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Alastair Macaulay: progress report-- hows he doing? or not doing? in NYC and in the US generally.


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#16 sandik

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Posted 16 June 2009 - 12:50 PM

1) He seems to have wrested from his editors more space -- and a bigger travel budget -- than other recent reviewers, including his predecessor.


Rockwell reported from out of town regularly, as I recall.

No complaints here. Macaulay is a fine critic, the Times continues to afford him and the other dance critics space and travel even in this difficult economic time and if anything he's improved since joining the paper.


Rockwell did travel much more often than his colleagues, but I think AM gets around even more than JR did. I know he's been here in Seattle more often than any of his predecessors.

And speaking as a dance critic, I can pretty much guarantee that there is never enough space to discuss everything you'd like to in a review!

#17 dirac

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Posted 16 June 2009 - 01:33 PM

w/ regard to NYTimes expenditure, the paper only picks up the tab for the travels of its first-string and /or staff critics.
the only one that fits this bill in the dance dept. is Alastair Macaulay.
any dance reviews from abroad written by non-staff writers, that is with by-line other than Macaulay's, are filed by the writers on their own budgets and travels, that is, without NYT travel funds behind them.


Thanks for the information, rg.

#18 bart

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Posted 16 June 2009 - 02:55 PM

Macaulay has certainly been giving the impression of travelling a great deal.

More important to me, his reviews from around the U.S. make an impact. When you read them in one sitting -- as is possible thanks to the enlightening collection of links posted by Dale :) -- these reviews suggest that he has a real and rather important agenda. It's not just "I saw this in Miami and that in Seattle." It's: "how do the reps of these companies compare with one another? the dancers? the way they do Balanchine?"

Ballet and ballet audiences in the U.S. are so decentralized most of the time. It's fascinating and encouraging to watch Macaulay piece together a larger -- one might even say "national" -- picture.

P.S. Thanks, Dale, for those Links to the various company stagings of Jewels. May of us read each article as it appeared. A "Collected Jewels," however, is quite different in impact. And very valuable.

#19 Ray

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Posted 16 January 2010 - 05:11 AM

Many BTers may not be aware that Macaulay's recent end-of-decade roundup sparked a lot of animosity in the world of contemporary dance (in AM's anachronistic phrase, "downtown dance"). Here's a recent blog posting by Eva Yaa Asantewaa that exemplifies the fracas.

My personal sense is that more blame needs to be put at the feet of the NY Times than Macaulay himself--he's just a single critic with singular interests, and sounds worst when he's asked to travel outside of his comfort zone.

#20 Kathleen O'Connell

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Posted 16 January 2010 - 07:25 AM

Many BTers may not be aware that Macaulay's recent end-of-decade roundup sparked a lot of animosity in the world of contemporary dance (in AM's anachronistic phrase, "downtown dance"). Here's a recent blog posting by Eva Yaa Asantewaa that exemplifies the fracas.

My personal sense is that more blame needs to be put at the feet of the NY Times than Macaulay himself--he's just a single critic with singular interests, and sounds worst when he's asked to travel outside of his comfort zone.


The NY Times has three other dance critics who do cover contemporary dance with diligence and respect: Gia Kourlas, Claudia La Rocco, and Roslyn Sulcas.

Here's one of the paragraphs in Macauley's piece that triggered the outcry:

Dance critics like to look for hope in the best modern or postmodern choreography being shown in downtown Manhattan. I've seen good material there too and among young modern-dance choreographers elsewhere, and yet — amid a field too large for anyone to keep complete track of it — I sense that too little of late has amounted to anything historic. Instead I think it's worth drawing attention to the continuing and growing vitality of older forms: African dance, Indian dance, flamenco, tango and tap. (Recent festivals of Arab and Muslim art and dance in Brooklyn and Washington have made me wish we saw more from there.)


The field may indeed be "too large for anyone to keep complete track of," but the NY Times has four people in position who could collectively watch, report, and assess - and three of them already do. Macauley might have found a graceful way to delegate the "downtown" decade wrap-up to them. (They might not be any more impressed with it than he is, of course.) One could argue that the senior dance critic of the paper of record should be in a position to provide an informed assessment of dance in all its variety, but if something is genuinely "too large for anyone to keep complete track of" then there should be no shame in calling in reinforcements.

