Posted 05 December 2010 - 10:26 AM
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.