abatt

Farewell Performances and Criticism

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[Admin Edit]:

Two dancers made their farewell performances at NYCB in the last few weeks, and there were long discussions about the criticism each dancer's performance received by NYT critics. Since these are separate discussions from performance reviews and observations, I've aggregated them here.

Discussion of the reviews of Yvonne Borree's farewell performance begin with this post. Discussion of the reviews of Darci Kistler's performance begins here.

All general comments about the topic of "Farewell Performances and Criticism" are welcome.

Helene

[/Admin Edit]

There's a review of Boree's farewell in today's NY Times. It was complementary of her Duo Concertant, but then went on to criticize Boree's BSQ in particular, and her dancing in general. Was that really necessary? It's her final review in the paper. Why use as a final opportunity to take a swipe at her? Totally lacking in class.

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There's a review of Boree's farewell in today's NY Times. It was complementary of her Duo Concertant, but then went on to criticize Boree's BSQ in particular, and her dancing in general. Was that really necessary? It's her final review in the paper. Why use as a final opportunity to take a swipe at her? Totally lacking in class.

I agree!

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Totally lacking in class.

It sure is. I was really sorry, for her sake, to read that. It's not as if her faults hadn't been noted. A dancer's retirement is a time to praise her for the beauty she did bring to the stage, and to thank her for it, not to repeat old criticisms.

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There's a review of Boree's farewell in today's NY Times. It was complementary of her Duo Concertant, but then went on to criticize Boree's BSQ in particular, and her dancing in general. Was that really necessary? It's her final review in the paper. Why use as a final opportunity to take a swipe at her? Totally lacking in class.

Thank you for writing this Abatt. I totally agree.

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I totally agree with Abatt. Totally lacking in class!

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I don't agree. I thought it was an excellent and thoughtful review. It was a performance just like any other and has always to be reviewed like any other. It is not a 'Features' or 'Publicity Sentimentality' section. And Claudia La Rocco was extremely generous in some of her praise anyway. I've seen Ms. Borree a few times in 2004, she was adequate, just as I thought Jared Angle recently only adequate. What would one want for Nilas Martins's farewell performance? nothing but fulsome praise? I think not, and about 2 years ago Macaulay did point out how it seemed to him rather incredible that both Nilas and Hubbe (I believe this was even before Hubbe announced his departure, but anyway he was still dancing) were doing some of the same roles. The criticisms in recent years by Macaulay and others of NYCB do not seem to me to be ill-advised. I started, like other New Yorkers and especially musicians, with NYCB and Balanchine, which was then an unusual way to get familiar with ballet (now it's not, with many regional companies all populated and run by Balanchine dancers), most people have seen 'Giselle' and the Petipa 'Swan Lake' long before 'Liebeslieder Walzer' and 'Mozartiana'. I'm not sorry I did it the 'less normal' way, because I would not have seen NYCB when it was truly electric--I mean as an institution, I don't mean it doesn't still have great moments and some great dancers. But everything that's been going on at ABT is by now far more alluring to me--you really don't have to do more than read the threads here at BT about Don Q, about Osipova, about Part, about Hallberg, about Corella, about Gomes to see the difference--and I never thought I'd say that. I thought ABT was the 'hokey company' and I don't see that anymore (with exceptions of that 'Swan Lake' and the sets of the SB, whether or not still 'Burger King' in appearance here and there.) I do not any longer think of NYCB as 'my company' the way I used to, but part of what they were always all about is non-sentimental attitudes and less about 'diva allure', etc., not to mention almost anybody that wants to see really great male dancers would go to ABT (I am this weekend), not even bringing into discussion the other 5 or 6 top companies of the world. But Balanchine's stark and modernist attitude still has to apply, and it just doesn't have the charisma it once had. He gave it that, along with his greatest dancers, and that lingered into the mid 80s; it's just not there anymore the way it was. I don't see why the various aspects of this obvious decline should not all be discussed as freely as are those along the lines of infinite complaints about Peter Martins. Not that I think it will help all that much, but if there is still going to be this 'serious NYCB', which it is supposed to be, then it has to prove itself capable of a lot of reversals, and I think moderate criticism on a minor dancer's farewell is hardly inappropriate.

