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Nutcracker Chronicles - NYTimes

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One person's "smart" and "snappy" can be another person's "snide" and "self-important".

I don't see anything self-important about it, but I have to reluctantly agree that the comment was out of bounds. The observation was valid and important, and it was made in a clever and entertaining and topical way, but the way in which it was made also crossed the line into ridicule. In today's terms, it was "snarky" and snark is pretty well accepted and celebrated. So it's nice to see so much outcry this time, and maybe that will do some good.

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eing in text/print flattens out some nuances of communication where in a coversation a particular comment might sort of "hover" on the acceptable side of that all important line. But in print, without any verbal shadings, the comment is blunt and mean.
[O]ne wonder's if the Times is actually looking to add a touch of controversy to it's arts coverage. I think that could be a real possibility.

And unfortunately there is a large segment of today's population that finds conversation/reporting/commentary dull and dry unless there is an element of meanness or nastiness.

Excellent points. (Now that we live in a world of blog-think, I must confess that by "excellent," I mean that I, personally, agree with them. :wink::flowers:)

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I think what the Nutcracker chronicles has highlighted is the fact that MacCauley is one of the best writers I've ever seen when actually writing about a ballet. He can point out what about a ballet is good, what is bad, what this choreographer did differently from that choreographer, and all with an eye for both history and detail that is amazing. For that and that alone I value his NY Times contributions.

He does less well when writing about dancers. Sometimes I feel as if he's so caught up in the details of the ballet that he forgets to watch the actual dancing, and uses throwaway lines that either sound like cliched raves or unnecessary snark (the now infamous Sugarplum comment).

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It is generally acknowledged that in our culture, weight and looks are more fraught issues for women than for men, and women are routinely judged more severely in this regard. This phenomenon is not limited to the dance world. (To say this is is not to say that men have no such worries, merely to point out the obvious.) Macaulay was actually being equal-opportunity in his comments, but that doesn't prevent him getting dinged for sexism anyway. But I'm inclined to think that's because people are increasingly aware of the special cultural and social pressures on women in this area and more inclined to speak out about them. Not a bad thing, even if said pressures seem to be intensifying rather than receding with time.

That is the obvious way to look at it and ignores the increase in eating disorders among men in general and, more specifically, in dance and in weight-conscious and -based sports like wrestling, boxing, gymnastics, ski jumping, martial arts, etc. That plus the idea that Angle can/should just suck it up, but Ringer only needs defending.

One person's "smart" and "snappy" can be another person's "snide" and "self-important".

And I don't ever see that changing.

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Just finished reading Macauley's article on the weight issue. I think he made the situation worse by publishing this article. I'm also surprised to learn that most of the hate mail to him focused on his remarks about Ringer. I thought his comments about Jared Angle were considerably more brutal than his comments regarding Ringer.

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I think what the Nutcracker chronicles has highlighted is the fact that MacCauley is one of the best writers I've ever seen when actually writing about a ballet. He can point out what about a ballet is good, what is bad, what this choreographer did differently from that choreographer, and all with an eye for both history and detail that is amazing. For that and that alone I value his NY Times contributions.

Agreed. I find some of the points he makes just amazing and he has a wonderful talent for letting the reader "see" what he is "seeing".

And even when he makes a very fine point and I look at this same point and decide, ok, for me, that's going to a more specific level of detail that's really meaningful to me and this isn't something I can really use, I still find the range that his eyes take in amazing.

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The only place you see "passionate" used are in Craigslist personnel ads for jobs in the tech industry: "You will join a fun, talented, and passionate team building the next generation of eGain Open CIH platform and products with infinite possibilities for innovation."

Since I work as a critic I've kept myself out of this discussion, but I just wanted to say I got a big giggle out of the preceeding quote -- I don't understand a thing after the phrase "next generation of"

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With all due respect, Richard, my eyes very rarely see what Alistair MacAuley sees at a ballet performance. And he is just so negative, except for his favorites. His favorites, such as Ashley Bouder and David Hallberg happen to be my favorites too. But Alistair MacAuley is not at all fair when it comes to his reviews. I found Clive Barnes and Anna Kisselgoff to be consistenly fair even if I didn't agree with their opinion of a ballet or dancer. I find Mary Cargill and Leigh Witchel to be fair as well. I never feel they are making a critical remark just because they don't like a dancer or choreographer. Also, I really wonder whether a dancer's weight is fair game for critical review. If that weight affects the performance, then of course it should be noted. But did Jennifer Ringer and Jared Angle's weight affect their Nutcracker? I think that is the important questions. Would a reviewer mention the fact that a dancer had a large nose or crooked teeth? I think a dancer's physical appearance (unless it affects their performance as I already said) should be considered off-limits to the reviewer.

