innopac

Nutcracker Chronicles - NYTimes

111 posts in this topic

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

And that is really part of the problem. It's a fine, thin line where "wittiness" ends and "nastiness" begins. It's SO easy to cross that line in certain contexts. And being 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.

Of course it's possible to be witty and nasty. This has example has probably popped into my head because it's food related. David Mamet's comments about Jeremy Piven wanting to leave acting and take up a career as a thermometer when he withdrew from the recent revival of "Speed-the-Plow" was laugh out loud funny the first time read it. My reaction to AM was just to wince.

Share this post


Link to post

Quiggin's post, No. 19 in this thread, brings back a memory. One thing that has intrigued me about this whole imbroglio is how quickly and definitively our Internetty, Diggy, Facebookey, Twittery age has enabled it to take on a life of its own. Within hours of Alastair Macaulay's article hitting the whateversphere, we were hit with a firestorm of invective. I don't remember anything like this in the wake of Joan Acocella's 1996? review of one of Wendy Whelan's performances, in which she commented that Whelan "looked like a famine victim," and asked "where is her mother?" (I searched in vain for the article; if someone has a link to it, I'd ask that you please post it). It seems to me that Acocella's comment about Whelan's physical appearance was every bit as snarky and provocative as Macaulay's comment about Jenifer Ringer's. However, it appeared at the tail end of the ballpoint-to-foolscap age, when the capability to give instant angry responses and the fora to view them were limited, so we did not see anything like what we have seen in the past 72 hours.

I'm afraid I have to give Macaulay a bit of a pass on this, at least in principle. Although I have loved Wendy Whelan since she was in the corps, I am also forced to admit that her scrawniness occasionally has been sufficiently outlandish to distract from the enjoyment of her always superb dancing. Given the visual aspect of ballet, I do not think discussion of a dancer's physical appearance is necessarily off limits, nor do I think that a good turn of phrase to describe it, even if somewhat mordant, is out of order either. It would have been far more brutal if Macaulay had taken the literal approach and said of Ringer simply "she's tubby." Judging by the discussion of past critics in this thread, Macaulay certainly did not invent harsh criticism, nor do I think his comments set a new dismal standard for gratuitous nastiness. What made me purse my lips, though, was that I know Ringer's medical history, and that Macaulay did not do what a critic ought, which is talk about how she danced that performance.

Share this post


Link to post

Quiggin's post, No. 19 in this thread, brings back a memory. One thing that has intrigued me about this whole imbroglio is how quickly and definitively our Internetty, Diggy, Facebookey, Twittery age has enabled it to take on a life of its own. Within hours of Alastair Macaulay's article hitting the whateversphere, we were hit with a firestorm of invective. I don't remember anything like this in the wake of Joan Acocella's 1996? review of one of Wendy Whelan's performances, in which she commented that Whelan "looked like a famine victim," and asked "where is her mother?"

Thank you so much, melange, for putting this story in the context of the communications revolution we are currently living through. Very interesting and (I think) to the point.

Share this post


Link to post
What made me purse my lips, though, was that I know Ringer's medical history, and that Macaulay did not do what a critic ought, which is talk about how she danced that performance.

Good post, melange thanks. However, if a critic were expected to take every case of disorded eating, bulimia, or anorexia in ballet into account when composing his reviews and appraising dancers' appearances - that is not workable, to me, and I'm entirely with Macaulay on that one.

Another example I can think of is when Arlene Croce noted that Gelsey Kirkland "had put on a lot of weight all over." She got rapped on the knuckles by Suzanne Gordon for that one. A bald statement like that can be quite as harsh to the recipient as if it is made (or cushioned) with humor. Kirkland, too, had her eating problems. I'm not sure that a frank statement of "she's tubby" would have helped out Macaulay - in fact he might have got worse.

Within hours of Alastair Macaulay's article hitting the whateversphere, we were hit with a firestorm of invective.