#21 dirac

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Posted 16 January 2010 - 03:58 PM

Oh, dear:

We ought to thank Macaulay for producing a document that—like the solemn wisdom of Pat Robertson and the learned policy pronouncements of Sarah Palin—gives us a vivid idea of who he is.


Take that, Alastair. Asantewaa may have a point about that particular article - some of Macaulay's dismissals seem a trifle airy - but then she goes overboard. It's pretty silly to say that the NYT doesn't care about dance, especially in a time when all newspapers are cutting back and few of them have one dance critic, let alone four. I'm also suspicious of someone who takes lines such as "Dance is the art with no history" and "When a step has happened, it leaves no trace" and presents them as something meant literally when in context it is perfectly clear what Macaulay means.

One could argue that the senior dance critic of the paper of record should be in a position to provide an informed assessment of dance in all its variety, but if something is genuinely "too large for anyone to keep complete track of" then there should be no shame in calling in reinforcements.


Every critic has his areas of strength and weakness. No shame in that, especially when your beat is New York. But if Macaulay really does think the field of contemporary dance is too large for him to keep up, then I agree he shouldn't have written the end-of-the-decade piece - or any season wrap-ups, for that matter.

(Off topic -- I'm still puzzling over what "psychic counselor specializing in Tarot as a transformative modality" means. Is that like an ordinary Tarot card reading? Is something else involved? I'm genuinely curious.)

#22 leonid17

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Posted 16 January 2010 - 04:11 PM

Many BTers may not be aware that Macaulay's recent end-of-decade roundup sparked a lot of animosity in the world of contemporary dance (in AM's anachronistic phrase, "downtown dance"). Here's a recent blog posting by Eva Yaa Asantewaa that exemplifies the fracas.

My personal sense is that more blame needs to be put at the feet of the NY Times than Macaulay himself--he's just a single critic with singular interests, and sounds worst when he's asked to travel outside of his comfort zone.


What exactly do you mean by his "comfort zone"?

In London over what seems to be the last thirty years, I have seen Mr Macaulay frequently attending at what goes for; cutting edge modern dance works, musicals, straight theatre, neo-ethnic dance companies, academic classical ballets, neo-classical ballet et al and attending the same productione more than once.

As a lover of various dance forms, I do not always agree with his opinions but I find them generally readable and balanced. I personally admire Miss Part. If he criticises her, that is his right and I will not take it as a personal affront to my taste, because he is doing what he gets paid for, offering an opinion.

To see his reviews as being in someway damaging to dancers and companies is to me somewhat mythically sentimental. It is my experience that minority art forms successfully attract minority audiences over long periods of time and what he has to say about, "... downtown Manhattan..." I would paraphrase for downtown Islington in London where the Sadlers Wells Theatre promotes younger modern dance companies that have nothing to say to me.

The NYT employs him to inform the public on the basis of his wide knowledge and his status. For me, he is both descriptive and appraisive in his writing and I am always interested to read his reviews from a distance, because he does what he is meant to do, that is, to keep me as a reader informed and over time, I know when to take him at face value and when not.

In an age when media marketing and the cult of the celebrity fashions taste, I think it is refreshing to have a voice that opines in an independent informed manner.

#23 miliosr

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Posted 16 January 2010 - 05:33 PM

Well, having read the original Macaulay piece and then the rebuttal, I would summarize the "controversy" as follows:

(1) Macaulay attends modern/postmodern/contemporary on an irregular basis.
(2) When he does attend, he mostly attends performances w/ works by the heavy-duty moderns/postmoderns/contemporaries -- Cunningham, Morris, Taylor, etc.
(3) Points 1 and 2 should preclude him from rendering an opinion on the state of modern/postmodern/contemporary dance.

It's always possible that Macaulay does attend "downtown dance" performances more regularly than is believed and chooses not to write about them. However, based on his published reviews (and I've been reading him faithfully since he started), I don't think Point 1 is entirely unfair. Short of tallying each and every review, I would say that he writes much more about the ballet than he does about the modern/postmodern/contemporary dance and that, within the latter genre, he writes much more about the established modern dance than about current trends in the field. So, taking that into account, he was probably pushing things by rendering the opinion he did.

BUT, I don't think it's true that, somehow, the NY Times is doing a disservice to the "downtown dance". As others have mentioned, Kourlas, La Rocco and Sulcas do a lot of reporting/reviewing as far as this dance is concerned. And, based on their published reviews, I don't get the sense that what Macaulay wrote is literally untrue. The sense I get from the Kourlas/La Rocco/Sulcas troika is that there's not a lot of major, new significance going on with this kind of dance.