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I didn't read defensiveness in the weight article, but I think the way Macaulay phrased his weight comments in the review was a miss in tone and point: why would an Artistic Director/Ballet Master cast dancers for an opening night performance if they historically need time at the beginning of a season to get into prime shape? Dancers show up when and for what they are cast.

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Colleen, to answer a question about when a writer should mention weight, for me, the answer overlaps yours.

I've gotten more concerned with reportage and less with opinion over the past two years, principally from working at The Post. So it's a question of reportage: "Does the reader need to know this?"

Physical appearance is part of reportage, as is weight and fitness - in the same way it might be for an actor or athlete. You report on it - but when there's something to report - something that is affecting what we see. And that should also be the tone of what you say - how does this affect what we're looking at? Tell the reader why s/he needs to know this piece of information.

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Colleen, to answer a question about when a writer should mention weight, for me, the answer overlaps yours.

I've gotten more concerned with reportage and less with opinion over the past two years, principally from working at The Post. So it's a question of reportage: "Does the reader need to know this?"

Physical appearance is part of reportage, as is weight and fitness - in the same way it might be for an actor or athlete. You report on it - but when there's something to report - something that is affecting what we see. And that should also be the tone of what you say - how does this affect what we're looking at? Tell the reader why s/he needs to know this piece of information.

Absolutely. There's quite a difference of tone in, say, Joan Acocella's jovial teasing of Mark Morris in an old New Yorker feature (where she says something about him drinking beer or eating cake), and AM's attempt at humor in this context.

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With all due respect, Richard, my eyes very rarely see what Alistair MacAuley sees at a ballet performance. And he is just so negative, except for his favorites. His favorites, such as Ashley Bouder and David Hallberg happen to be my favorites too.

I may misunderstand him, but it looks like he was critical of Bouder in that same review, saying that compare to Ringer and Angle she has

a greater and more tough-grained hardness.
.

That doesn't sound like something wanted in a Dewdrop. It sounds to me like he's saying she pushed too hard and wasn't soft when called for.

Also, I really wonder whether a dancer's weight is fair game for critical review.

I think that, for better or for worse, audiences expect to see slim dancers.

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Thank you, Leigh. Your answer to my question was just perfect. And KFW I was wrong. Macauley did criticize Ashley Bouder for her Dewdrop. With regard to the statement about audiences wanting slim dancers - slim according to whom. Does slim mean underdeveloped? Can a female dancer have a more womanly figure without being criticized?

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Does slim mean underdeveloped?

That's not what it means, but it sometimes does translate that way with ballet dancers, some of whom indeed can look emaciated, although the norm seems to be a little fuller than Alessandra Ferri and a little less full than Ruth St. Denis :P

Can a female dancer have a more womanly figure without being criticized?

It's usually noted, even if not extremely critically. I knew someone who worked with NYCB in the 70s and 80s who said that Suzanne Farrell 'tends to put on weight'. I myself worked with a ballet mistress who watched the old PBS broadcast of 'Mozartiana' with Farrell in about 1982. She wasn't a fan of Farrell and claimed that she looked like a 'Long Island Matron', which I thought was inaccurate to say the least (as well as being more of what bart called 'lobby talk'), but then her ideal at the time was Susan Jaffe, whose perfect body also became a great dancer. But Farrell was always an exception, and even though she had a 'big look' in 'Mozartiana', that seemed appropriate to me. But I'd say Jaffe was a pretty good example, or maybe Patty McBride, of the kind of body that is never criticized. Then there are some who've really put on weight after retirement, but I won't mention these, because I didn't see any signs of it when they were dancing.

