FauxPas

Macaulay's Criticism

151 posts in this topic

I did not feel compelled to go into D.C. in this cold weather to catch "Giselle" (I have seen the same production in NYC 10 years ago with Zakharova, Asylmuratova and younger Vishneva). However here is Alastair Macauley's NY Times review:

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/12/arts/dance/12giselle.html?scp=1&sq=vishneva&st=cse

These are my reactions to this review in contrast to the reviews posted above:

Macauley (unlike his predecessors at the Times) has no real use for 19th century story ballets, something he felt that 20th century geniuses like Balanchine had to clear out to create real choreographic art. Macauley has no real reverence for the Kirov as a repository and fount of classical ballet. Macauley mentions the Mariinsky dancers hearing but not dancing to the music. Macauley's beau ideal is Balanchine who of course demanded that the dancers not stretch steps beyond the strict tempos in the orchestra - the dancers reflect the music. Russian dancers often stretch the music for effects and interpretation (think Makarova). Obviously many of the Kirov dancers seemed at odds with the conductor's slow tempos - hence the rushing of the beat, etc.

According to the posters here, Vishneva was not at her absolute best on opening night (which Macauley saw) but was better on the following weekend performance. (I have lately noticed less electricity and diminished technical brilliance in Vishneva's performance from her abandon of five years ago. The foot injury two or three seasons ago seems to have been a factor) Macauley clearly sees a somewhat calculated, effect-laden, self-conscious performance. He prefers Somova's less sophisticated, more direct if unsubtle approach.

I remember when the Kirov toured more than 10 years ago, Zakharova was criticized heavily (after an uneven Aurora at the opening night 1890 "Beauty") for her unclassical hyperextended plastique in a pure classical role. Kisselgoff was not pleased with her. However, as Giselle, Zakharova's flexible body and high extensions gave an ethereality and lightness to the role and it all looked better than the Aurora. Her youth gave a certain freshness to it - the role was new to her. Asylmuratova's Giselle had a more practiced style but lacked stamina - she was visibly tired by the second act pas de deux. One of the reviews mentioned that Giselle, like Hamlet was a role often played by very young performers or mature performers much older than the character they were portraying. Each could bring something vital to the part - the younger performer impulsiveness and vulnerability and the older performer greater insight, life experience, style and more refined technique.

This dichotomy might have been repeated in D.C. with Somova and Vishneva (on opening night where she probably was tired from all the rehearsing and traveling beforehand). Somova has shown that with careful coaching, she can excel - she has a body that has the capacity to do great things (with someone else's mind guiding it). The change of coaches from Chenchikova to Terekhova probably has had a salutory effect. Somova's long-limbed willowy body could, with proper coaching, create lovely images in the iconic Giselle poses. The Romantic style can accomodate more exaggerated positions and higher arabesques.

Also, different people are looking for different things in a Giselle (as with Hamlet). Do you want her wild and reckless - a Romantic wild child? Do you want her shy and otherworldly? Do you want a hearty peasant girl with a fatal flaw? Vishneva has gone from pretty ingenue (12 years ago with the Kirov), to coltish wildness (ABT with Corella and Malakhov 5 or 6 years ago) to more conventional delicate girl with a tragic destiny (ABT 2009 season with an under par Corella). So maybe Somova is maturing and maybe Vishneva wasn't at her best. Or maybe not and prejudices came into play. But some things to ponder.

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Hi Faux Pas. I didn't think Vishneva was the best from the standpoint of technique. However, her overall performance was the most moving and nuanced of the three casts I saw last week. Giselle is one of those ballets where acting ability is equal to or more important than stellar technique. I would agree that Vishneva's technique is now on the decline compared to a few years ago due to her age and prior injuries. I was surprised that the NY Times disliked Vishneva so much, whereas the reviewer for the Washington Post thought her performance was stellar. I happen to agree with the Washington Post on this one.