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I agree, Patrick.

Borree excited some controversy and for La Rocco to suggest why, and admit that she shares some reservations about Borree, is appropriate. It is reasonable when reviewing a dancer’s retirement performance to look at her legacy or lack thereof. It wouldn’t be fair to the reader not to do so. It’s a goodbye but it’s still a review and an assessment.

Besides, if you think that was bad, wait till Gottlieb waves his hanky in tender farewell to the lady. Not.

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Borree excited some controversy and for La Rocco to suggest why, and admit that she shares some reservations about Borree, is appropriate.

I don't live in New York, of course, but I wonder if "excited" is too strong a word. She wasn't a Veronika Part -- everyone acknowledged and bemoaned her weaknesses, and I don't remember anyone raving about her since the Duo Concertants with Barishnikov. In other words, someone correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't remember any controversy. She may have been a principal, but hers was not really a major career if one looks at the roles she originated, or the interest her career elicited since its early years. To me that's all the more reason to let kindness trump the reader's supposed right to the blunt truth. And there are soft ways to criticize. Comparing her to other principals in her final performance seems unnecessarily if unintentionally cruel.

That said, La Rocco had kind things to say as well.

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She may have been a principal, but hers was not really a major career if one looks at the roles she originated, or the interest her career elicited since its early years. To me that's all the more reason to let kindness trump the reader's supposed right to the blunt truth. And there are soft ways to criticize. Comparing her to other principals in her final performance seems unnecessarily if unintentionally cruel.

While I can understand both sides of this discussion, I have to side with kfw. Kindness is currently out of fashion in journallism. But kindness and honesty are not entirely incompatible, in the right hands. And, as kfw says, "there are soft ways to criticize."

LoRocca's parting shot -- "How strange, upon seeing her perform for perhaps the final time, to feel as if you’d hardly yet seen her at all" -- is glib and unnecessary. It says more about LoRocca than about Bouree.

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LoRocca's parting shot -- "How strange, upon seeing her perform for perhaps the final time, to feel as if you’d hardly yet seen her at all" -- is glib and unnecessary. It says more about LoRocca than about Bouree.

Could also mean she wasn't really a Principal except nominally, though. That's the impression Nilas Martins gives me. Vaguely parallel to A-list and B-list film stars. Some are thought to be 'A-list' and are basically pretty 'B-list' (or there's a whiff of it) if you look hard enough at them. I don't know when that nomenclature got started, but take a couple of old stars like Lana Turner and Tyrone Power. They were both definitely considered to be 'A-List', but there's a big touch of 'B-list' about their very frequent respective banalities when you compare them to Marlene Dietrich and Gary Cooper. Which doesn't mean the 'Soloists' are not often great, or the B-listers are not sometimes stupendous. Maybe it just means that the 'A-listers' and 'Principals' who aren't great almost all the time are a particular category--which is different from an off-night, which anyone can have--Farrell had them, Nureyev had them... Then there are just B-Listers who are never A-listers but they can be great too: I wouldn't take anything for every single performance I've seen Barbara Nichols do :clapping:

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She may have been a principal, but hers was not really a major career if one looks at the roles she originated, or the interest her career elicited since its early years. To me that's all the more reason to let kindness trump the reader's supposed right to the blunt truth. And there are soft ways to criticize. Comparing her to other principals in her final performance seems unnecessarily if unintentionally cruel.

While I can understand both sides of this discussion, I have to side with kfw. Kindness is currently out of fashion in journallism. But kindness and honesty are not entirely incompatible, in the right hands. And, as kfw says, "there are soft ways to criticize."

LoRocca's parting shot -- "How strange, upon seeing her perform for perhaps the final time, to feel as if you’d hardly yet seen her at all" -- is glib and unnecessary. It says more about LoRocca than about Bouree.

Well said.

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Comparing Nilas Martins to Borree really isn't an apt comparison. Nilas was very clearly the beneficiary of nepotism. There was always a sense that he never really earned the right to principal status. His performances looked like they were being phoned in on most nights. Borree certainly had difficulties and limitations in recent years, but I never got the feeling that she didn't give a ---- about what she was doing.

