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Farewell Performances and Criticism

106 posts in this topic

Sorry I meant that most dancers are not Alistair MacAuley's favorites. I just wanted to make that clear.

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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:

I doubt Darci is worried about La Rocco, and maybe not even Toni Bentley. After all, she's already done the Gold Watch Angle, albeit a Movado Commercial Fantasy in which she was 'peering like a blonde widow out of a black web'. What's to worry after somebody's written that about you? That she'll get a Gold Retirement Watch story, replete with overdoing the 'not retiring soon enough' from La Rocco? or maybe ' peering like a black widow out of a blonde wig' from somebody? To give Toni her due, at least she did have that marvelous line 'I remember when the pterodactyls were flying'. That was a great choice of creature for the NYCB Golden Age, especially since Darci was one of the last of those. But NYReview of Books should be ashamed for that paragraph which could be called 'Poor Darci Having Sunk to a Movado Commercial', except that I'm sure Darci doesn't need to be braced for anything after she read that and somehow refrained from suing.

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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.

I haven't heard anyone question LaRocca's right to be critical, only the appropriateness of doing so in regards to a farewell. I also understand carbro's argument that not to have done so would have been bad journalism, and I would agree if the stakes were higher. But Borree wasn't a star, wasn't influential as a dancer as far as I know (as opposed to in her teaching capacity at SAB), and won't be appearing on future cast lists for ticket buyers to consider seeing or avoiding. With the stakes that low, I wish LaRocco had praised what there was to praise and let readers read between the lines and notice what was missing.

He also goes on way too long about his history in seeing a certain ballet.

To each his own. :) I enjoy reading the history and I think it gives us perspective on his judgments.

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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.

Certainly the review of a farewell gala is also an appropriate place to discuss the performer's career and impact, for good and ill, as well as the performance itself. If there was controversy or intense disagreement about a dancer, or if there was debate regarding whether the dancer postponed retirement longer than was desirable or healthy - not only is it legitimate comment but it's only fair to the reader to mention such matters and give an honest accounting of them.

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or if there was debate regarding whether the dancer postponed retirement longer than was desirable or healthy - not only is it legitimate comment but it's only fair to the reader to mention such matters and give an honest accounting of them.

Absolutely, and although this isn't the right place to say much more about Darci's controversial lateretirement, if somebody knows why she did hang on so long, I'd like to know. I wondered whether she had really wanted to keep dancing long after she would have known she was declining in technique (I noticed it in 2004, but then thought she was wonderful in 2006, so I don't know), or whether there was pressure to keep her because of having been the last of a few of Balanchine dancers back in 2005-2006, and after Nichols, Soto and Boal were gone, she was the only one (as well as the most famous, perhaps, of the four, in having been a kind of muse.)

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If there was controversy or intense disagreement about a dancer, or if there was debate regarding whether the dancer postponed retirement longer than was desirable or healthy - not only is it legitimate comment but it's only fair to the reader to mention such matters and give an honest accounting of them.

The reader wouldn't have been hurt by a little discretion, and as I wrote yesterday

someone correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't remember any controversy.

Borree's faults had often been noted and she was not the controversial or consequential figure that Kistler is.

In any case, I think this has been a very interesting discussion, and I've enjoyed reading different points of view.

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Borree's faults had often been noted and she was not the controversial or consequential figure that Kistler is.

The question of Borree's abilities did cause controversy and much critical comment, although she is not a major ballerina.

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The question of Borree's abilities did cause controversy and much critical comment, although she is not a major ballerina.

Absolutely. The regrettable part of it is that Borree gets the brunt of the criticism (and I have no doubt she was always trying to dance as well as she possibly could) when it should be going to Peter Martins. A lot of the criticism was motivated, I think, by that fact that her prominence and continued casting in parts she really did not seem to able to handle reflected something about the Company as a whole -- that the best dancers were not getting cast, that dancers were not getting the support or coaching they needed, maybe something else.

I wasn't at the farewell so I can't speak to the accuracy of the review, but while I was at first a little surprised by it, i don't think it was wildly inappropraite. It was a review of a performance, and to an extent of a career -- not a tribute. It should be an accurate reflection of what the critic saw and thought.

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The question of Borree's abilities did cause controversy and much critical comment, although she is not a major ballerina.

Absolutely.

Can someone cite examples, either from this site or in the press, of controversy? V. Part and in recent years Kistler have been the subject of much dispute. In regards to Borree, I remember consensus on her faults. I don't remember anyone defending her against her critics, or defending Martins for casting her.