Good point, as bart said.

Share this post


Link to post
What made me purse my lips, though, was that I know Ringer's medical history, and that Macaulay did not do what a critic ought, which is talk about how she danced that performance.

[ . . . ]

Another example I can think of is when Arlene Croce noted that Gelsey Kirkland "had put on a lot of weight all over." She got rapped on the knuckles by Suzanne Gordon for that one. A bald statement like that can be quite as harsh to the recipient as if it is made (or cushioned) with humor. Kirkland, too, had her eating problems. I'm not sure that a frank statement of "she's tubby" would have helped out Macaulay - in fact he might have got worse.

Macaulay did say that Ringer and Angle danced "without adult depth or complexity," but even if he hadn't mentioned their dancing at all, I wouldn't have faulted him. Presumably if they'd been especially good or especially bad he'd have said so, but he noted what he thought was most notable, and that's enough for me. Still, he didn't have to criticize them in the witty manner in which he did, or use slang like "tubby" that likewise can sound like ridicule. Simple descriptions like "overweight" or "too heavy" would have told us as much, and far fewer people would have thought he was being mean.

Share this post


Link to post
It would have been far more brutal if Macaulay had taken the literal approach and said of Ringer simply "she's tubby." Judging by the discussion of past critics in this thread, Macaulay certainly did not invent harsh criticism, nor do I think his comments set a new dismal standard for gratuitous nastiness.

melange, I just realized I misread your post and took "she's tubby" out of context when I responded previously. I actually agree with that entirely.

Simple descriptions like "overweight" or "too heavy" would have told us as much, and far fewer people would have thought he was being mean.

I would be inclined to doubt that, given some of the responses he's received. Many seem to think he went over the line in mentioning the subject at all.

Share this post


Link to post

As a reviewer for a major newspaper in the country's cultural capital, writing about the season's most heavily-attended ballet, Macaulay must have known that his NYCB Nutcracker opening night review would have a much wider audience than most of his reviews do. Given the many young dancers who encounter issues with their weight in the course of pursuing their goal of becoming "just like" a Jenifer Ringer or a Jared Angle, it would have been better had he expressed his thoughts in a more professional and responsible manner. What are young dancers who have body image issues to begin with supposed to think when two NYCB principals are subjected to such a withering attack?

Borrowing Leigh Witchel's gentler phrasing for Angle - that he "looked a little out of shape" - would have done the job without any snark whatsoever, and without sending the not-so-subtle message that skinny = better.

Share this post


Link to post

I thought Macaulay's description was a groaner, but sometimes there's a miss in writing as much as he does. What I think we're dancing around here is an elephant in the room: weight. We can go around in circles as much as we want, and propose different ways to phrase the same thing delicately, but generally we don't ask the same delicacy for other aspects of dance, like whether they danced like adults.

I wrote "an elephant", because there's a herd of pachyderms when it comes to ballet (and figure skating): weight, injuries, forcing a body that is not ideal for ballet to do ballet, the number of casualties along the way to get those few hundred who dance professionally, race, economics specific to dancers, how being in a company can crush confidence, the way people in ballet are treated as children, that they are called "boys" and "girls". Yes, dancers talk about loving the art and feeling fulfilled, but the art we love has very big costs, and they are paid by more than the people we see on stage and who are employed professionally by companies.

There's a Facebooky think going around in which we chose cartoon characters as our profile photos. If I seem pessimistic, it's because I'm channeling Huey Freeman, who is not exactly Mr. Sunshine.

Share this post


Link to post

As a reviewer for a major newspaper in the country's cultural capital, writing about the season's most heavily-attended ballet, Macaulay must have known that his NYCB Nutcracker opening night review would have a much wider audience than most of his reviews do.. Given the many young dancers who encounter issues with their weight in the course of pursuing their goal of becoming "just like" a Jenifer Ringer or a Jared Angle, it would have been better had he expressed his thoughts in a more professional and responsible manner. What are young dancers who have body image issues to begin with supposed to think when two NYCB principals are subjected to such a withering attack?