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LoRocca's parting shot -- "How strange, upon seeing her perform for perhaps the final time, to feel as if you’d hardly yet seen her at all" -- is glib and unnecessary. It says more about LoRocca than about Bouree.

Could also mean she wasn't really a Principal except nominally, though. That's the impression Nilas Martins gives me. Vaguely parallel to A-list and B-list film stars. Some are thought to be 'A-list' and are basically pretty 'B-list' (or there's a whiff of it) if you look hard enough at them. I don't know when that nomenclature got started, but take a couple of old stars like Lana Turner and Tyrone Power. They were both definitely considered to be 'A-List', but there's a big touch of 'B-list' about their very frequent respective banalities when you compare them to Marlene Dietrich and Gary Cooper. Which doesn't mean the 'Soloists' are not often great, or the B-listers are not sometimes stupendous. Maybe it just means that the 'A-listers' and 'Principals' who aren't great almost all the time are a particular category--which is different from an off-night, which anyone can have--Farrell had them, Nureyev had them... Then there are just B-Listers who are never A-listers but they can be great too: I wouldn't take anything for every single performance I've seen Barbara Nichols do :clapping:

Yvonne Borree wasn't a nominal principal. She was a principal, period. She danced a lot for a quite a while (although not in recent years).

Ms. Borree's career was certainly major -- to her, and probably to many others (I adored her in several roles over the years). The audience showed her a lot of love at her farewell. And as a teacher at SAB (public knowledge), she might have taught some of the current corps members or apprentices at NYCB. I'd say Ms. Borree has made an impact.

As for A-listers and B-listers -- I'm not a big fan of such labels. And the labels are often totally off the mark anyway.

Finally, as others have said here -- a little kindness, especially at a farewell performance, goes a long way.

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As for A-listers and B-listers -- I'm not a big fan of such labels. And the labels are often totally off the mark anyway.

Yes, much like 'Principal' (the label--which some bring more substance to than others.) All the Principals are called 'Principals', but some are definitely more Principal than others. No matter what the 'non-star system' that Balanchine always espoused, Suzanne Farrell was unquestionably the exception--even there. (aside from whether one thinks she's the greatest, etc.)

A 'farewell performance' is not the end of someone's life or career even. It was a performance. Nobody reviewed Alicia Alonso's performance at her 90th birthday celebration (although it could well be some sort of 'farewell'), because it was an appearance--it was all about her admirers, worshippers, etc.. Borree can go on to many things. Once you are a Principal at NYCB, all the doors are open to you, whether you got there by talent alone, 'nepotism', or whatever combination or neither. That is quite sufficient for some of us. Borree obviously has a fanbase herself. A 'farewell performance', by the way, is not necesssarily a sad thing anyway, and what does it matter what some critic says (apart from whether or not you agree with what the critic said) if you have confidence in yourself. She danced at NYCB for 22 years (I think I read), that's plenty reward. Not that I think that she should be trashed (or anyone else) just for the doing of it, just that I think if she didn't dance that well in the farewell performance that it ought to be reviewed just like when she danced on any other occasion. Furthermore, it's obvious plenty of Borree's fans were there to support her. So, she wasn't a darling of the critics like Bouder and Mearns and Kowroski, but in Farrell's day, the other ballerinas weren't to quite that degree either. That's life.

As for comparing Nilas and Borree, that was just because they are both NYCB Principals who have gotten a lot of criticism and are not usually considered the brightest lights of the company. Such things as this remind me of old conversations of Charles and Diana, they used to use the term 'royal kremlinologists', when you'd hear every tiny piece of trivia taken very seriously by those who knew them, often only very tangentially.

I would imagine Ms. Borree has quite a bright future. A review like that is sort of like not winning an Oscar or something: It was already a huge honour to be nominated.

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As for A-listers and B-listers -- I'm not a big fan of such labels. And the labels are often totally off the mark anyway.