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Macauley (unlike his predecessors at the Times) has no real use for 19th century story ballets, something he felt that 20th century geniuses like Balanchine had to clear out to create real choreographic art.

I think it's quite ironic that Macaulay is regularly criticized for being obsessed with Fonteyn and the Royal Ballet as a standard for classical ballet, the same Fonteyn who was coached in the classics by Vera Volkova, a direct descendant of the Imperial ballet schooling in Russia, when he is actually providing context before a week ago last Sunday.

Macaulay has written decades of criticism that refute any assertion that he has no real use for 19th century story ballets.

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The nice thing about London is the wide variety of critics reviewing major performances. Sadly in NYC, there are very few who devote themselves to reviewing dance. Consequently, Macaulay receives far too much attention. If he was one of a dozen reviews of NYCB for every rep, he would not be so influential.

Blame the faltering economy, and faltering interest (editors would rather publicize a dancer going on a TV show to try to date a celebrity).

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Jayne

If he was one of a dozen reviews of NYCB for every rep, he would not be so influential.

Actually it always seemed to be like this in New York back to the Frank Rich days of theater criticism - no matter how many dance critics there were, the Times version prevailed over all the others, including that of the Voice. Maybe in the days of the East Village Other it was different.

I did like what Macaulay said about Giselle's choreographical architecture and his review on the revival of the Cunningham Septet - it's his taste in certain types of dancers, such as classic blond males, that I find a bit too rarefied ... And don't forget the work of John Rockwell, the previous dance critic in his spot, who seemed far less knowledgable about dance.

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Actually it always seemed to be like this in New York back to the Frank Rich days of theater criticism - no matter how many dance critics there were, the Times version prevailed over all the others, including that of the Voice. Maybe in the days of the East Village Other it was different.

Quiggan, as far as NY theater criticism, the NYT has held the "central" position back further than Rich. Back in the mid-late 60s, it was Walter Kerr who would decide if a show lived or died. Ok, that's too simplistic, he couldn't make it or break it every time, but the Times was a powerful force, the most powerful, and I suspect it went back to an even earlier era than the one I experienced. And Kerr was followed by a string of equally powerful reviewers lead up to Rich.

Back several years earlier, there were many more daily newspapers in NY but by 1966 or so, almost all of them had either been bought or went out of business. This left the city with the Times, News, and maybe the Post. But the Times called the shots in theater criticism.

I also agree on the influence Maccaulay has , but the dance criticism issue is a little different than the theater criticism one in that it isn't so much tied to the economic fate of the show being reviewed. The theater critic's power at the NYT is that the review heavily (less than an earlier era, but still a factor) influences ticket sales. And this is a much more tenuous connection with dance reviewing. But the basic connection is still there, the NYT is the first place people tend to go to determine what the "critics" thought. Same thing with music.

Although I think in this era, there are other sources of influence and also the role of the "critic" is being reevaluated. People are less likely to consider a single reviewer a central point of influence. Today anyone can be a reviewer be it on a website , or in the social media forums, or other internet phenomenon.

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no matter how many dance critics there were, the Times version prevailed over all the others, including that of the Voice.

Even if the NY times version prevails in the end, I hope to see many other voices from people who work as critic, which may help the readers like me distinguish "personal taste and artistic merit" mixed in any review, especially, in my opinion, in Macauley's. Or, I hope a tag is attached to each critic which briefly explains his aesthetic view and taste. Knowing Macauley admires and loves Balanchine and classic blond males, as written here, would have helped me duly appreciate his reviews.

