall Street Journal, whose reviews are now starting to appear on line!!!) and I'm very grateful to read them. Even when I disagree with them, I know it's not just "an opinion," but reasoned judgment. If it's expressed passionately, or wittily, all the better.

#24 bart

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Posted 12 April 2008 - 10:06 AM

I find the following to be particularly helpful in pinning down what Macaulay is after.

I think that's the heart of his complaint, that the dance is made to serve the dancer instead of the dancer serving the ballet.

This raises a complex of important issues -- relating to programming and marketing choices, aesthetic decision-making, power politics within companies, current audience preferences, etc. -- that deserves to be addressed.

#25 papeetepatrick

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Posted 12 April 2008 - 10:35 AM

Doing what Macaulay is real criticism: an intelligent man who knows his field and has seen an enormous amount of not only dance, but other live performance (theater, opera, concert music) to have a clear, uncompromising standard against which he measures what he is seeing now.


He is all right, and seeing an enormous amount of live performance and knowing the field well in an encyclopedic sense is indeed enough for a critic, which is not especially lofty to begin with. Critics sometimes do show the desire to think of themselves as artists (John Simon was an example of a critic who thought his criticism was art even though it wasn't), since critique does not usually quite manage to reach that realm unless the person also has the aura of illumined theorist or philosopher as well--and I haven't found that the best of these usually do see themselves like that. There are a few writers whose criticism is secondary to their other writing who are artists; non-controversial examples of this are Martin Amis and even Larry McMurtry, whose book about film 'Film-Flam Man' is pervaded by how unimportant he considers it to be by comparison to 'Lonesome Dove' or any of his other real writing.

Knowing fields encyclopedically therefore is enough to be an official critic, although it never guarantees taste. I don't like Macauley's taste, but I also don't care if he has the job. It is still going to have some form of 'boosterism' in it, even if it's more refined in his case or less so in his case or some other critic's case.

The real issue seems to be the 'role of the critic', and for those involved with the daily business of ballet, it is more important than it is to others. Then, to some ballet lovers, it also appears from these comments to be very important to them. I have been sorry for some firings (Deborah Jowitt, from whom I learned a lot over the years) and glad for others (Lewis Segal). Macauley I do not really like as I did Jowitt, but since I don't personally pay attention to the dance critics much, he is at least not offensive even if I can't stand some of his taste. It's the same with most critics in all fields who are not themselves well-known as writer-artists. We're stuck with people like Ben Brantley and Stephen Holden, and if we are very involved with the art, we learn how to 'read around them'. I can see how Macauley would be a good 'read-around' critic. I find him provocative enough in an acceptable way. Great dancers probably usually don't want to be critics, although I wonder if some might be good ones. In literature, it's still the exception rather than the rule for a real writer to do the review, remembering now Joan Didion's review for NYTBook Review of Mailer's The Executioner's Song, and many things in NYReview of Books, as the famous Mary McCarthy review of 'Pale Fire.'

Anyway, if your convinced as well of the supreme importance of your own 'opinion' (however often wrong and in need of correction), the critic, a minor functionary, is not usually a major issue. After all, everybody says stupid things sometimes, and it may even be a good sign if it doesn't happen overtly too often.

#26 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 12 April 2008 - 03:02 PM

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.

#27 kfw

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Posted 12 April 2008 - 04:26 PM

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."

#28 bart

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Posted 12 April 2008 - 06:32 PM

[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?

#29 Paul Parish

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Posted 13 April 2008 - 01:28 PM

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.

#30 zerbinetta

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Posted 15 April 2008 - 05:50 PM

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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