On the New York City Ballet thread on Week #1, Krystin raises an interesting critical comment about Macaulay\'s ballet criticism.
I think if I was in NYCB I would never read his reviews...even when he's complimenting dancers he finds a way to insult them in the same or next sentence.
I understand your reaction to his seemingly harsh criticisms. It is natural to feel defensive about dancers we love. I think he can point out strange details (like Danny Ulbrict having small feet. Duh. He's really small.) and at times be a bit harsh. However, I do think that he is seriously invested in the future of ballet as an art form. He wants to see these companies flourish. He wants to see dancers grow, tackle challenges, and improve their artistry. He seems to review more performances and companies than critics of the past, and I am enlightened by his comparisons and the historical context he often provides.
I have enjoyed Macaulay's writing since his British days, and certainly love his commitment to a larger vision of what ballet can/out-to be in the United States. But I have to admit that some of the things he's saying nowadays strike me as being rather peculiar. I don't mean that he's unfairly critical or that he evaluates some dancers and companies by stricter standards than others. I am referring to his use of language which makes, to me at least, no sense, and which I don't recall from his British writing or even his earlier reviews here in the States.
For example, here are some of his comments from the review of NYCB's opening night. (I'm leaving out the names of the dancers, because the strangeness seems to transcend Macaulay's inevitable preferences for some dancers' work over that of others.)
As for those principals: [Mr. X] showed partnering problems in "Tschaikovsky"; and though his jumps have speed and elevation, they also look glib and short on texture. [ .... ]
[Mr. Y] is ... some kind of star. His jumps in "Symphony" have people gasping; he makes the ballet more serious by his virtues of focus and concentration. Still, despite his very considerable technique, his good showmanship and his terrific timing, he's physically and stylistically eccentric. It ought not to matter that his feet are unusually small — they don't stop him from leaping high or turning smartly — but they give a tone to his movement that's slick rather than handsome.
At one time, I came away from his reviews feeling that I had, somehow, actually "seen" the performance -- or the aspect of the performance he was talking about. This is no longer the case -- or at least not very often. For example, he seems particularly obsessed with labelling aspects of a performance with a single defining label: for example, "slick" versus "genuine" -- or having "energy" versus slackness. I no longer feel that there is a larger, consistent aesthetic point of view. Or that it has been lost. All too often I simply cannot visualize or even understand what he is talking about.
So -- is it time for a progress report on Mr. Macauley's approqach to writing about ballet?