We ought to thank Macaulay for producing a document that—like the solemn wisdom of Pat Robertson and the learned policy pronouncements of Sarah Palin—gives us a vivid idea of who he is.


Take that, Alastair. Asantewaa may have a point about that particular article - some of Macaulay's dismissals seem a trifle airy - but then she goes overboard.

Agreed. She's just pandering to the supposed biases of her readers with that quote.

I'm also suspicious of someone who takes lines such as "Dance is the art with no history" and "When a step has happened, it leaves no trace" and presents them as something meant literally when in context it is perfectly clear what Macaulay means.

Also agreed. All he was saying is a variation on what Mindy Aloff said years ago: "Dances doesn't have theoretical realities. They only have performance realities."


I was more put off by one of the responses to the rebuttal:

"[A] critic's responsibility should be to try to better the art and enlighten choregraphers . . ."

Wrong, wrong, WRONG! The critic's job is to tell the audience what happened and give an evaluation. As Arlene Croce astutely noted, a review is a conversation between the reviewer and the reader. It's not a conversation between the reviewer and the choreographer or between the reviewer and a dancer. (That being said, I do think that Croce -- at times -- acted like a wannabe artistic director in print; her late-period City Ballet reviews being a case in point.)

#24 leonid17

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Posted 17 January 2010 - 09:44 AM

"... I would say that he writes much more about the ballet than he does about the modern/postmodern/contemporary dance and that, within the latter genre, he writes much more about the established modern dance than about current trends in the field. So, taking that into account, he was probably pushing things by rendering the opinion he did."


Thank you for your well reasoned comments.

Historically speaking critics have always had to review dance forms which were unfamiliar territory. I think few critics are terrified by the new and whether they admire or express disdain, their opinion is what they get paid for, coupled with the literary ability to exhibit some expertise in expressing their views.

As to," pushing things," I sometimes want to read critics who are bold and edgy in their comments even if I do not agree with them, because, they expand a livelier discussion about performances and the stature of performances which would have otherwise remained obscure to the majority of the NYT readership.. In the case of Mr Macaulay’s somewhat off the cuff remark, he has succeeded in stirring the pot and raised his own profile further whether he meant to or not.

It is far too easy to attack minority interest “downtown” dance works perpetuated by minority interested parties, when such works have a narrow social appeal which perhaps, is why the NYT feels it doesn’t have to cater for them. After all it isn't their duty to review works simply because they take place.

#25 bart

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Posted 28 January 2010 - 05:15 AM

The exchange between miliosr and leonid made me think. It seems to me that Macaulay, who writes a good amount about non-ballet dance and seems to appreciate it greatly, is the most ballet-centered reviewer the Times has possibly ever had. He knows more about ballet and he is not afraid to take space to write in terms that make complete sense only to a knowledgeable ballet audience.

Macaulay is not afraid to describe things using rather specialized ballet language. For example: this paragraphy in his review of American Ballet Theater's production of Ashton's Ballet Offering." (NYTimes, 1/28/2010):

The first ballerina ends a step by tipping her head sideways and flexing her wrists; the second enters backward from the wings, smiling over her shoulder at us; the fifth folds over on the floor to end her solo like the Dying Swan but then, on the very final beat, sits up brightly; the sixth no sooner comes to rest at the end of a double pirouette than she reverses position and arrives facing along another diagonal. These absurdities actually aren’t absurd here; the ballet’s spirit is so sweetly engaging, so brilliantly laden with intricacy for every part of the body, that it becomes manna.

Someone with a lot of ballet experience -- in class or in theater seats -- can SEE this very clearly while reading. Similarly, someone with a knowledge of ballet history will know what Macaulay means when he speaks, elsewhere in the review, of the "Margot Fonteyn role" or the role "made for Svetlana Beriosova." I have no idea what the average ballet goer would make of it -- or whether they would even read it. :)

#26 fondoffouettes

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Posted 30 June 2010 - 04:40 PM

I'm not sure if this is the correct area for this sort of discussion, but did anyone else notice that today's review by Macaulay of the All-Classic program seemed remarkably 'phoned-in'? He even seemed to repeat phrases from old reviews in places. For example:


6/30 review of All-Classic program: "It’s amazing how much the whole climate of the Metropolitan Opera House improves once American Ballet Theater stops presenting its 19th-century classics."