Yes, much like 'Principal' (the label--which some bring more substance to than others.) All the Principals are called 'Principals', but some are definitely more Principal than others. No matter what the 'non-star system' that Balanchine always espoused, Suzanne Farrell was unquestionably the exception--even there. (aside from whether one thinks she's the greatest, etc.)

A 'farewell performance' is not the end of someone's life or career even. It was a performance. Nobody reviewed Alicia Alonso's performance at her 90th birthday celebration (although it could well be some sort of 'farewell'), because it was an appearance--it was all about her admirers, worshippers, etc.. Borree can go on to many things. Once you are a Principal at NYCB, all the doors are open to you, whether you got there by talent alone, 'nepotism', or whatever combination or neither. That is quite sufficient for some of us. Borree obviously has a fanbase herself. A 'farewell performance', by the way, is not necesssarily a sad thing anyway, and what does it matter what some critic says (apart from whether or not you agree with what the critic said) if you have confidence in yourself. She danced at NYCB for 22 years (I think I read), that's plenty reward. Not that I think that she should be trashed (or anyone else) just for the doing of it, just that I think if she didn't dance that well in the farewell performance that it ought to be reviewed just like when she danced on any other occasion. Furthermore, it's obvious plenty of Borree's fans were there to support her. So, she wasn't a darling of the critics like Bouder and Mearns and Kowroski, but in Farrell's day, the other ballerinas weren't to quite that degree either. That's life.

As for comparing Nilas and Borree, that was just because they are both NYCB Principals who have gotten a lot of criticism and are not usually considered the brightest lights of the company. Such things as this remind me of old conversations of Charles and Diana, they used to use the term 'royal kremlinologists', when you'd hear every tiny piece of trivia taken very seriously by those who knew them, often only very tangentially.

I would imagine Ms. Borree has quite a bright future. A review like that is sort of like not winning an Oscar or something: It was already a huge honour to be nominated.

Principal is actually a ranking (and pay scale), and not a label.

A or B lister is a label.

As for some principals are more principal than others. Not so much these days (with very few exceptions). And I say, "hooray!" (and yes, I did attend NYCB when Ms. Farrell was still dancing).

I'll bow out of this particular discussion now. I don't want to keep making the same points.

I will look forward to reading other opinions though!

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LoRocca's parting shot -- "How strange, upon seeing her perform for perhaps the final time, to feel as if you’d hardly yet seen her at all" -- is glib and unnecessary. It says more about LoRocca than about Bouree.

I think that sentence summarized the paragraph before it and the sentence before that and could have stood alone, without the rest.

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She may have been a principal, but hers was not really a major career if one looks at the roles she originated, or the interest her career elicited since its early years. To me that's all the more reason to let kindness trump the reader's supposed right to the blunt truth. And there are soft ways to criticize. Comparing her to other principals in her final performance seems unnecessarily if unintentionally cruel.

While I can understand both sides of this discussion, I have to side with kfw. Kindness is currently out of fashion in journallism. But kindness and honesty are not entirely incompatible, in the right hands. And, as kfw says, "there are soft ways to criticize."

LoRocca's parting shot -- "How strange, upon seeing her perform for perhaps the final time, to feel as if you’d hardly yet seen her at all" -- is glib and unnecessary. It says more about LoRocca than about Bouree.

I didn't really see it as a "parting shot" and I doubt it was intended that way by La Rocco. It's not so much blunt truth - no critic can ever really claim to know or have that - but an honest account of a writer's reflections on the performance.

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I could not agree more with papeetepatrick about 'A and B list principals'--something transparently obvious in NYCB's casting for many, many years, including during Balanchine's time. With rare exceptions, fine dancers like Jillana, Mounsey, Hlinka, Fugate, Lopez, Saland, etc., never had the cachet nor the roles of LeClercq, Farrell, Verdy, McBride, Ashley, Nichols; in Balanchine's period, certain roles were never given to anyone but ballerinas in the highest favor (Square Dance, La Source, Raymonda Variations, Barocco, Bizet adagio--the list is endless).

