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Nutcracker Chronicles - NYTimesRequest for photos and memories


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#16 papeetepatrick

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Posted 03 December 2010 - 08:00 PM

I thought Macaulay's original comments were to the point and I doubt if he could have rephrased them in any way that would satisfy those who were offended. You appear onstage for the appraisal of critics and public and you take your chances. This does not excuse gratuitous cruelty of the kind which John Simon could sometimes be guilty in his criticism of performers' looks, of course, but it's absurd to say, as Ashley Bouder did in The Huffington Post, that dancers get enough criticism about their bodies elsewhere and critics shouldn't pile on. What anyone is or isn't saying to Angle or Ringer offstage is not Macaulay's concern. What appears onstage is.


I don't agree with this at all. He certainly could have rephrased them, and just been simple about it. His 'original comments' may not have been exactly 'cruel', but they were gratuitous; and I do agree with miliosr that there really is a whiff of John Simon here, if not quite what he'd say about Judy Garland's looks, etc. He could simply have said both 'appeared to have gained weight', and even that this was visually 'somewhat distracting', or suchlike. I don't think he even needs to relate it to 'how they danced' the way others do, and it's all right if he wants to write about how he found their weight gains 'unfortunate' or 'not looking good in the piece' or even just 'not to his taste'. But this stupid cuteness: "looked as if she had eaten one sugarplum too many" and "seems to have been sampling half the Sweet realm" is not necessary. Relating their weight gain to the ballet material and eating sweets is tacky in a twee and obnoxious way, not original IMO.

Macaulay aside, I haven't seen Ringer for about 4 years, so I wouldn't be able to say anything, but if Jared Angle really has noticeably gained weight, that does surprise me, and he had to do it really fast: I saw him in 'Swan Lake' in February, and he was so slim and svelte you were even quite conscious of it. I didn't find him a charismatic dancer in any sense of a strong princely presence, but his grande pirouettes were certainly something one couldn't argue too much with--they were there.

I believe discussions about a dancer's weight should be in the context of the performance. Macaulay states the Lynn Seymour and Mark Morris gave wonderful performances despite their weight. Agreed, I witnessed both, however in the Nutcracker review all we know is Macaulay's opinion about weight. Was the dancing heavy, labored, line distorted, choreographic intent not achieved? We don't know any of this. All we know is that Ringer and Angle were too heavy looking for Macaulay's taste.


I think, however clumsily, it was 'in the context of the performance', even if not made as specific as with Seymour and Morris. I guess I just find his remarks on the sweet-eating silly. I don't like his writing that much, and this is aside from what his expertise in ballet may or may not be (meaning others will know better than I, although it would seem he obviously knows a great deal.)

#17 dirac

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Posted 03 December 2010 - 08:59 PM


This does not excuse gratuitous cruelty of the kind which John Simon could sometimes be guilty in his criticism of performers' looks

"Funny" you mention John Simon because he is precisely who I thought of when I read "looked as if she had eaten one sugarplum too many" and "seems to have been sampling half the Sweet realm".


Macaulay's nothing like Simon used to be, not at all.

There were two other people in the elevator and I realized that one of them was John Simon. He was speaking freely to his companion and basically told her they he really liked being hated by everyone, he got a big charge out of it. He mentioned his own name and I was a bit surprised that he would be so frank, and leave no doubt about his identity, in front of a couple of strangers. But I guess he really did enjoy his own notoriety.


Thank you for that anecdote, richard53dog. I did get the impression from Simon's interviews that he was enjoying himself. That said, I often liked his criticism - he had a wide range of reference culturally that you don't get in your average movie critic. But I'm wandering off topic.

Was the dancing heavy, labored, line distorted, choreographic intent not achieved? We don't know any of this. All we know is that Ringer and Angle were too heavy looking for Macaulay's taste.


Space can be limited, especially for the critics who write for dailies.

#18 Quiggin

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Posted 03 December 2010 - 10:47 PM

The greater part of Alaistair Macaulay's column was about Balanchine's choreography for the Nutcracker, its basic plan, what its great pleasures were, how it was stronger and more daring or weaker than other versions. Macaulay is doing this as a part of a marathon viewing of Nutcrakers productions in the US, something not usually done by Times or New Yorker critics.

