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Farewell Performances and Criticism

106 posts in this topic

. . . (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??).

I'm looking at an older print-out of the schedule and comparing that with the current schedule on the NYCB web site. "New Barak Ballet" has, indeed, been replaced with Chacone for the Neal Farewell June 13. Ben is still on the schedule, as originally announced, for June 24. Does anybody know the story on this? I wonder if Neal requested the change or if Martins decided to start cutting his losses on Ben.

Also, I've been following the discussion on Ben with great interest and wonder if Barak might try major surgery before it's performed again February 10, 12, and 19. (That would take more rehearsal time than they likely want to invest, of course.) I've been trying to think of examples of new ballets that were substantially reworked after a disappointing reception and fared better with major revisions.

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I think the review was a hybrid that wavered between a review and a journal entry, at least in the last paragraphs, like Apollianaire Scherr's commentaries on her Financial Times reviews at Foot in Mouth. A strong editor might have asked which was it to be.

I do think Claudia La Rocco wanted to set the record straight in a time of easily inflated, over-leveraged reputations and I don't disagree with her observations (I don't remember any of YB's performances -- they just whooshed by me).

Helene:

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.

Ib Andersen, whom Helene, I believe, and I liked a lot, had a nice and modest farewell doing Apollo (Maria Calegari was Terpsichore). The Times review I just looked at talked about Andersen's ups and downs with the company but that he had been doing great work at the end -- and noted the lyre that someone held out to him from off stage, a sort of in-joke. But I think it was a different time -- awkward years but with rewards -- and the company had more awareness of the past and what was slipping away from them.

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The farewell performances by Patty McBride and Suzanne Farrell were unlke any others before or since -- genuine outpourings of love from the audience. They were regularly scheduled perormances -- Sunday evenings, if I recall correctly -- and they were among the most moving occasions in NYCB history. Suzanne's farewell was so moving that the Daily News ran an editorial about it the next day. I don't know if there was a dry eye in the house, but if so, they did not include Suzanne's or Lincoln Kirstein's. I still get shivers remembering.

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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...)

Drew,

I think you hit on something that I had a problem with the review. I can't in all truth argue the things Ms. LaRocca mentioned in regard to Yvonne's overall career at NYCB. She was never one of my personal favorites, although I have to admit, there was a few times I was actually surprise at just how good she was. I remembered a performance of Harlequinde back in the late 90's with Damian Woetzel in which techincally speaking she was very strong and confidence. The same can be said about a performance of Sleeping Beauty in which she danced with Peter Boal. I was scared to death when she started the "Rose Adagio" because I just knew she wasn't going to be successful but to my amazement she sail through it with flying colors as she did with the rest of the performance. Sure there was roles that Peter Martins should have NEVER cast in her. Concero Barocco, Terpsichore (she probably been better used in the role Calliope), and my God what was Martins thinking when he cast her in Rubies???? These mistakes in casting wasn't just unfair to Yvonne but also to the audience, but more importantly, to the ballets themselves.

Back to what Drew was talking about, I think there is some truth to this argument that perhaps it would have been better if the criticism was somewhere in the middle of the article instead of towards the end because I did in fact expected the criticism. I actually braced myself waiting for it as I started reading the review. But to my relative delight the review was respectful, nice and I guess in a way appropriate. I mean she was never one of the major stars during her years but she did give 22 years service and for that in itself it should be acknowledged, thanked, and move on. But then BAM...all the negative criticism about her lack of skills and personality as a ballerina was threw at us. As I said I can't deny the things LaRocca said but perhaps she should not have tagged it towards the end. By doing so it left a sour note to the review. Suddenly all the praise she gave Yvonne in the beginning of the review lost some of it's power and weight. You got the sense you was being fatten up like a Thanksgiving turkey only to have the ax come slamming down on your neck. Now if I could feel that, imagine what Yvonne Borree must've felt like if she read it? Now I know LaRocca can't worry about what an artist thinks when she's giving her opinion about the artist's work, and Yvonne must be professional enough to deal with it, but can't help but think these are the very last words that will be ever spoken about in terms of her active career and it's basically a slam...even if there's some truth to that slam.

Sure on some levels LaRocca had to say those words if she was going to be honest professional journalist. No don't sugarcoat it but why throw more acid on it? Sure the sting would still be there if written in the middle, but I think we all know the last words spoken to you - or in this regard the last words spoken about you - are the words you will remember the most. Those are the ones that will remain printed in your head. Those final words completely changed the review. Why couldn't she put a nice bow at the end going back to the performance at hand and the audience happy send-off to her farewell? Perhaps if she did maybe...just maybe...we wouldn't be engaged in this discussion.

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Now if I could feel that, imagine what Yvonne Borree must've felt like if she read it?