Forgive me, checkwriter, but I wonder if one sentence in a review by Alastair Macaulay is going to have much influence over young dancers with body image issues, since they clearly acquired those issues from other, more immediate, sources. (In addition, a lot of the younger people of my acquaintance seem ignorant of where the news they read comes from, surely those more responsible for the fuss are those using the Internet to attack the guy, thus spreading his unhealthy message that slim is better to some who probably would never otherwise seek out Macaulay's reviews.)

Share this post


Link to post
David Mamet's comments about Jeremy Piven wanting to leave acting and take up a career as a thermometer when he withdrew from the recent revival of "Speed-the-Plow" was laugh out loud funny the first time read it. My reaction to AM was just to wince.

Well, David Mamet has made quite a career out of being a nasty yet witty writer. By this point in time he's perfected the genre...

What makes Mamet's statement unpleasant IMO, compared to Macauley's, is the fact that he had an axe to grind with Piven, since Piven very contoversially withdrew from Mamet's play. By the same token, I thought that it was disingenuous of Ashley Bouder to comment on Alastair Macauley's critique of NYCB's 'Nut' without mentioning that she had received a not-so-glowing mention (by Bouder standards, at least) in that same review.

Share this post


Link to post

Forgive me, checkwriter, but I wonder if one sentence in a review by Alastair Macaulay is going to have much influence over young dancers with body image issues, since they clearly acquired those issues from other, more immediate, sources. (In addition, a lot of the younger people of my acquaintance seem ignorant of where the news they read comes from, surely those more responsible for the fuss are those using the Internet to attack the guy, thus spreading his unhealthy message that slim is better to some who probably would never otherwise seek out Macaulay's reviews.)

I do forgive you, Dirac. If you have been spared the ordeal of having to deal with serious weight and body-image issues on a first-hand basis, then consider yourself blessed. As you correctly suggest, influences come at dancers from all angles and all sources. While Macaulay's one sentence in his review is just another straw, it was not a sentence that needed to be written in the way it was written.

As for the backlash - I think that's helping. While it may have spread his comments far beyond his original audience, the fact that most of the backlash appears to be on the side of the dancers sends a far more positive signal than what his one sentence did in his review.

Share this post


Link to post
I do forgive you, Dirac. If you have been spared the ordeal of having to deal with serious weight and body-image issues on a first-hand basis, then consider yourself blessed. As you correctly suggest, influences come at dancers from all angles and all sources. While Macaulay's one sentence in his review is just another straw, it was not a sentence that needed to be written in the way it was written.

Alas, checkwriter, I have not been so blessed, not that I regard such arguments from authority as germane to the discussion, but since you asked. Over time I've commented regularly on this site on the special demands placed on women to look good and stay thin.

As for Macaulay, we can agree to disagree.

Share this post


Link to post

Here's another thought: ballet dancers are performers, and the ability of any great performer is to create an illusion that will hide his or her shortcomings. I've seen enough ballerinas offstage to know that they look very different onstage. Same with models or actors/actresses. Perhaps the problem with Ringer and Angle isn't just that they're out of shape (I believe Ringer returned from maternity leave) but that they're not riveting enough as performers to make one forget the physical shortcomings?

Opera is very different from ballet but I once saw Robert Alagna up close. He looked middle-aged, short, and thick around the waist. Onstage, he cleverly hides his shortness by kneeling during love scenes with the soprano. But most of all, he's able to fool the audience into thinking that he's an ardent young man in love because he's a great performer.

But just talking about dancers today, many of them have physical qualities that might be considered less than ideal. Ashley Bouder is on the stocky side for a ballerina, Alina Cojocaru has unappealing feet, Herman Cornejo is very short, etc. When I watch them onstage though I quickly forget those shortcomings because they're great performers.