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There were certain roles she did very well and consistently -- duo concertant, steadfast tin soldier, for example. Someone mentioned Swanilda above. She was not a uniformly bad dancer, or a lazy one -- in some things she was really good.Even Stravinsky violin concerto - i saw her give lovely performances, and i saw really awfully shaky ones, and i saw her turn a really shaky one into a good one. so i guess the controversy was -- why was she, it seemed, so often dancing over her head, and why wasn't anyone helping her?

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so i guess the controversy was -- why was she, it seemed, so often dancing over her head, and why wasn't anyone helping her?

OK, but that's a question, not a controversy. And LaRocca did not address it.

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I meant the same thing by “controversy” as EJohnson did. Borree became a kind of symbol of what might or might not be wrong with the company, which places her right in the middle of one of the major ballet controversies of our time. No, this is not a debate of the “Borree is great!” “No, Borree is awful!” type since apparently the best most people could say was that she worked hard and was good in Duo Concertant. New Yorkers would have more to say about that than I. Nevertheless she did excite considerable discussion.

I think a critic’s overall view of a dancer is relevant in a farewell performance review in any case, but that was my point in regard to "controversy."

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so i guess the controversy was -- why was she, it seemed, so often dancing over her head, and why wasn't anyone helping her?

OK, but that's a question, not a controversy. And LaRocca did not address it.

We don't know what the editor did to the text LaRocco submitted nor what she would have said if given more space.

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Borree became a kind of symbol of what might or might not be wrong with the company, which places her right in the middle of one of the major ballet controversies of our time.

Exactly. And none too overstated either.

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Borree became a kind of symbol of what might or might not be wrong with the company

I didn't see her functioning as that symbol, but thanks for explaining your thinking.

We don't know what the editor did to the text LaRocco submitted nor what she would have said if given more space.

Good point. In which case I blame the editor. :)

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I doubt Darci is worried about La Rocco, and maybe not even Toni Bentley[ ]. I'm sure Darci doesn't need to be braced for anything after she read that and somehow refrained from suing.

:)

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I can't really argue with people about the appropriateness of Larocca reviewing the performance and Borree's career as she saw fit--and like many others I was often flummoxed by the prominence of Borree in the company's casting especially in Balanchine where she frequently did not seem up to the standard that an NYCB principal should have. (My point of comparison is not Farrell or Mcbride--not the "all time greats"--but, say, a principal dancer like Margaret Tracy.)

That said, my reaction to the review was very like kfw's, and I was a bit taken aback by it. I thought ending the article on a slam (editor or Larocca's decision I don't know) made it seem particularly unkind. The article could have made its negative points, but stuck them in the middle and then returned to the quality of Duo Concertante or made some more generic tribute to conclude. (Also, I have seen reviews of farewell performances that addressed weaknesses of the performance but also made a point of commenting on how emotion of the moment was catching up with the dancer. None of that for Larocca...)

That said, I assume reviewers also want attention for their writing--and indeed need some attention for their careers--and I guess Larocca pulled that off...Nor did what she say seem unjust to me in a general way, though obviously I can't evaluate it in terms of the particular performance since I was not there.

Other thoughts:

Borree beyond Duo Concertante? Early in Borree's career I saw her dance Pierrette (I think--she was all in white) to Stiefel's Harlequin in Harlequinade--and I quite liked that performance. She really "looked" perfect for the role and infused it with the charm of a porcelain figurine. Also early in her career I saw her dance an uneven but exciting and altogether charming Swanilda: she had something like three bad slips, but was a replacement for another principal and dancing in the "go for broke-Balanchine-dancer" tradition so I was ready to give her a pass: I remember thinking after that performance that she had a ton of promise in the role. Of course, I hugely admired her in Duo Concertante and while I can't say the same of her performance in Concerto Barocco, the one time I saw her in the latter ballet was nicely done -- and I happened to be with someone who had never seen any ballet whatsoever, and he fully FELT the beauty of Concerto Barocco, speaking about it movingly, so something came across and Borree was the lead.

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Back in the day, the majority of dancers, even principals, got an announcement of when their last performance would be, and, principals got a career history and wrap-up article in the NYT before the final performance. They were presented with flowers, and there could be hugs from company members, staff, former dancers, etc. Reviews were regular performance reviews with a mention of the retirement and perhaps a line or two in tribute. While there might have been private company events and celebrations to mark the milestone, the public recognition was in the context of a regular season performance, or in the case of Stephanie Saland, who retired with the 1993 Balanchine Celebration, a special solo bow in front of the curtain, a privilege also given to retiring corps members and soloists after regular season performances. Fans of the dancers would show up for those performances.