In his Giselle review, I also liked his mentioning "a dominolike ripple" in a "sensuous but unyielding diagonal", which was one of the scenes I loved most in Kirov's Giselle, but I felt the comments about Vishneva, "this was a Giselle who was living up to her own press notices rather than to the role’s drama", a bit insulting to a professional dancer, unnecessarily nasty, like now notorious "too many sugarplums" phrase, though I can't tell if she was really oddly flat on the first night, obsessed with her reputation, as he said, so, deserving such comments, because I didn't see it. On Sunday when I saw her, I noticed a hair of self-consciousness and exaggeration in her acting in Act One, but, I still think Macauley's comments too harsh (...or, it may be just me who feels like this, not being familiar with American criticism culture), unless he saves same or more paragraphs to her dancing and acting in Act Two, which was so moving on Sunday, and I think, may been same on the first night. I think Macauley has much knowledge and even enthusiasm about art and beauty of ballet, and I just wish those merits of him don't fortifies his confidence in his taste too much, making him unjustifiably aggressive about what "he" didn't want to see.

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Is criticism in this art form really important or taken at face value? As I have stated elsewhere, I am a novice. Therefore, please forgive my simple questions, which do not come from a place of knowledge or experience. I am trying to learn by reading these board and asking questions. However, I have read a lot of commentary on these boards, and I find a great reliance on critics to justify unnecessary nastiness and hostility. (For example, I recently read the discussions on several different fora regarding Alina Somova, in which members supported their positions by pointing to percentages of negative and positive reviews of the dancer. This trust in the media seemed almost naive to me. In any event, I cannot understand the angry commentary, as I cannot imagine any dancer would deserve being called an "abomination," even if she were promoted, as suggested, based on popularity, politics, physical appearance, or a perceived ability to sell tickets to popular audiences. I have seen her performance on a dvd of a gala in which she performed, and I was not inspired, but venom did not spring forth from my tongue, either.)

I offer a comparison that I am sure many of the readers of this board will look down upon, but my experience in this connection forms the basis of my lack of trust in reviews and my cynicism. This experience underlies my present question, so I am willing to open myself up to condescending comments for the sake of my inquiry. In the arena of popular musical forms, rather than "high art," I have a great wealth of knowledge regarding a certain rock band, having seen hundreds of concerts over several decades, having listened to hundreds of recordings repeatedly, and having read virtually all that was written about the musicians at issue. From a base of real knowledge and experience, I can report that the reviews of recordings and concerts by this band by critics in influencial newspapers and magazines have been, more often than not, based on erroneous factual information, as well as prejudice, self-regard, and self-righteousness. The critics almost seemed to want to achieve superiority and notoriety by disrespecting and discounting the popular musicians, without regarding to factual history, critical validity, or veracity. Therefore, I have always been suspicious of media critics.

Literary criticism offers insight, background, and a deeper understanding of works of fiction. I am not sure I understand criticism by reviewers of dance or the reliance on it by members of this board. Thank you for any insight.

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Good post, puppytreats, thoughtful and thought-provoking.

Is criticism in this art form really important or taken at face value?

Yes, it must be, although you might just mean Macaulay and other NYTimes 'power-critics'. The query may come from the fact that any word he utters is discussed at great length here--more than I think is merited, but then I've fallen into that trap myself until recently, because he's knowledgeable but not IMO a good writer (some critics are). People are right that the NYTimes critic is the most-read, even if many don't like him/her (although I don't think I remember Dunning and Anna Kisselgoff being so controversial, but then I wasn't reading them as often), but I think it doesn't have to be taken as seriously as it is. He's almost always linked, and is sometimes truly worth paying attention to, sometimes not, sometimes just fatuous (as the NYTimes in general seems to be increasingly becoming, although it's still the Paper or Record, and we have to use it).

This trust in the media seemed almost naive to me.

Yes, insofar as it does apply, and where. I think on this board, it's more a matter of trust of the NYTimes in general, rather than much need for 'greater expertise', because a lot of the members of Ballet Alert have it themselves, and don't need to be told; so many of them find it as some sort of addendum, I guess. Frankly, some of them here, as I've mentioned a number of times, say far more interesting and useful things about ballet for me personally, as they don't resort to hyperbole. And if you're new here, you may not know that there are quite a number of professional critics, not only for dailies, but for other dance journals as well (some have blogs connected with this board, or elsewhere too, apparently.) The critics here are not usually going to weigh in so much on the value of colleagues, of course, that's not to be expected. But there are several on here you must have discovered by now.

