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Farewell Performances and Criticism

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he returned to the M/M performance and called it "wretched".

Tobi Tobias called it "unnervingly shaky," which is probably a more diplomatic way of saying the same thing. Doesn't sound pleasant to watch, in any case.

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It wasn't even so much the description, it was commenting on it after he had described it earlier in the review. That was the shock for me.

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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.

Darci suffered from serious back problems and a surgery during the 90's. I have to give her tremendous credit for continuing her career when most others would have given up. Also, in typical McAuley style, the word "wretched" was gratuitously nasty; after all this was Darci's final performance and the review was summing up her career and should have been gracious to a dancer who was, at times, incredibly wonderful to watch. As an aside, I saw Darci dance both Stravinsky ballets a week earlier and think she did a more than credible job with Momentum (although in Movements her attack and ability to attain the proper positions were lacking).

In any case, I believe this is the first time I have read a review of a final performance that takes a jab at the dancer. In my opinion, it was inappropriate to be so harsh; one should be gracious as possible in these circumstances. I am truly tired of McAuley's tiresome, petulant and often personal attacks on dancers he doesn't care for.

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Darci suffered from serious back problems and a surgery during the 90's. I have to give her tremendous credit for continuing her career when most others would have given up. Also, in typical McAuley style, the word "wretched" was gratuitously nasty; after all this was Darci's final performance and the review was summing up her career and should have been gracious to a dancer who was, at times, incredibly wonderful to watch. As an aside, I saw Darci dance both Stravinsky ballets a week earlier and think she did a more than credible job with Momentum (although in Movements her attack and ability to attain the proper positions were lacking).

I too wish reviewers would hold their fire when writing about retirement performances. But Kistler performed poorly in many ballets for years, so I'm not sure how much credit she deserves. People paid good money in return for those lousy performances. I paid for a few of them myself.

In any case, I believe this is the first time I have read a review of a final performance that takes a jab at the dancer. In my opinion, it was inappropriate to be so harsh; one should be gracious as possible in these circumstances. I am truly tired of McAuley's tiresome, petulant and often personal attacks on dancers he doesn't care for.

Claudia La Rocca was critical of Yvonne Borree on the occasion of her retirement performance a few weeks ago. I don't think that as readers we have any way to know if Macaulay writes in a "petulant" spirit. We can't see his face or hear his voice. But he criticizes dancers for their dancing, which is part of his job -- his remarks don't get personal.

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Amour, on 30 June 2010 - 04:36 AM, said:

As an aside, I saw Darci dance both Stravinsky ballets a week earlier and think she did a more than credible job with Momentum (although in Movements her attack and ability to attain the proper positions were lacking).

I agree that "wretched" was too harsh a word. Although she did look tentative, she still brought a quality of precision that had earmarked her earlier dancing. A vestige, perhaps, but a reminder that this was her style as well, and not only the traditional roles of Titania and Swan which we saw later. And there, she still carried that lyrical quality and confidence that I see much more rarely these days!

I was glad to be able to watch her perform one last time. As McAuley notes, it was her presence, the turn of her head, that could connect so well with the audience.

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I don't think that as readers we have any way to know if Macaulay writes in a "petulant" spirit. We can't see his face or hear his voice. But he criticizes dancers for their dancing, which is part of his job -- his remarks don't get personal.

On the contrary. Here's the Savion Glover review again: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/23/arts/dance/23glover.html?scp=2&sq=savion%20glover&st=cse

That gets personal a lot of times. Sometimes there seems to be an unwritten law that one cannot really answer back one's critics. But one can. I can't believe Savion was so cool about it, but it's possible (likely IMO) the audience didn't respond because they didn't know who Macaulay was. And even the ones who did--I rather doubt they were worried about hurting Alistair Macaulay's feelings with what was the mildest of jabs, however searing the truth may be...It's true Darci isn't in so relaxed and jivey a milieu to want to make a quip, although she might. I recall Nureyev saying something about 'that new one at New York City Ballet, Darci Kistler...has the devil in her'. And I bet she did too, which may well be a higher compliment for a brilliant young dancer than the rather commonplace and prosaic 'full-blown rose'.

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Macauley definitely gets too personal. He complains about hair color, the fact that some dancers keep their mouths open while dancing, and other things that have nothing to do with dance itself. He recently commented that Ethan Steifel looked like a Hitler youth because of the super blonde color of his hair. He has made similar nasty remarks about the color of Maxim B's haircolor (when Max was blonde). He also couldn't resist a jibe at Darci when she went from blonde to brown. He constantly complains that dancers have their mouths "hanging" open during performances, particularly about Abi Stafford. Even if the dancer's mouth was open for only a few seconds in an entire performance, he feels the need to highlight it in the review. It's one thing for people on a forum board to note such things as hair color. It'a entirely different when a critic of the NY Times devotes space in a review to such matters. In my opinion, he ventures into improper territory that is too personal.