6/10 review of All-American program: "As soon as American Ballet Theater introduces mixed bills to its repertory, the whole climate improves."


6/30 review of All-Classic program: "Diana Vishneva, partnered by Jose Manuel Carreño, was lusciousness incarnate"

6/9 review of All-Ashton program: "But “Thaïs...looked ravishing, with Diana Vishneva lusciousness incarnate and Jared Matthews both handsome and devout."


I much prefer Macaulay's writing to Rockwell's saccharine and generic reviews, but I've grown a little tired of him repeating the same sentiments and nitpicky preferences over and over again. Yes, we all know by now that he will never like the way Gillian glances at the audience! And upon reading his most recent review, I now find he's starting to simply become trite.

#27 Jack Reed

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Posted 30 June 2010 - 05:38 PM

Personally, it's so hard to find adequate language for what a performance, say, seems to cause to rise within me which seems to want expression that I'm a little in awe of people as good at it as Macaulay, and I don't begrudge him some repetition if the same language seems apt to him on more than one occasion. I'm even more impressed that he can experience so much and remain so lucid about it. (Years ago, I'd visit New York for a weekend and see half a dozen performances which would run together a little afterward.)

I don't even read the majority of his reviews (so I missed your examples, thank you for them) -- I'm not a New Yorker, and I have another life -- but I'm glad for what I do get from him. Repetitious or not, he seems to me the best dance critic the New York Times has had, based on the samples of his writing I've read, that is, when I notice he's written on a topic close to me, compared with the writing of many of his predecessors, when I've run across it.

#28 vipa

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Posted 30 June 2010 - 05:46 PM

I'm not sure if this is the correct area for this sort of discussion, but did anyone else notice that today's review by Macaulay of the All-Classic program seemed remarkably 'phoned-in'? He even seemed to repeat phrases from old reviews in places. For example:

6/30 review of All-Classic program: "It’s amazing how much the whole climate of the Metropolitan Opera House improves once American Ballet Theater stops presenting its 19th-century classics."

6/10 review of All-American program: "As soon as American Ballet Theater introduces mixed bills to its repertory, the whole climate improves."

6/30 review of All-Classic program: "Diana Vishneva, partnered by Jose Manuel Carreño, was lusciousness incarnate"

6/9 review of All-Ashton program: "But “Thaïs...looked ravishing, with Diana Vishneva lusciousness incarnate and Jared Matthews both handsome and devout."

I much prefer Macaulay's writing to Rockwell's saccharine and generic reviews, but I've grown a little tired of him repeating the same sentiments and nitpicky preferences over and over again. Yes, we all know by now that he will never like the way Gillian glances at the audience! And upon reading his most recent review, I now find he's starting to simply become trite.


I noticed that repetition too. My main peeve is that there dancers he can't say a bad thing about and dancers he can't say a good thing about, no matter what. On the other hand he can be insightful, and I believe, is in love with the art.

#29 aurora

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Posted 30 June 2010 - 06:05 PM

I noticed that repetition too. My main peeve is that there dancers he can't say a bad thing about and dancers he can't say a good thing about, no matter what. On the other hand he can be insightful, and I believe, is in love with the art.


Speaking of dancers he can't say a bad thing about (and he can criticize them...just very *very* mildly, and with clear love, and then he moderates the nastiness. Just as he qualifies any nice thing he manages to say about a dancer he doesn't like, as in his compliment of Reyes in today's review)...

I found it interesting he managed to review, in today's review, Cory Stearns (his new love), who did not perform, and omit any reference to Puck, a key character in The Dream, and the dancer who performed that role. For someone who cares *so much* about the ballet text, one could have read the review and not known such a character existed...

It was a lovely description of the scenery though.

#30 kfw

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Posted 30 June 2010 - 06:49 PM

I found it interesting he managed to review, in today's review, Cory Stearns (his new love), who did not perform, and omit any reference to Puck, a key character in The Dream, and the dancer who performed that role. For someone who cares *so much* about the ballet text, one could have read the review and not known such a character existed...

He raved about Cornejo as Puck three weeks ago. Not every review has to be written for readers who've never seen the ballet. I found the contrast he made between Stearns and Gomes instructive, sharpening my image of both.


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