Share this post


Link to post

Here's another thought: ballet dancers are performers, and the ability of any great performer is to create an illusion that will hide his or her shortcomings. I've seen enough ballerinas offstage to know that they look very different onstage. Same with models or actors/actresses. Perhaps the problem with Ringer and Angle isn't just that they're out of shape (I believe Ringer returned from maternity leave) but that they're not riveting enough as performers to make one forget the physical shortcomings?

I think you are on to something, canbelto. A thread discussing the differences between performers off and on stage, and what happens to them and us when they are performing, might be very long indeed.

P.S. LOVE the Alagna story. :thumbsup:

Share this post


Link to post

To use another example, Sara Mearns is another prominent NYCB dancer that doesn't have a very conventional ballerina figure. She's a bit thick all around. But she moves with an elegance and grace that quickly make me forget her figure. As a general rule, if I'm fixated on a performer's physical shortcomings, that performer is usually not giving a very impressive performance.

Share this post


Link to post

I completely understand having solipsistic criteria for watching dance - I have my own. But I think you're digging a hole that it's going to be very, very hard to climb out of.

Yes, fitness and appearance matter. And it's a difficult subject to discuss without sounding like you're discussing cuts of meat. But do you really think Ringer somehow earned those comments by being a not-very-interesting performer?

Share this post


Link to post

I completely understand having solipsistic criteria for watching dance - I have my own. But I think you're digging a hole that it's going to be very, very hard to climb out of.

Yes, fitness and appearance matter. And it's a difficult subject to discuss without sounding like you're discussing cuts of meat. But do you really think Ringer somehow earned those comments by being a not-very-interesting performer?

I'm not saying she earned those comments. They were very harsh. But I'm saying that there are many many ballet dancers who don't have ideal figures (long neck, long limbs, short torso, arched feet), who can make it work by the strength of their dancing. Also, being out of shape is a different matter from not having an ideal figure.

Share this post


Link to post

I completely understand having solipsistic criteria for watching dance - I have my own. But I think you're digging a hole that it's going to be very, very hard to climb out of.

Yes, fitness and appearance matter. And it's a difficult subject to discuss without sounding like you're discussing cuts of meat. But do you really think Ringer somehow earned those comments by being a not-very-interesting performer?

I'm not saying she earned those comments. They were very harsh. But I'm saying that there are many many ballet dancers who don't have ideal figures (long neck, long limbs, short torso, arched feet), who can make it work by the strength of their dancing. Also, being out of shape is a different matter from not having an ideal figure.

An interesting discussion. In Macaulay's response to those who responded to his comments, he mentioned that Lynn Seymour was the plumpest dancer and one of the greatest that he's seen. He noticed her plumpness but her artistry over ruled it in a sense. In other words Seymour's dancing didn't make him not notice her weight, but her other attributes were more salient to him. I remember Seymour and agree that she was very plump and very great.

On the other hand It seems to me that there are body types that Macaulay favors or disfavors no matter what. He admits to Daniel Ulbricht's gifts but often his criticism seems related to Ulbricht's size and body type. The fact that Macaulay has said that a tendu by Hallberg can be a monumental event (paraphrasing) also speaks to physical preferences (the line of the long let and large instep). A shorter leg and lesser instep would never get that comment, regardless of the energy or intent behind the tendu.

But ballet is a visual art and we all want to see what we consider beautiful and right.

The other issue is the role - If Ringer was successfully doing a great dramatic role he might have been taken by the performance and not cared about or mentioned the weight.

The more I think the more confused I get -- words to live by!

Share this post


Link to post

On the other hand It seems to me that there are body types that Macaulay favors or disfavors no matter what. He admits to Daniel Ulbricht's gifts but often his criticism seems related to Ulbricht's size and body type. The fact that Macaulay has said that a tendu by Hallberg can be a monumental event (paraphrasing) also speaks to physical preferences (the line of the long let and large instep). A shorter leg and lesser instep would never get that comment, regardless of the energy or intent behind the tendu.