Arlene Croce put it best: A review is a conversation between the reviewer and the audience -- not a conversation between the reviewer and the artist/performer. The latter is free to intrude on the conversation by reading the review but he or she does so at their own peril.

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Now if I could feel that, imagine what Yvonne Borree must've felt like if she read it?

Arlene Croce put it best: A review is a conversation between the reviewer and the audience -- not a conversation between the reviewer and the artist/performer. The latter is free to intrude on the conversation by reading the review but he or she does so at their own peril.

The journalists-have-a-responsibility-to-be-blunt argument obviously holds water in regards to regular performances, but I don't think it does here. Farewell performances are where audience and performer say goodbye, and goodbyes aren't the occasion to air old grievances. Critics can, or at least should be allowed to, write in the same, fitting spirit. Should the audience have sat on their hands if Borree had danced poorly? Then why should critics need to grumble? Even if one accepts the argument, which I don't, that Borree was viewed as a symbol of Peter Martin's failures, then, not to be sarcastic, but does anyone really imagine dance lovers 50 years from now poring over old reviews and getting the wrong impression of Borree and the Martins years because the Times, the very last time it mentioned her, didn't repeat past criticism?

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This has been a fascinating thread, including as it does matters of writers' sensitivity to others as well as writers' expertise. Thanks to all. I especially appreciate the contributions from those who know Bourree's work but find themselves made uncomforatble by the direction that LoRocca takes in her farewell review.

I've learned a lot from this thread, but am still in agreement with posters like GeorgeB fan, who writes:

{I} can't help but think these are the very last words that will be ever spoken about in terms of her active career and it's basically a slam...even if there's some truth to that slam.

Thinking of LaRocca as a writer facing deadlines and working in a highly competitive marketplace, I have the feeling that she gave in to the desire to conclude with a bang: bit of rhetoric that would impress and be remembered. In old-fashioned speech-making, it's called a peroration, I believe, and can sometimes go on for paragraphs. LoRocca here prefers the single sentence. I imagine that every writer, at one time or other, has been tempted to use this device.

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Now if I could feel that, imagine what Yvonne Borree must've felt like if she read it?

Arlene Croce put it best: A review is a conversation between the reviewer and the audience -- not a conversation between the reviewer and the artist/performer. The latter is free to intrude on the conversation by reading the review but he or she does so at their own peril.

The journalists-have-a-responsibility-to-be-blunt argument obviously holds water in regards to regular performances, but I don't think it does here. Farewell performances are where audience and performer say goodbye, and goodbyes aren't the occasion to air old grievances. Critics can, or at least should be allowed to, write in the same, fitting spirit. Should the audience have sat on their hands if Borree had danced poorly? Then why should critics need to grumble? Even if one accepts the argument, which I don't, that Borree was viewed as a symbol of Peter Martin's failures, then, not to be sarcastic, but does anyone really imagine dance lovers 50 years from now poring over old reviews and getting the wrong impression of Borree and the Martins years because the Times, the very last time it mentioned her, didn't repeat past criticism?

I made no comment about the rightness or wrongness of what was written about Borree. I was merely responding to GeorgeB fan's original post. Again, artists/performers who read reviews do so at their own peril.

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the comment attributed above to Croce concerning "conversation," with the audience, was first stated by Edwin Denby in his essay on dance criticism now reprinted in collection(s) of his work, but written, originally, for Chujoy's Dance Encyclopedia in 1949.

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I made no comment about the rightness or wrongness of what was written about Borree. I was merely responding to GeorgeB fan's original post. Again, artists/performers who read reviews do so at their own peril.

Yes, and lots of artists don't read their reviews. These are probably the strongest of all. Also, viewers who read reviews ought to know how not to take them so seriously. I don't pay that much attention to most critics in determining the value of someone or something, unless it shores up my own opinion, and even then I don't think it necessarily means something profound; I tend to pay more attention to them when they write something which really does begin to open up a work in the review itself, as a recent movie review I linked here (and that's indeed rare, I don't find many movie reviews worth a hill of beans.)

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I made no comment about the rightness or wrongness of what was written about Borree. I was merely responding to GeorgeB fan's original post. Again, artists/performers who read reviews do so at their own peril.

Yes, and lots of artists don't read their reviews. These are probably the strongest of all.

Who knows, Borree may have stopped reading hers long ago. I suppose if one has certain faults and limitations and just can't overcome and exceed them, criticism may be destructive, but I admire artists who overcome what must be a natural antipathy to critics and humbly take their views under consideration.

milosr, I didn't mean to put words in your mouth, but I think Croce's words endorse LaRocca's approach.

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I admire artists who overcome what must be a natural antipathy to critics and humbly take their views under consideration.