In any event, I cannot understand the angry commentary, as I cannot imagine any dancer would deserve being called an "abomination," even if she were promoted, as suggested, based on popularity, politics, physical appearance, or a perceived ability to sell tickets to popular audiences. I have seen her performance on a dvd of a gala in which she performed, and I was not inspired, but venom did not spring forth from my tongue, either.)

It's 'not very nice' to say such things, but it's worse when one N.J. critic for a paper said 'Ratmansky is an idiot', so that frankly I think it's good that there is at least that much freedom to speak on this board, even if that is extreme. I tend to say such things about certain writers, including one who writes about dance (but doesn't do dance reviews, as far as I know, but rather writes the worst purple prose I've seen in my entire life of any kind and anywhere, but that's another matter.)

I offer a comparison that I am sure many of the readers of this board will look down upon, but my experience in this connection forms the basis of my lack of trust in reviews and my cynicism. This experience underlies my present question, so I am willing to open myself up to condescending comments for the sake of my inquiry. In the arena of popular musical forms, rather than "high art," I have a great wealth of knowledge regarding a certain rock band, having seen hundreds of concerts over several decades, having listened to hundreds of recordings repeatedly, and having read virtually all that was written about the musicians at issue. From a base of real knowledge and experience, I can report that the reviews of recordings and concerts by this band by critics in influencial newspapers and magazines have been, more often than not, based on erroneous factual information, as well as prejudice, self-regard, and self-righteousness. The critics almost seemed to want to achieve superiority and notoriety by disrespecting and discounting the popular musicians, without regarding to factual history, critical validity, or veracity. Therefore, I have always been suspicious of media critics.

Some might 'look down upon it', but I doubt most would, and they oughtn't, and it's an excellent point too. The problem is, of course, that critics can't research everything they review that thoroughly, no matter how erudite and well-versed they are in any given art-realm. Yes, I've done the same with certain writers and performers (in various art-forms.) It is the only way to become fully expert in the artist, but in this way I'll defend all critics, in that if they have to review a lot of material, they can't be specialists in nearly all of it. Macaulay is generally thought by those who do know here (I'm not one of them) to know a great deal about ballet and dance, whether or not one agrees with him or likes him.

Literary criticism offers insight, background, and a deeper understanding of works of fiction.

Here's where we diverge: I don't think it's necessarily good either, although it can be, especially if the reviewer also writes the fiction or good non-fiction. Or it can be perfectly horrible too. There is garbage being written everywhere, and probably always was, in addition to the good pieces.

I am not sure I understand criticism by reviewers of dance or the reliance on it by members of this board.

It's just as normal to write criticism of dance as of any other art, and I don't think the 'members of this board rely on it' especially. Some find Macaulay esp. interesting, illuminating, whatever... But there are several critics who write on this board (some more than others) who are writing professionally, and I'd imagine they all have differing views of Macaulay and NYTimes critics of the past. I'd personally rather read them--there's not only DanceView Times, with several members here who write, but also the UK's 'Ballet Magazine' reviews of RDB and RB are particularly good (as this one which is linked in another post here: http://www.ballet.co.uk/magazines/yr_10/dec10/js_rev_royal_danish_ballet_sleeping_beauty_1210.htm, (these are the kinds of reviews I get most from and do learn from and even 'rely on', as well as just some criticism written directly onto the board by some of these same people) as are some of the other British members who aren't writing professionally, like Simon G. and leonid (who doesn't write here for some time, however.)

I was interested in something Richard mentioned about theater critics influence being somewhat less than in the past, particularly the NYTimes one. I don't know about 'the last decade', to me it seems as if the Times theater critic has become less 'make or break' for even longer, but that might just be for the huge shows. No time to go into that in detail, but right now the big absurdities around 'Spider-Man' are one example. Ben Brantley reviewed it while it was (is) still in previews, because its opening keeps being postponed, and said it was one of the worst musicals in history (or close to that, it 'might be', but who cares). It's still making a fortune, even with all the danger and irresponsibility (including legal citations) or maybe because of this. And it probably will if it ever opens. So maybe the theater critics still hold sway on smaller and more serious productions, but not on the big tourist spectacles. I remember a good number of Frank Rich reviews, was not overly impressed with most of them, but I haven't paid attention to the powerful critics since the 60s.