I'm afraid Borree received far more than her share of undeserved kindnesses for many years at NYCB; her inadequate performances in Square Dance, Divertimento no. 15, Raymonda Variations, et. al., were a source of utter misery to many of us who love and admire brilliant Balanchine ballerinas. La Rocco spoke considerably less than the full truth; it's too bad that many posters here seem to have applied the adage 'never speak ill of the dead' to any criticism of Borree's farewell.

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I could not agree more with papeetepatrick about 'A and B list principals'--something transparently obvious in NYCB's casting for many, many years, including during Balanchine's time. With rare exceptions, fine dancers like Jillana, Mounsey, Hlinka, Fugate, Lopez, Saland, etc., never had the cachet nor the roles of LeClercq, Farrell, Verdy, McBride, Ashley, Nichols; in Balanchine's period, certain roles were never given to anyone but ballerinas in the highest favor (Square Dance, La Source, Raymonda Variations, Barocco, Bizet adagio--the list is endless).

I'm afraid Borree received far more than her share of undeserved kindnesses for many years at NYCB; her inadequate performances in Square Dance, Divertimento no. 15, Raymonda Variations, et. al., were a source of utter misery to many of us who love and admire brilliant Balanchine ballerinas. La Rocco spoke considerably less than the full truth; it's too bad that many posters here seem to have applied the adage 'never speak ill of the dead' to any criticism of Borree's farewell.

I'm forced to chime in here again because of this post.

What an unpleasant, and needlessly so, thing to say: "never speak ill of the dead."

Many of us actually liked Ms. Borree's farewell performance. We have that right, afterall.

Just as her fans have the right to have enjoyed her performances over the years in many of the ballets you mentioned above.

To each his/her own.

And I do think you are very wrong about A and B list Principal performers at NYCB. Perhaps in the past, but certainly not now. Casting is not handled the same way as in years (decades) past.

One final thing. As we all know -- Balanchine's last ballerina is retiring in two weeks. While we can all admire (I did too) Balanchine's ballerinas, love it or hate it, these are Martins' (and his ballet masters etc.) ballerinas -- and have been for nearly 27 years. I'm good with that.

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I wasn't there, but I'm reading this thread with interest.

Totally lacking in class.

It sure is. I was really sorry, for her sake, to read that. It's not as if her faults hadn't been noted. A dancer's retirement is a time to praise her for the beauty she did bring to the stage, and to thank her for it, not to repeat old criticisms.

No, an event is an event, and it is the critic's job to give her honest assessment of what happened. Doing otherwise is just bad journalism.
LoRocca's parting shot -- "How strange, upon seeing her perform for perhaps the final time, to feel as if you’d hardly yet seen her at all" -- is glib and unnecessary. It says more about LoRocca than about Bouree.
I didn't read it as a slap. It pretty well sums up my feelings. Borree was one of those dancers who didn't project a distinct personality beyond a sort of generic sweetness. She didn't have easily identifiable mannerisms. There was an almost anonymous quality to her. Not every principal dancer has "star quality," but at that level, you expect that after 22 years of watching someone perform at least 6-8 times a year (most years), you'd have some sense of familiarity. With Yvonne, I never did.

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LaRocca should have ended her review before she got to the negatives---I can't imagine going to a retirement celebration and after giving the guest his gold watch and praise---then to remember his faults....I can only hope Darci Kistler is bracing herself.... :flowers:

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I didn't go to Yvonne Borree's Farewell, but I've seen her dance many many times. Sometimes she was wonderful, but sometimes she was tentative to say the least. But she's not the only NYCB dancer like that. Charles Askegard (imo anyway) is another case in point. Sometimes he's great, sometimes he's really off. You never know what you're going to get with him. It's hard for an audience member to know where such inconsistencies come off. There were times (as have been mentioned on Ballet Talk many times, when Borree was noticeably trembling during a performance. But I saw her dance Coppelia several times, and every time she was great. And Swanilda is such a killer role!!!!!