In one line in the last paragraphy of the City Ballet review Macaulay made a sharp comment about two dancers' bodies and their appropriateness to the particular roles they were dancing that night - in the way an opera critic might talk about how well matched an older singer to the part she or he were singing. He also wrote., "they’re among the few City Ballet principals who dance like adults, but without adult depth or complexity," which is the sort of thing Edwin Denby, or B H Haggin too, used to say.

Of the whole article, this one line is what the commentors and sub-commentators discussed at Huggington Post and elsewhere - in a frightening lynch mob tone (making Fritz Lang's Fury now seem to me not the stiff and schematic movie I used to think it was).

This is a serious situation. Criticism is dying from tea party-like bullying from one side or having to comform to the bland tastes of the "Like" or "Digg" button on the other. (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.")

Even having to defend Macaulay's right to compose smart and snappy columns (there used to be dozens of writers like him, Kael, Manny Farber, Kermode, etc) means the battle is mostly lost.

#19 miliosr

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Posted 04 December 2010 - 05:28 AM


I thought Macaulay's original comments were to the point and I doubt if he could have rephrased them in any way that would satisfy those who were offended. You appear onstage for the appraisal of critics and public and you take your chances. This does not excuse gratuitous cruelty of the kind which John Simon could sometimes be guilty in his criticism of performers' looks, of course, but it's absurd to say, as Ashley Bouder did in The Huffington Post, that dancers get enough criticism about their bodies elsewhere and critics shouldn't pile on. What anyone is or isn't saying to Angle or Ringer offstage is not Macaulay's concern. What appears onstage is.


I don't agree with this at all. He certainly could have rephrased them, and just been simple about it. His 'original comments' may not have been exactly 'cruel', but they were gratuitous; and I do agree with miliosr that there really is a whiff of John Simon here, if not quite what he'd say about Judy Garland's looks, etc. He could simply have said both 'appeared to have gained weight', and even that this was visually 'somewhat distracting', or suchlike. I don't think he even needs to relate it to 'how they danced' the way others do, and it's all right if he wants to write about how he found their weight gains 'unfortunate' or 'not looking good in the piece' or even just 'not to his taste'. But this stupid cuteness: "looked as if she had eaten one sugarplum too many" and "seems to have been sampling half the Sweet realm" is not necessary. Relating their weight gain to the ballet material and eating sweets is tacky in a twee and obnoxious way, not original IMO.


Thank you, patrick -- you have expressed perfectly what I was struggling to express last night. There was a way to convey his point without being gratuitously nasty and our very own Leigh Witchel is proof-positive of that:

http://www.nypost.co...yKc6Z8eE9bURCNL




This does not excuse gratuitous cruelty of the kind which John Simon could sometimes be guilty in his criticism of performers' looks

"Funny" you mention John Simon because he is precisely who I thought of when I read "looked as if she had eaten one sugarplum too many" and "seems to have been sampling half the Sweet realm".

Macaulay's nothing like Simon used to be, not at all.

Maybe not. But he has his Simon-esque moments, as this episode (and his now-notorious comment that Ethan Stiefel's hair looked like he was auditioning for the Hitler Youth) reveal.


Even having to defend Macaulay's right to compose smart and snappy columns (there used to be dozens of writers like him, Kael, Manny Farber, Kermode, etc) means the battle is mostly lost.

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

#20 Ray

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Posted 04 December 2010 - 06:22 AM

I'd watch those dark alleys behind the theater, Macaulay. Something hits you, you fall, visions of sugarplums, dancing on your head... you turn your aching face to see the bloody (your blood!) pointe-shoed, beautifully pointed foot. "Looks like you won't be running any more marathons, critic boy. How's this for heavy?" the Cavalier asks, bringing down the not-prop mouse-king sword ...

#21 bart

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Posted 04 December 2010 - 06:23 AM

If I may weigh in (bad pun) on this:

Macaulay's article in today's Times is nicely written, although he works a little too long and hard at defending his position from too many angles.

I don't find anything to disagree with in, for example, his comments on Lynn Seymour, Mark Morris, and other major artists whose bodies did not meet our current physical ideal for dancers. Great artistry does indeed trump a certain amount of body fat and a less-than-idea body type, even in ballet. Nor do I disagree, in principle, with statements such as:

When a dancer has surplus weight, there can be no more ruthless way to demonstrate it than to dance in a tutu with shoulders bare. [ .... ] If you want to make your appearance irrelevant to criticism, do not choose ballet as a career.