That's cool. And I remember reading Pierre Boulez, who said no artist should be concerned by any other assessment of his work beyond his own. Of course, one takes that with a grain of salt (and PB is very free with his demolition of others' works), but it definitely defines a position one ought to be able to occupy from time to time, at least temporarily. And humility is no more a prerequisite for an artist than arrogance. There are examples of great artists who or either and, in fact, some people simply prefer a humbler personality, but there are others who really go for the arrogant types, and neither of these qualities determines the artistic excellence of the artist, at least not nearly always or one more than the other. 'Great artist' is morally neutral, and Picasso was not humble. Which doesn't mean I think 'great artist' is the ultimate thing to be, either. There are many worthy modes of being. But I always keep Boulez's over-the-top pronouncement in mind: If you don't care only about your own opinion at least some of the time, you won't ever find your own particular voice. Which also doesn't mean you shouldn't go to 'masters', and that is nicely covered by that slightly pop psychologist Ellen Langer, in her 'Mindful Learning' series.

What difference, really, than the constant criticism we all endure in real life? At some point, we may decide that some of it is totally unjustified, and we are all the more strengthened by the fact that we had to surmount the crap and go ahead with what our own vision is. Over Xmas I had precisely this, some absolutely scathing criticism that infuriated me, but actually spurred me on to do a much sharper job at something than I had expected to (I didn't know it would be important.) But I don't appreciate that critic, because I know he did not mean in it in a benevolent way, he meant it to be destructive--and I also consider that it was false. But still, it is possible to use even the meanness of the true destroyers, much less a mildly critical NYTimes critic, and go ahead and do something better than what it would have been before. In this case, it made me burn with rage and do something that I consider good, although I may or may not have done as well without it (this kind of thing is hard to assess.)

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Performers have their jobs, critics have theirs. I don't think it matters to an artist's career if he reads his reviews or not. Some do, some don't, and some may be reading their notices and not admitting it, but they don't necessarily have anything to learn or gain by doing so.

Again, artists/performers who read reviews do so at their own peril.

Sums it up nicely.

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Having been on both sides of this fence, I think there's little an artist takes from individual reviews except a range of opinions, often contradictory and maybe a useful detail or two. As stated, they're a conversation with the reader and audience. We don't know the goals or the process of an artist - we only know what we saw last night. Read it if that's what you want to know; don't read it to get artistic advice. As a corollary, if you would rather engage in a dialogue with the artist, pick up the phone or send an email. Don't write a review.

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the comment attributed above to Croce concerning "conversation," with the audience, was first stated by Edwin Denby in his essay on dance criticism now reprinted in collection(s) of his work, but written, originally, for Chujoy's Dance Encyclopedia in 1949.

You are right, rg!

Croce gave an interview with the late, lamented Dance Ink in the aftermath of the "Discussing the Undiscussable" furor in which she responded as follows:

Q: Would you like to be more influential on dancers or companies?

A: No! Absolutely not. That's not ever the point. They should do what they do: go to class, listen to the teacher, work hard, look in the mirror, get onstage, get it over with, come back, do it again. The critic doesn't exist to write for the dancer, but for the public. This is a point that Edwin [Denby] made better than I can: "Criticism is a conversation that the audience has with itself, and if the performer wants to eavesdrop on the conversation, he does so at his own risk."

I made no comment about the rightness or wrongness of what was written about Borree. I was merely responding to GeorgeB fan's original post. Again, artists/performers who read reviews do so at their own peril.

Yes, and lots of artists don't read their reviews. These are probably the strongest of all.

Who knows, Borree may have stopped reading hers long ago. I suppose if one has certain faults and limitations and just can't overcome and exceed them, criticism may be destructive, but I admire artists who overcome what must be a natural antipathy to critics and humbly take their views under consideration.

milosr, I didn't mean to put words in your mouth, but I think Croce's words endorse LaRocca's approach.

No harm no foul. :sweatingbullets:

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I remember reading Pierre Boulez, who said no artist should be concerned by any other assessment of his work beyond his own. Of course, one takes that with a grain of salt (and PB is very free with his demolition of others' works), but it definitely defines a position one ought to be able to occupy from time to time, at least temporarily. And humility is no more a prerequisite for an artist than arrogance. There are examples of great artists who or either and, in fact, some people simply prefer a humbler personality, but there are others who really go for the arrogant types, and neither of these qualities determines the artistic excellence of the artist, at least not nearly always or one more than the other. 'Great artist' is morally neutral, and Picasso was not humble. Which doesn't mean I think 'great artist' is the ultimate thing to be, either. There are many worthy modes of being. But I always keep Boulez's over-the-top pronouncement in mind: If you don't care only about your own opinion at least some of the time, you won't ever find your own particular voice.

