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Writing negatively about individual dancers

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Seems to me that we all could use a bit of slack when it comes to sometimes not saying exactly what we mean......especially in a case like this since it is so common colloquially to say so-and-so is an idiot when what one really means that the person did something foolish, rather than meaning to imply that so-and-so is consistently and frequently an idiot.

Sandy, that's the whole point, a review like this should not be colloquial. I remember Joan Didion writing in a NYReviewof Books article on the Unabomber Manifesto, when she describes him as writing in 'the colloquial voice, that most desolate of lakes'. That's one of the best lines I ever read (and idiosyncratically witty), but then the lady has been known to do a few of them. I'm bringing it up, though, because I don't think I fully understood her quite baroque phrase until now. Colloquial is blogtalk (mostly, although you do find some careful blogposts too, that don't get sleazy. But I think it's worse when it goes in professional journals).

Just as an aside, I thoroughly enjoyed your thoughts on 'stupid jerk', Drew. I guess I'm glad he didn't say that too, although this sort of thing is so easy to skirt, and it shows a sort of out-of-control tendency that is becoming pretty common.

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We sometimes get so sensitized to the little transgressions that the real things get a pass.

I actually thought the shocking part of the Johnson review was the claim that Koch, as the donor, had dictated the choice of Ratmansky as choreographer for this Nutcracker. Moreover, he made the point as if Ratmanksy would not have been Mckenzie's choice, and an obvious one, anyway--something I found especially odd. Ratmansky is ABT's in-house choreographer and artistic adviser etc.

I already asked about this on the ABT discussion thread: has it ever been established, as a fact, in the public record that KOCH picked/insisted on the choice of choreographer? (I'm not shocked at a big donor making a private suggestion--which might well carry a bit of implicit pressure with it--but Johnson implies a kind of official 'demand.')

It was very unclear to me that Johnson had any evidence for this claim at all...and, on the other hand, if true, it seems to me to call for more serious comment and investigation than Johnson offers.

However, this really is far afield from the topic of writing negatively about individual dancers (or choreographers) in a personal vein...

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Somewhat :off topic: Incidentally, since we're discussing criticism, I see that the NY Times blog Paper Cuts has now posted seven separate articles on "why criticsm matters": Critics on Criticism.

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I guess I'm still glad he did not say "stupid jerk," but oddly enough I'm not kidding: since a jerk tends to be inconsiderate of people's feelings--at the least through sheer awkwardness (think of the word literally: "to jerk" something) and stupidity connotes dullness in response to something--it's related to the word "stupor"--and I think Johnson is berating Ratmansky for what he feels is a lack of response to the music and an awkward denigration of the ballerina image Johnson hears in the music's grandeur and emotion.

I agree on all counts, Drew. And not pedantic at all, BTW.

I don't have any problem with calling a particularly foolish artistic choice idiotic but to state baldly in a review that "X is an idiot to do Z" is not only rude but as you also noted above, the reader has to parse it because it doesn't mean anything on its own. (In general, colloquialism can add liveliness and spice to a critic's writing.)

But the second part of the sentence about turning the part into bathos and comedy is more important than the first - and perhaps should be the subject of controversy. We sometimes get so sensitized to the little transgressions that the real things get a pass.

Also true, Quiggin.

I'd be curious to know more about the Koch business, too. It doesn't seem likely on the face of it - Ratmansky was the obvious choice to make a new Nutcracker for ABT.

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[(In general, colloquialism can add liveliness and spice to a critic's writing.)

While we're still okay on 'pedantic or not', I'd just say that I think colloquialism is better as the 'surprise witticism', but it cannot be the general style, and shouldn't draw too much attention to itself. That may be what you meant by 'in general', this is just to refine my own thoughts on the matter. I just think some writing has to be more formal than other kinds, or we've really lost standards of real merit (there are some who, of course, actually believe that merit shouldn't any longer be the issue in any number of circumstances, from not awarding meritorious students any more than the others to the sky's the limit, but this is generally limited to hard Marxists, as in some of the controversies over the recent tuition hikes in the UK. I haven't the time of day for such things.) If you mean 'colloquialisms' like Pauline Kael was always using, yes, they worked there, but it's just very important to know when not to use the colloquial voice, if only because it it's too easy (which using the colloquial voice is), it probably should be scrutinized before use, with leeway given only for deadlines, etc., not for 'space', since that simply didn't have to be used, and that's obvious.

The more I think about it the more I think the use of 'idiot' by this reviewer is downright appalling. It's enough to start wanting to throw out a few slurs regarding provincialism, or write letters to the editor, etc. The Macaulay things we disagree on are less clear-cut even if we hold strong positions about them; use of 'idiot' in the 'pure form' this guy did it is inexcusable, and I think he deserves, in fact, a severe reprimand, if not firing. He's not at Macaulay's level to 'deserve a break' yet, at least without a real reprimand (and even Macaulay has had to be answerable to criticisms recently, whether or not you take his side.)

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The exact situation happens with actors, just as Patrick stated. Howard Stern recently had to face a huge wave of criticism-(not that he cared..he never does, BTW)-after making remarks about Oscar nominated Gabourey Sidibe's weight in his radio show. I honestly don't get it. The girl's weight-(just as, let's say, Lara Flynn Boyle's)-is out there and exposed for everyone to see, and if praising and embracing and admiring words are allowed, why is that the other side can't voice theirs...?

We are certainly getting VERY afraid of the so called "politically correctness" term, and race and weight are right there on the top of the list, but believe me...having to hear only one, "official" side at the end goes beyond boring...it gets VERY dangerous. I know it by experience.

I'm replying to my own post to add that just as I think that a well based, pertinent opinion on such public domain's affair-(e.g-dancers/actors body image)-could be relevant in some cases, I also believe that EVERYTHING in life-(including criticism)-ought to be done with a basic amount of taste and class-(at least that's the only way I would take it seriously...otherwise everything would be in the lines of Howard Stern, which at the ends gets sort of uninteresting...even boring).

Macaulay's remarks-(all the "too many sugar plums" stuff)- were completely unnecessary and childish, and not funny whatsoever, and in my own perception, even completely out of reality!-(but again, this is me, a guy who loves womanly looking ballerinas, and who gets very shocked at the sight of the Somovas or Whelans). If the same words would have been pronounced by a 6 year old kid, then MAYBE I would have laughed, but in a grown adult, and ballet reviewer who's just trying too hard to be witty...? Not at all.

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Getting back to writing negatively about individual dancers, and Rockwell's comment about Balanchine's hothouse flowers.

First of all, not all of Balanchine's ballerinas were beauties. There is some nostalgia at play here. I do think that in general, the women in NYCB nowadays could do with some classes in stage makeup. It looks like many of them slap on some false eyelashes and bright red lipstick and that is it. Larger eyes, and higher cheekbones are possible on stage, if ,alas, not in life. Average looking people can look beautiful on stage with skillfully applied makeup. It used to be something dancers took pride in. As for sending an ugly girl out to play Juliet, companies don't usually hire face that would stop a clock ugly dancers!

Now for the body brouhaha, I feel that if a dancer is clearly overweight, or out of shape technically it should be part of the critical discussion. If the critic simply has a personal preference for a certain body type, that should not be reflected in the review. I think some people, including critics, have a very narrow definition of a suitable body for a female dancer. They seem to think the extremely thin long limbed sylphlike girlish adolescent is the standard, and don't appreciate ballerinas who look and dance like adult women. Women like Melissa Hayden, Cynthia Gregory, Martine van Hamel, and the gorgeous Jenifer Ringer!

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