I've noticed this as well. Macaulay goes on and on about Kathryn Morgan's figure, for example, and I sometimes think his dislike of Wendy Whelan is motivated by her exotic appearance - though I don't recall his actually having said so outright. What is clear, however, is that his preference is not limited to conventional body types. For example, he has a warm spot in his heart for Savannah Lowery. I know you'll all be dewy-eyed at the tenderness of the compliments he paid both her physique and her dancing in his February 17, 2010 review:

"Ms. Lowery is a big, strong, broad-framed dancer, learning elegance and refinement the slow way, and occasionally clumsy. But in the whole company there is nobody who communicates such glee in dancing full-out to music. Frequently her dancing has more color than several more conventionally proportioned women who share the same repertory, and there are roles — the soloist in the first movement of “Brahms-Schoenberg Quartet,” for example — in which her incisive force seems definitive."

(I think another role in which Lowery radiates an infectious joy is the chief peasant girl in Cortege Hongrois -- she is lovely.) Without saying that Macaulay actually does or does not do this, I will say that to dismiss a dancer out of hand simply because of his or her physical appearance deprives one of the opportunity to enjoy what may be a very satisfying performance.

Share this post


Link to post

Personally, the only time I have ever been distracted by a dancer who was too heavy was a corps member (not at NYCB) whose girth was noticeably larger than the other women in the corps. I am more frequently distracted by dancers who are much too thin.

Share this post


Link to post

A letter from Melissa R. Gerson, in the PRINT edition of the NY Times (12.8). Gerson is a former SAB classmate of Jennifer Ringer, a former soloist at Miami City Ballet, and currently a professional in the field of eating disorders.

Often dancers must choose between health or continued engagement in ballet; Ms. Ringer is exceptional and admirable in her ability to have achieved both.

http://www.nytimes.c...=rssnyt&emc=rss

Share this post


Link to post

Nobody's questioning that, I'm sure.

But I think we've exhausted the subject, at least for the moment, and look forward to reading any more comments about the Nutcracker Chronicles, which seem to have got lost in the shuffle.....

Share this post


Link to post

He sort of did a summary of his Nutcracker chronicles, and I thought this was maybe my favorite description of all:

In one exquisite — but unacknowledged — respect, most of these “Nutcrackers” are hard to tell apart. Only the Joffrey production admits that it is based on the old 1940 Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo production; the others give credit only to their own house choreographers. But much of the same Sugar Plum choreography is danced by the Colorado Ballet, Moving Island Company in Rhode Island, Boston Ballet, Washington Ballet and Houston Ballet. (That’s just to name a few; the Royal Ballet and other companies in Europe also use this choreography.) It probably all derives from the Monte Carlo version, and in the case of the adagio and ballerina solo, parts of it surely go back to the 1892 St. Petersburg original, choreographed by Lev Ivanov.

One moment in the adagio is, thrillingly, like no other in 19th-century ballet. Running to her cavalier’s arms, the Sugar Plum Fairy arrives on point with her back to us, like a closed flower: her arms raised above her head like a halo, her other leg extended high to the side. Then, keeping that leg where it is, she twists sideways and plunges her torso and an arm down (arabesque penchée croisée), as if peeling the flower open to our view. Then she returns to the vertical, but now arches back, as if stretching petals luxuriantly wide.

No matter what one might think of his snarkiness towards dancers he doesn't like, AM really does have a way with words when describing ballet.

Share this post


Link to post

:toot: According to Wendy Perron's Twitter feed:

I just heard: Jenifer Ringer will be on The Today Show to address Macaulay's comments, Monday, sometime between 7:30 and 8:30 a.m.
So set your recording devices!

I have my doubts about the appropriateness of this, but we'll see.

Share this post


Link to post