Patrick, I don't think humility makes for a better artist necessarily, but definitely for a better human being, which is why I admire those particular artists, especially since along with humility they might need courage. I also think it stands to reason that a young artist is bound to have a lot to learn from an older critic, not on the technical side of things, but about the art form in general, and for that reason I would hope that artists would be encouraged, in general, with understandable exceptions, to read them. What they would learn might not make a difference on stage for most dancers, but I'd think it would for some. Speculating wildly, I'd think it might help to produce some of the individuality and soul that many longtime observers find missing in many of today's dancers. But I like your paraphrased lesson from Boulez, which is perhaps what he really meant beneath the arrogant pronouncement. :sweatingbullets:

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Macauley at the Times couldn't resist some last zingers at Darci. I was pleased as I read the initial paragraphs of the review, as he recounted her past glory. Then, it was time for the zingers, calling her performance in M&M "wretched", and alluding to her hair. I'm sure she was expecting it, and she probably doesn't really give a ---- about what he says. It's her last performance; give it a rest, Alastair.

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He's not writing for Kistler but for his readers. Macaulay said what he thought and what he saw onstage, and he didn't end the review on a sour note.

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I thought Macauley's review was excellent -- beautifully done. What's wrong with mentioning her hair? Her hair was glorious, as is this thoughtful, balanced, beautiful review.

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. What's wrong with mentioning her hair? Her hair was glorious,

I agree that there is nothing wrong with her hair. I'm not sure why Macauley refers to her "mane" as "mere shtick" in the article, though.

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I last saw Kistler on stage a number of times in those first years. As a new, very young arrival -- cast in major roles -- she generated excitement and high expectations unlike any new dancer since Kirkland joined the company.

Macaulay's tribute to her during those years brought back wonderful visual and emotional memories that I had forgotten were there. The photo of Kistler in Tchaikovsky Suite (1980) captures her freedom and expansiveness. Her early injury -- and long layoff -- were a serious loss for her, but also for everyone who cared about NYCB.

It seems to me that Macaulay tells a complex story. He is "balanced" in that he pays tribute to what he loved, reports rather fairly what he did not love, and (something rare in such reviews) gives you a sense of just how complex and interesting her long career was, in dancer terms.

Early strengths may have faded, but Macaulay does justice to what was left. His reference on several occasions to the "sweetness of her presence" seems right on target. As compliments go, it's a rather nice thing to say. :wink:

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It seems to me that Macaulay tells a complex story. He is "balanced" in that he pays tribute to what he loved, reports rather fairly what he did not love, and (something rare in such reviews) gives you a sense of just how complex and interesting her long career was, in dancer terms.

Early strengths may have faded, but Macaulay does justice to what was left. His reference on several occasions to the "sweetness of her presence" seems right on target. As compliments go, it's a rather nice thing to say. :wink:

Thanks, bart, for once I don't have to add a thing, as you've summed up exactly how I thought the quite excellent article read. But the 'sweetness of manner' was especially welcome, and I remember in 2004, in a bunch of perfs. of 'Serenade', how that was always there even if all the earlier agility wasn't. It's very natural, you'd hardly believe she was also capable of entirely suppressing it! (as you have to do with the Siren). I really liked his synopsis of her fireworks-like first two years, I didn't get to see her then, and I liked what he said about her 'full-blown rose' even at that early stage, and talked about specific perfs.

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. What's wrong with mentioning her hair? Her hair was glorious,

I agree that there is nothing wrong with her hair. I'm not sure why Macauley refers to her "mane" as "mere shtick" in the article, though.

I took him to mean that initially Kistler's display and use of her gorgeous hair was part of her dazzle but later it became for him a form of mannerism.

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I think Macaulay covered the bases in describing:

1. A dancer was a knockout from the word go and why

2. A dancer who gave deeper performances close to a year after giving her initial amazing ones

3. The dancer's characteristics

4. How the dancer was appreciated by two of the great choreographers in ballet history

5. How early injury affected the dancer's career

6. Her comeback

7. The beginning of the decline

8. The dancer now

9. The dancer in her final performance

10. The final bow

For anyone doing the math, of a 30-year career, he assesses the first 13 as the peak -- and from that years of injury to be subtracted -- and the next 17 as the decline. I think it's perfectly legitimate to ask what Kistler's career meant to a ballet goer from after the peak. If a person has never seen or has only glimpsed greatness, it's hard to be invested.

What knocked the wind out of me was that after describing Monumentum/Movements in the 8th paragraph, and the rest of the program in paragraphs nine and ten, that just when I thought it was safe, he returned to the M/M performance and called it "wretched". That was like a kick in the gut. He may be right, and it may be what a lot of people wish they had said, but that's as big a surprise as I've had in a while.

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Yeah, I thought that was an unnecessarily harsh word myself, because even 'no longer capable of executing most of the difficult steps' is quite sufficient, and is what he meant. Although I'd rather be called 'wretched' than 'a dweeb'. He's probably still reeling from that.

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