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With all due respect, Richard, my eyes very rarely see what Alistair MacAuley sees at a ballet performance. And he is just so negative, except for his favorites. His favorites, such as Ashley Bouder and David Hallberg happen to be my favorites too. But Alistair MacAuley is not at all fair when it comes to his reviews. I found Clive Barnes and Anna Kisselgoff to be consistenly fair even if I didn't agree with their opinion of a ballet or dancer. I find Mary Cargill and Leigh Witchel to be fair as well. I never feel they are making a critical remark just because they don't like a dancer or choreographer. Also, I really wonder whether a dancer's weight is fair game for critical review. If that weight affects the performance, then of course it should be noted. But did Jennifer Ringer and Jared Angle's weight affect their Nutcracker? I think that is the important questions. Would a reviewer mention the fact that a dancer had a large nose or crooked teeth? I think a dancer's physical appearance (unless it affects their performance as I already said) should be considered off-limits to the reviewer.

I wasn't really focusing on Macaulay's comments on specific dancers, to be honest I don't really follow him all that well when he heads in that direction. I was going more in the way of when he discussion a specific variation or section of a dance piece and does so in a very detailed context. Or specifics of a certain choreographer. In other words I read him for comments on dance, not dancers, although I follow some of the points he makes about certain dancers.

A lot of his comments on dancers seem to outrage those that follow those particular dancers and I can understand the mechanics of how that goes. But that's not what I read him for so to be honest I don't really care how he treats the dancers. It seems a bit snarky to me at times but it just doesn't concern me that much.

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I knew someone who worked with NYCB in the 70s and 80s who said that Suzanne Farrell 'tends to put on weight'. I myself worked with a ballet mistress who watched the old PBS broadcast of 'Mozartiana' with Farrell in about 1982. She wasn't a fan of Farrell and claimed that she looked like a 'Long Island Matron', which I thought was inaccurate to say the least (as well as being more of what bart called 'lobby talk'), but then her ideal at the time was Susan Jaffe, whose perfect body also became a great dancer. But Farrell was always an exception, and even though she had a 'big look' in 'Mozartiana', that seemed appropriate to me. But I'd say Jaffe was a pretty good example, or maybe Patty McBride, of the kind of body that is never criticized.

Fascinating memories and perceptions there, patrick. I've never thought of Farrell as looking big in that broadcast, and Croce said something to the effect that she'd lost some baby fat after returning from Belgium. But you're right in that dress, she does.

Then there are some who've really put on weight after retirement, but I won't mention these, because I didn't see any signs of it when they were dancing.

Happily, Farrell isn't one of them. She looks great.

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What I meant about Macaulay's lively style is that when there were more columnists practicing it, such as Kael and Manny Farber (who wrote "Nearer My Agee to Thee*") and many classical music opera critics, it was less likely to be an object of general anxiety. Here's Denby on the "Toumanova Problem" - a whole column, not just one line.

Her blocklike toreso, limp arms and predatory head position, her strangely static and magnificent leg control set her apart from the others...It makes her seem less a classic heroine than an outcast.

John Martin wrote more stongly and dismissingly, once saying Eglevsky was less an Apollo than an Hephaestus in his landings, weight and style.

And again Macaulay's comment was one line in an article that was valuable in describing in fair detail the plan of Balanchine Nutcracker - before that one line got sent to Huffington Post readers for thumbs up or thumbs down.

*Farber: "Even when he modified and showboated until the reader got the Jim-jams, Agee's style was exciting in its pea-soup density.

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Thanks for those quotes, Quiggin. Edwin Denby, B.H. Haggin, and Robert Garis could all be merciless when a dancer violated their standards. The quote about Toumanova :smilie_mondieu: is an extreme but not unique example of their brand of outraged toughness. I suppose this came from their caring so passionately about the art (or their vision of it). I had forgotten about that.

Incidentally, all three all wrote for an audience significantly smaller (and more narrowly defined as to taste and expectations) than the audience Macaulay is addressing today.

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but then her ideal at the time was Susan Jaffe, whose perfect body also became a great dancer. But Farrell was always an exception, and even though she had a 'big look' in 'Mozartiana', that seemed appropriate to me. But I'd say Jaffe was a pretty good example, or maybe Patty McBride, of the kind of body that is never criticized.

And I saw Jaffe many times, and her dancing did nothing for me. Croce summed it up when she wrote that if Giselle herself called Jaffe, she'd get a busy signal. Now that is snark.

I generally look for movement quality and like plush. I don't usually care about the body if the way the dancer moves captures me, a la Mark Morris at any weight.