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Macauley definitely gets too personal. He complains about hair color, the fact that some dancers keep their mouths open while dancing, and other things that have nothing to do with dance itself. He recently commented that Ethan Steifel looked like a Hitler youth because of the super blonde color of his hair. He has made similar nasty remarks about the color of Maxim B's haircolor. He also couldn't resist a jibe at Darci when she went from blonde to brown. He constantly complains that dancers have their mouths "hanging" open during performances, particularly about Abi Stafford. Even if the dancer's mouth was open for only a few seconds in an entire performance, he feels the need to highlight it in the review.

I don't remember the comments about Maxim B, but each of those other things, and each of the things Macaulay complains of in his Glover review, concern dance and what he perceives as defects in the dancing or the presentation. His point about Stiefel was that he didn't look Hispanic in Don Quixote. He made the point too harshly for my taste, but he also made it vividly.

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and each of the things Macaulay complains of in his Glover review, concern dance and what he perceives as defects in the dancing or the presentation.

Sorry, but this is personal:

"On Monday he seemed shut off, performing on some private trip that was not intended for us (though he did call on his mother in the audience)."

'in the dancing or the presentation' covers anything anyone would say. The 'presentation' even includes Darci's hair and also how he doesn't like the way Savion looks 'above the ankles', or to be perfectly accurate with the quote:

"It’s that from the ankle up he’s an ungainly bore, without physical grace or line or intensity. I don’t remember that Chuck Green — who in the 1980s was the greatest tap dancer I ever saw live — was a thing of beauty above the ankle in any way"

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I think facial expressions are fair game for criticism. An open mouth is like having a slack trailing arm. In Figure Skating, this is known as the "O" face, and it's distracting, and especially when a dancer starts with a stage face in preparation and has the "O" face in landing, the spell is broken.

In my opinion, in terms of presentation everything that happens on stage is fair game for the critic, unless he or she misrepresents it, like saying that there were multiple bobbles when there was one. The audience is the readership, and it's up to the reader to decide whether the critic's observations are worth reading.

I can't see Kistler doing the equivalent of Michele Molese, who at the end of "Un Ballo in Maschera" at NYCO, yelled out to the audience that his "pinched high C was for Mr. Schonberg [the NYT music critic at the time]", but she wouldn't have had a chance, because it was the end of her run, unlike Glover.

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In my opinion, in terms of presentation everything that happens on stage is fair game for the critic, unless he or she misrepresents it, like saying that there were multiple bobbles when there was one.

In that case, the use of 'wretched' may not have mattered, since it's impossible to say that it's a misrepresentation, being a matter of opinion or fact, but not provable as the latter. You find the structuring of the review of describing of it, then followed by this word, to be shocking, I find the word itself to be a real trashing--a slap in the face. Nothing so crude was used in the La Rocco article, even though it was highly critical.

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I agree that facial expression is integral to "dancing." Hair color, volume, or length are less integral -- though they may be relevant to the particular role and may, at certain extremes, be a distraction.

Re Macauley: possibly he tries to compress too much into his pieces. I do have the sense that he sees and feels performances with such vividness that he doesn't know when to stop. Helene's brillliant analysis of the Kistler farewell piece, breaking it down into its multiple points of view, is an example of just how complex a story he often attempts to tell. This can overwhelm the average reader and (something I care about less) frequently enrages the fan.

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and each of the things Macaulay complains of in his Glover review, concern dance and what he perceives as defects in the dancing or the presentation.

Sorry, but this is personal: [. . .]

What can I say, patrick? I just disagree. :) I would call an attack on a dancer's character or offstage personality personal. To observe that a dancer looked detached, or that this or that portion of his body moved in ungainly fashion, seems to me all in the line of duty. Of course observations like that are to some degree, perhaps in significant degree, subjective, and it's true that negative feelings towards a dancer can prejudice a critic's perceptions. But to say -- not that you do -- that the critic doesn't like and means to attack the person because the critic criticizes the dancer strikes me as presumption.

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But to say -- not that you do -- that the critic doesn't like and means to attack the person because the critic criticizes the dancer strikes me as presumption.

Yes, I don't, thank you.

I used the example of 'calling to his mother', which I thought snide.

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I used the example of 'calling to his mother', which I thought snide.

Was that not something Glover said literally, just as he commented on Macaulay in a later performance? That's how I read it. I've seen Glover perform where my sad ears couldn't tell what he was saying, but he was speaking.

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Hair color, volume, or length are less integral -- though they may be relevant to the particular role and may, at certain extremes, be a distraction.

Re Macauley: possibly he tries to compress too much into his pieces. I do have the sense that he sees and feels performances with such vividness that he doesn't know when to stop. Helene's brillliant analysis of the Kistler farewell piece, breaking it down into its multiple points of view, is an example of just how complex a story he often attempts to tell. This can overwhelm the average reader and (something I care about less) frequently enrages the fan.

I personally think haircolor as a criticism in a review is a bit silly, but if a reviewer thinks its very important that Basilio has dark hair, I can see that for that reviewer it could be a legitimate critique.