I don't see Ben Brantley as being an esp. powerful theater critic the way Macaulay is, though.

Less powerful still are film critics of even the NYTimes--most people don't even know their names. And the Establishment movie critics of today seem less knowledgeable than those of the past: Nowadays, there is a lot of reviewing, for example, of movies adapted from novels, in which you can see that the critic didn't read the novel; this becomes obvious when you read it, given that they can't refer to it. I think this was less frequent in decades past, and even critics I don't admire as much as others do, like Pauline Kael, were much more often familiar with the books or plays from which films were adapted. This doesn't seem to be a pre-requisite anymore, and here, in particular, is where 'everybody writes reviews', with the IMDb an often hilarious spectacle of people writing 'in movie review mode', and taking it dead seriously too. That's just one example of how bad movie-reviewing can be, though, but I'd think it's the one that requires the least expertise. Any music or dance critic has to really have some solid experience and long experience too, even if some indulge in the sillinesses that are becoming more and more prevalent--and this goes for the very top critics, there's probably a lot of pressure to do 'pop things' which I dislike personally, like choosing 'best of lists' and making sweeping statements about geniuses (that the critic often or always isn't, even if s/he's a good critic in many ways.)

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but, I still think Macauley's comments too harsh (...or, it may be just me who feels like this, not being familiar with American criticism culture), unless he saves same or more paragraphs to her dancing and acting in Act Two, which was so moving on Sunday, and I think, may been same on the first night.

A few excerpts from the great American dance critic Arlene Croce's reviews in "The New Yorker":

From July 4 1997 ("Beyond Ballet Theatre")

Neither Gregory nor Kirkland is receiving the help she needs to become great. Slack musical standards, coaching by committee, artistic direction that is indiscriminately rigid or permissive leave too much of the responsibility up to the dancer herself, and self-teaching can only go so far. Kirkland's debut in "Swan Lake" seemed to be a reaction to these conditions; she looked overprepared...

[T]he only sensible objections to altered text in "the classics" is to wrongness of effect. I'd have preferred some bright substitutions for the standard releve-passe / entrechat sequence, which, with Kirkland's thin thighs and calves, has no dazzle.

From May 18, 1981 ("A New Old" 'Giselle")

But, unlike the production that it replaces, this isn't Giselle restudied -- it's a simple exchange of one set of details for another. The Kirov's Giselle traces itself back to Petipa, and Baryshnikov believes devoutly in its authenticity, but it turns out to have less edge to it than ABT's late-1960's model; it looks scrappy, capricious, reduced. Because no great amount of thought lies behind it -- nothing much lies behind it but taste --- there's not a great deal one can argue with. It's a case of My "Giselle" against Yours...

Myrtha prepares the drama. Anyone who has not experienced the thoroughness of her preparation has not felt the icy breath of Giselle. None of the three Myrthas I saw this season did more than warm up the house for the stars....

Inspired Giselles are possible even within the vaporish terms of the role. I saw none this time...

Alexander Godunov has style, too -- old-Bolshoi style. With his carefully sculpted pageboy, his low necklines, and his massive, girlish legs, Godunov is like one of those oddly virile pantywaists in the Russian ballet films of the thirties and forties -- the ones who wore heeled shoes and bloomers. Godunov isn't narcissistic; he's a big, blond anachronism, and he has, as Albrecht, none of the dramatic power I would have expected after seeing him in the Bolshoi repertory. He danced well...

Croce could kill with 1000 cuts or she could be like Kyuzo in "The Seven Samurai".