However, Macaulay would not have NEEDED to write such a long, self-justifying piece if he had expressed himself with greater care and self-discipline in his original review.

Comments like

Ringer looked as if she'd eaten one sugar plum too many

come across as lobby gossip, not professional criticism. An element of bitchiness occasionally rears its head in Macaulay's writing, and this is a striking example. He doesn't seem to be able to resist them. For such a talented and thoughtful writer, this is a serious flaw.

I'm much more troubled by Macaulay's latest favorite judgment concerning NYCB principals: the accusation that most are lacking in "adult depth and complexity." "Complexity" I understand. But what does Macaulay mean by "adult"? What's might its opposite be? This concepts needs work. Right now, it's just a talking point.

If you read Macaulay regularly, you begin to see a recurring pattern in the way he typically develops his Big Ideas:

(a) drop a newly formed thought into a piece,
(b) work it out in subsequent reviews ... and then
© emerge at the other side with a serious, interesting and fully-formed critical concept.

Maybe Macaulay might consider keeping the early versions of his critical concepts private, putting them into print only after he understands them better and can choose better words with which to express them.

#22 Ray

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Posted 04 December 2010 - 06:32 AM

I'm much more troubled by Macaulay's latest favorite criticism of NYCB prnciples: the accusation that they are lacking in "adult depth and complexity." "Complexity" I understand. But what does Macaulay mean by "adult"? And what's might its opposite be? If you read Macaulay regularly, you begin to see a pattern in the development of his ideas:

(a) drop a new thought into a piece,
(b) work it to death), and -- often --
© emerge at the other side with an interesting and fully-formed critical concept.

Maybe Macaulay should resist putting the early versions of his ideas into print and wait until he understands them better and can choose better words to express them.


EXACTLY. As dirac reported earlier, space in a column is limited, so why not use it to explain what AM calls, in his response to the "brouhaha," his most important point (which everyone supposedly overlooked b/c of the weight comments), instead reverting to easy ad hominem attacks? Blogs offer a space for informality, it's true; they also offer space to work out IDEAS.

#23 Ray

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Posted 04 December 2010 - 06:58 AM

Reading AM's response, btw, makes me even more aware of the difference between the tools music critics have at hand over dance critics. Where a music critic might revert to going back to the score after a performance--seeing, perhaps, if the player was observing the composer's tempo markings--Macaulay gives us in place of analysis some defensive self-reflection: "My own history makes me intimately aware of what it is like to have a physique considerably less ideal than any of those I have mentioned." Again,I know it's a blog, where you can write this kind of stuff; but for AM it often comes at the expense of serious--and interesting--talk.

#24 bart

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Posted 04 December 2010 - 07:12 AM

Yes, that passage about Macaulay's own problems with body imperfections is a low point. He has already written eloquently about his personal experience in a more appropriate context. Some defense attorneys believe in throwing every conceivable argument into the pot, hoping that the jury will find some of it tasty enough to swallow. It seems that Macaulay is doing the same.

I wonder whether the distinction between "blogs" and "articles" is a real distinction any more. Journalists' blogs can be like those work-pages that some programs offer writers who want to save work and return to it later. The only difference is that this kind of writing -- a working out of ideas and arguments -- is shared with the blog's readers as it goes along. The economist Paul Krugman at the NY Times uses his blog in this way. The bulk of his entries are not intended to be reproduced in his actual columns, though they may or may not provide raw material for those columns.

However, in the case of the Times dance writers, the blog seems usually seems to be a more or less literal online version of the article that will be printed a day or two later. The online blog page for Macaulay and the other dance writers seems to function as an editorial holding pen until the editors have the space to put it into print.

#25 richard53dog

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Posted 04 December 2010 - 07:23 AM

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.

But Macaulay is certainly no fool and I'm sure nothing that I've said is exactly unknown to him. So one 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 unfortuantely there is a large segment of today's population that finds conversation/reporting/commentary dull and dry unless there is an element of meaness or nastiness.

Like try some OTHER interent boards!

#26 kfw

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Posted 04 December 2010 - 07:51 AM

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.

#27 bart

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Posted 04 December 2010 - 08:08 AM

[B]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:)

#28 canbelto

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Posted 04 December 2010 - 08:34 AM

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).

#29 Helene

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Posted 04 December 2010 - 08:34 AM

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.

#30 abatt

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Posted 04 December 2010 - 09:24 AM

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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