That said, the 'looks like a member of the nazi youth' comment regarding Ethan was nasty. I don't know why its even being debated. Maybe some found it so witty (clearly the intention in his wording it thus) that they were willing to overlook it, but it was vile and offensive on several levels, though obviously not meant to be taken terribly seriously. And I don't say this because I'm a particular fan of Stiefel's.

I am not a fan of Kistler. I think she should have retired years ago. And I don't think that one should get a pass in reviews of final performances. Still I found portions of this one gratuitously nasty. All the reviews I read of the performance got across the salient issues. His was the only one that shocked me. And it was not because I was an enraged fan. I thought it needlessly cruel, especially the "wretched" line.

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There is a more gracious or polite way to critique what one may perceive a dancer's flaws to be and then there is Macauley's way. In the case of Ethan, for example, Macauley simply could have simply said he felt the role called for a dark haired dancer, and Ethan's hair was too blond for the role. Saying what he did that implies some association between Ethan's choice of his hair color and Ethan's political beliefs ( which I am certain to not include fascist thinking) To bring the word "Nazi" ( a VERY loaded word) into the review changes the whole tone of the commentary and makes it nasty and personal. And has been notes, Macauley often remarks on matters that do not concern either technique or dramatic proficiency but are simply physical features (hair color or length, the attractiveness of a dancer, etc.) that are his personal preferences. That has been my criticism of Macauley since he arrived. He certainly has a right to his opinions (and is paid to express them) but they should be limited and it is the very unpleasant and IMO unpofessional way that he expresses them that often degrades his reviews into personal attacks.

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There is a more gracious or polite way to critique what one may perceive a dancer's flaws to be and then there is Macauley's way. In the case of Ethan, for example, Macauley simply could have simply said he felt the role called for a dark haired dancer, and Ethan's hair was too blond for the role. Saying what he did that implies some association between Ethan's choice of his hair color and Ethan's political beliefs ( which I am certain to not include fascist thinking) To bring the word "Nazi" ( a VERY loaded word) into the review changes the whole tone of the commentary and makes it nasty and personal. And has been notes, Macauley often remarks on matters that do not concern either technique or dramatic proficiency but are simply physical features (hair color or length, the attractiveness of a dancer, etc.) that are his personal preferences. That has been my criticism of Macauley since he arrived. He certainly has a right to his opinions (and is paid to express them) but they should be limited and it is the very unpleasant and IMO unpofessional way that he expresses them that often degrades his reviews into personal attacks.

I would suggest that where Macaulay used the word "Nazi" in conjuction with blondness, he was merely referencing a descriptive archetype widely understood in most countries.

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I would suggest that where Macaulay used the word "Nazi" in conjuction with blondness, he was merely referencing a descriptive archetype widely understood in most countries.

Of course. Is there a reason in the world anyone would think Stiefel is a fascist? Would anyone believe Macaulay if he said he was? Of course not.

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There is a more gracious or polite way to critique what one may perceive a dancer's flaws to be and then there is Macauley's way. In the case of Ethan, for example, Macauley simply could have simply said he felt the role called for a dark haired dancer, and Ethan's hair was too blond for the role. Saying what he did that implies some association between Ethan's choice of his hair color and Ethan's political beliefs ( which I am certain to not include fascist thinking) To bring the word "Nazi" ( a VERY loaded word) into the review changes the whole tone of the commentary and makes it nasty and personal.

Thanks for posting, amour. You are right to say that Nazi is a loaded word, but in this instance I don't think Macaulay intended anything more than, "Boy, he sure looks blond," in a light, as it were, way, and no political connotation was intended. It's not out of line to note that a performer may have allowed his or her hairdresser a few too many liberties with the highlighter.

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You are right to say that Nazi is a loaded word, but in this instance I don't think Macaulay intended anything more than, "Boy, he sure looks blond," in a light, as it were, way, and no political connotation was intended. It's not out of line to note that a performer may have allowed his or her hairdresser a few too many liberties with the highlighter.

I agree he meant that, and nothing about Stiefel's political beliefs, but it's crude. Because although 'blond-and-blue-eyed' means German types, it also means Aryan and Northern European in general. Germans aren't probably as often blonde as Swedes or other Scandinavians, so he was probably trying to be witty in an obviously controversial way. You could certainly say the same thing about the young Peter Martins.

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When Stiefel came out at the gala A Whiter Shade of Pale, my "Ballet Wife" leaned over and whispered, "It's Siegfried and Roy! Where are the white tigers?"

It was all I could do not to burst out laughing, and not steal it for my article.

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I doubt if Macaulay even thought it would be "controversial," the usage is that common.

"It's Siegfried and Roy! Where are the white tigers?"

:D

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I doubt if Macaulay even thought it would be "controversial," the usage is that common.

It is, really? 'Nazi youth look' or thereabouts, people say that a lot? I didn't know that, but that would explain it if it is. Very 'Tomorrow Belongs to Me', I guess. Pretty good for Kander and Ebb, although I find the authentic actual Nazi anthems more hair-raising, much like the old Soviet military-parade marches.

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