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but then her ideal at the time was Susan Jaffe, whose perfect body also became a great dancer. But Farrell was always an exception, and even though she had a 'big look' in 'Mozartiana', that seemed appropriate to me. But I'd say Jaffe was a pretty good example, or maybe Patty McBride, of the kind of body that is never criticized.

And I saw Jaffe many times, and her dancing did nothing for me. Croce summed it up when she wrote that if Giselle herself called Jaffe, she'd get a busy signal. Now that is snark.

I generally look for movement quality and like plush. I don't usually care about the body if the way the dancer moves captures me, a la Mark Morris at any weight.

No, I don't care either, but I did just want to add that, since you saw Jaffe many times, and I saw her only once live, that hers was easily the most thrilling Juliet I ever saw. That would have been 1996. She literally flew. I did see Farrell many times, though, and so I have more to judge by: Most of it was quite otherworldly and charismatic, and I'd say again that her 'big American look' in 'Mozartiana' was quite the sleight-of-hand, because it was very womanly while perfectly elegant. I think it was three years later I saw her do 'La Valse', and she seemed tall rather than quite so voluptuous. And as the Striptease Girl right at that same time (1986, I believe), she had 'taken off weight' if she'd had any just prior to that (I think about a year before that I saw her in 'Liebeslieder', but she seemed slim from what I could tell from those costumes. kfw's point about the 'Mozartiana' dress is good, and probably does have something to do with the rather large-seeming body that she carried so commandingly in that.)

I didn't see Jaffe in her earliest years of celebrity, but I do remember a good deal of criticism of her 'mechanicalness', I believe. Someone here who hasn't written for some time was discussing this once, how Jaffe made a conscious effort to 'mature', for lack of a better word, and that it had worked (I can't remember that BT member at the moment, I don't think she's written for a year or more). Oh yes, remembered, it was Phaedra392, knew it was sort of goddessy, although Phedre of Greek lore wasn't exactly that.

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Does slim mean underdeveloped? Can a female dancer have a more womanly figure without being criticized?

Even the definition of "womanly" changes over time, though. Allegra Kent, who had her own intermittent weight problems, notes in her Dancer's Body Book that the current ideal weight for female dancers is somewhat lower than what's considered normal for women, while for men the desired dancer's weight is much closer to the norm, making it that much more difficult for dancing girls to stay in line. Dancers seem to be becoming more thin over time, men and women both but especially women, and that accords with changing styles in the wider culture. 19th century womanly is not 21st century womanly.

But Farrell was always an exception, and even though she had a 'big look' in 'Mozartiana', that seemed appropriate to me.

And in that tutu she looks fine. In other styles of tutu, less so, perhaps. I remember when I was a kid watching her on TV in 'Chaconne' for the first time I thought, "Gee, she's kind of fat." My niece, looking through my copy of Keith Money's book on Pavlova, said "She's a little chunky, isn't she?" And of course in her day Pavlova was considered very slender.

And again Macaulay's comment was one line in an article that was valuable in describing in fair detail the plan of Balanchine Nutcracker - before that one line got sent to Huffington Post readers for thumbs up or thumbs down.

I agree, Quiggin.

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Even the definition of "womanly" changes over time, though.

The best written development of that change I know of is in Thorstein Veblen's 'Theory of the Leisure Class', where it's one of many things having to do with fashion and given value as such. So that obviously, even the idea of thinness is not always considered to have the highest status. In ballet, though there has always obviously had to be some reasonable extreme muscularity, so that even if there was some plumpness and fleshiness in the 19th century, no ballerinas could really be fat and do the fouettes, or really any of the steps effectively.

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I, too, saw Susan Jaffe many times, and in her earlier years acting was not her strong suite. But then she studied with I think her name is Irina Kopylova - she was a great ballerina with the Kirov and now is a ballet mistress at ABT. So later in her career Jaffe really improved as an actress. I saw her in a performance of Onegin (with Carlos Lopez) a year or so before she retired and she was sensational. Unfortunately at the very end of her career her technique was really fading - especially with regards to roles like Odile in Swan Lake.

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But then she studied with I think her name is Irina Kopylova - she was a great ballerina with the Kirov and now is a ballet mistress at ABT.

That would be Irina Kolpakova.

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