I don't know if I'd use the term A and B listers for principal dancers, but there are definitely principal dancers who are better than others. And not just in NYCB, also at ABT. Maxim B. (I can never remember how to spell his name) is a good partner, but you just can't compare him to Hallberg or Gomes. I could go on and on about this subject, but I won't. And I agree with the Ballet Talkers who said the NY Times reviewer had the right to be negative about Yvonne Borree's dancing. It is a review, after all, not a testimonial. As long as what is criticized is the dancing (never the appearance) and it's done in a professional way I think it's fine. I have never liked when a reviewer whitewashed a favorite's performance.

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I didn't go to Yvonne Borree's Farewell, but I've seen her dance many many times. Sometimes she was wonderful, but sometimes she was tentative to say the least. But she's not the only NYCB dancer like that. Charles Askegard (imo anyway) is another case in point. Sometimes he's great, sometimes he's really off. You never know what you're going to get with him. It's hard for an audience member to know where such inconsistencies come off. There were times (as have been mentioned on Ballet Talk many times, when Borree was noticeably trembling during a performance. But I saw her dance Coppelia several times, and every time she was great. And Swanilda is such a killer role!!!!!

I don't know if I'd use the term A and B listers for principal dancers, but there are definitely principal dancers who are better than others. And not just in NYCB, also at ABT. Maxim B. (I can never remember how to spell his name) is a good partner, but you just can't compare him to Hallberg or Gomes. I could go on and on about this subject, but I won't. And I agree with the Ballet Talkers who said the NY Times reviewer had the right to be negative about Yvonne Borree's dancing. It is a review, after all, not a testimonial. As long as what is criticized is the dancing (never the appearance) and it's done in a professional way I think it's fine. I have never liked when a reviewer whitewashed a favorite's performance.

Again, I find myself defending the farewell performance. For those of you who didn't go to the performance, it's hard to weigh in on what happen. I

was there. Yvonne was overcome with emotion in the Brahams-Schoenberg. I thought is was amazing that she even made it through.

And again --there are kinder ways to phrase a less than stellar performance (although I thought she did a very nice job). This is even more true during at farewell performance.

I do think it's amusing that so many BTers are defending the NYT's reviewer. In the past, there has been a ton of criticism about NYT

reviewers.

And not to pander -- but please see our own (BT) Leigh Witchel for a way to comment/even criticism a performance and dancer without

crossing the line into (almost) being unnecessarily unkind/mean/nasty.

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Various Ballet Talkers may recall that LaRocca is the same critic who, in a June 25, 2008 review of Veronika Part's performance of La Bayadere (which she reviewed favorably), LaRocca felt the need to remind everyone that Part had fallen off pointe during the Rose Adagio a year earlier at an ABT gala. Was it really necessary for her to remind everyone of Part's most embarrassing moment on stage, when Part has given so many wonderful performances? La Rocca wrote:

In truth, she is a bit of both, now flubbing point work in astonishing fashion (her turn as Aurora in “The Sleeping Beauty” premiere last season was especially nerve-racking to behold, and she was not given the role this year), now projecting a plush, old-fashioned grandeur.

LaRocca seems to feel it is her job to wield her pen (or keyboard) as a sledge hammer.

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I wasn't agreeing with the NY Times reviewers in general. I was just saying that a reviewer has a right to be honest in light of what he/she feels they saw at a performance. The main NY Times reviewer I've criticized is Alistair MacAuley. He doesn't seem to look at the dancer at that particular performance. He has his favorites and if you're not his favorite (which most dancers are) he's going to be very critical. He also goes on way too long about his history in seeing a certain ballet.

And in a review of a final performance, isn't a reviewer going to sum up a performer's career? Is that somehow not allowed because this is a final performance. Can you only say good things about a person because their career is over? Yvonne Borree was an inconsistent dancer as I said before. Sometimes she was wonderful, sometimes she was really off. If I were writing a final review of a ballerina or danseur I'd certainly sum their career in a few lines. In my opinion there are dancers whose performance will be remembered by audience members for years after they saw them. And then there will be the other dancers. I think Yvonne Borree belongs in the second category.

I am sure Yvonne danced very well on June 6th. I saw her on May 30th in Stravinsky Violin Concerto and I was surprised how wonderful she was in that ballet (having seen her dance the part rather tentatively before.) I also wish her the best for her future, whatever it happens to hold.

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