The tribute performances were for historically important dancers like Farrell and McBride, where programs would be tailored to them, although not all historically important dancers got them.

If that tradition had held, we wouldn't need to have this conversation.

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Back in the day, the majority of dancers, even principals, got an announcement of when their last performance would be, and, principals got a career history and wrap-up article in the NYT before the final performance. They were presented with flowers, and there could be hugs from company members, staff, former dancers, etc. Reviews were regular performance reviews with a mention of the retirement and perhaps a line or two in tribute. While there might have been private company events and celebrations to mark the milestone, the public recognition was in the context of a regular season performance, or in the case of Stephanie Saland, who retired with the 1993 Balanchine Celebration, a special solo bow in front of the curtain, a privilege also given to retiring corps members and soloists after regular season performances. Fans of the dancers would show up for those performances.

The tribute performances were for historically important dancers like Farrell and McBride, where programs would be tailored to them, although not all historically important dancers got them.

If that tradition had held, we wouldn't need to have this conversation.

Helene makes an excellent observation. :)

Martin's does love to give his dancers high profile, rah rah send-offs. Whether it comes from a genuine respect and admiration for his dancers or from a desire to sell more tickets is unknown. I personally believe it's a little of both.

I do think it's nice to give these retiring dancers their gala, but it does diminish the overall impact of them if to use Arlene Croce's term "utility dancers" get the same treatment as icons such as Farrell and McBride.

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I think it is great that companies do this. Whether you like it or not, Ms Borree was a principal and all principals are feted in this manner. The corps dancers do not have an easier job, they put in just as much time at the studio and suffer injuries, they earn lesser pay, and often take second jobs.

I believe it is a sign of respect to any dancer who dedicates his/her youth and early adult years to this demanding profession. The other dancers are showing their respect, no matter the official "job title" bestowed by the artistic director.

While the reviewer has the right to critique Ms. Borree's performance, a little kindness would go a long way. Finally, I believe it is always difficult for a second generation to continue in a profession where the parent was hyper successful, Michael Jordan has two talented sons but they will never achieve their father's success. There are statistically very few superstars in the NBA, perhaps a handful every decade, and the same is true for ballet principals.

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Also I believe this was a regular season performance, so it wasn't an "extra" performance designed as a Borree Love Fest, nor was it the 18 month "farewell tour". Obviously so many past dancers flew in because they thought Ms. Borree was pretty special. :)

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Also I believe this was a regular season performance, so it wasn't an "extra" performance designed as a Borree Love Fest, nor was it the 18 month "farewell tour". Obviously so many past dancers flew in because they thought Ms. Borree was pretty special. :)

This was exactly the same type of farewell gala NYCB has done and will do for many retiring principals, including Kistler and Nichols. Its not exactly a regular perfrormance because the retirign dancer generally chooses the roles s/he will perform.

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It's also advertised as a "Farewell" performance, not a regular season performance. For example, Adam Luders and Gen Horiuchi retired in the same performance of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" in Act II Divertissement and as Oberon, respectively, a regularly scheduled performance of the ballet.

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A factor here also is assignments. I don't know how The Times doles out who writes what, but they are the paper of record and tacit silence isn't an option. I always felt for Jennifer Dunning (even when she was reviewing me) because it didn't look like she had a choice in attending or writing, even if she had nothing good or new to say. That's what falls to third-stringers.

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Helene makes an excellent observation. :wink:

Martin's does love to give his dancers high profile, rah rah send-offs. Whether it comes from a genuine respect and admiration for his dancers or from a desire to sell more tickets is unknown. I personally believe it's a little of both.

I do think it's nice to give these retiring dancers their gala, but it does diminish the overall impact of them if to use Arlene Croce's term "utility dancers" get the same treatment as icons such as Farrell and McBride.

It would seem like pressure would come from ABT, no? Kevin McKenzie does great farewell performances for his principals but their rep and star system are more tailor made for this type of thing, when a ballerina can pick Giselle or Romeo & Juliet as their big farewell, but have it still flow seamlessly with the rest of the season. Maybe it's because I am not a NYCB watcher (I don't live in NYC) but it seems like a bit of a bigger mess to create a farewell performance from a triple bill that has to fit within the predetermined programs (up until earlier this week wasn't Phillip Neal supposed to retire with Call me Ben on his farewell program, which pretty much everyone seems to hate??).

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