That said I don't know how much Macaulay was influenced by American dance criticism (or just a few like Croce) compared to how much he was formed by that in Great Britain, where he grew up and where the majority of his career has been.

I think Macauley has much knowledge and even enthusiasm about art and beauty of ballet, and I just wish those merits of him don't fortifies his confidence in his taste too much, making him unjustifiably aggressive about what "he" didn't want to see.

Just about every dedicated critic has confidence in his or her taste: the question for me is whether it's explicit or stated indirectly. What I find great about Macaulay's criticism is that he describes what he doesn't want to see. It's about context. Croce shows it in the examples above, and she had much more space per topic.

There are two distinct school of criticism, and the difference is how much of the personal is explicitly stated, because the personal comes through, regardless of how objective even a description is. There's also space and purpose: is the piece meant to be an ongoing narrative, an essay, or to provide enough information to make the reader decide whether to see the artist/company now or in the future or to look for more info.

Literary criticism offers insight, background, and a deeper understanding of works of fiction. I am not sure I understand criticism by reviewers of dance or the reliance on it by members of this board. Thank you for any insight.

Since you gave a personal example, why would you give credence to literary criticism given your example of the music critics whom you find dismissive of the band you admire? Why would you give credence to a literary critic regardless of subject or genre? Why dismiss all critics of a genre? (I've read some splendid rock critics.) Why would dance critics be more likely to "to want to achieve superiority and notoriety by disrespecting and discounting the popular musicians, without regarding to factual history, critical validity, or veracity" rather than literary critics about popular and contemporary literature? If any dance critics in the major media are wrong with their facts, it is often discussed here, if the info is public record.

For me, it all depends on the critic, the format, and my knowledge of the subject for how much I take the critic seriously: it's a matter of trust and track record. Does the critic describe the qualities that support conclusions? Does he or she provide context? Because if he or she does, in an art form/company I know, I can come to my own conclusion based on the info available. That's why I found media critic Pauline Kael so great: I didn't have to agree with her conclusions, but I knew what movie I was seeing, and the one time she didn't do this, in a review of a re-release of "L'atalante", where she discussed why the movie was important and not what the movie was like, I dragged a friend and his girlfriend with me, and we found it so dull, I owed him five action movies, no questions asked, no vetoes. For a lot of modern dance criticism about companies and work with which I'm not familiar, it doesn't matter how vivid the description or insightful the commentary: I don't have a visual or other context for the work, and I have to look at the more general info the critic gives and either see the work or go the next time if the general appeals in any way. Why would you automatically take Joan Acocella's literary criticism in The New Yorker any more seriously than her dance criticism there?

Critics come in all sizes: some are general critics with years of experience in that genre -- classical music, opera, photography, architecture, ballet, modern dance, rock music -- some are critics who are given a new genre, like classical music and rock critic John Rockwell, who preceded Macaulay as dance critic at the NYT, an experiment I deem a failure because I never found him insightful about ballet -- and some have been dedicated to a specific genre for many years. I find many general critics, who are usually the only or the main arts critic for a newspaper, out of their depth in some of what they cover in general and some classical music critics unforgiving towards the non-Tchaikovsky 19th century story ballets because of the scores in particular, questioning the relevance of ballet classics in a way they'd never question the relevance of "Cosi fan tutte".

Many of the greatest dance critics -- Croce, Denby, for example -- loved Balanchine, and volumes are devoted to their criticism. Does that automatically disqualify them from reviewing the 19th century classics? Macaulay, for example, began watching dance and writing criticism in England, where the Balanchine pickings were slim, and Ashton and Macmillan were the major choreographers on view.

For me his depth of knowledge and the context he brings make me respect what he writes, even if I don't agree with him or always see his point. I don't know what other "tall blonds" he loves besides David Hallberg. Hallberg is a close to a stylistic throwback and type that is rarely admired or seen today, even from the companies -- ex: Bolshoi, Mariinsky, Royal Danish Ballet -- that used to pride themselves on his type, and I can see his appeal, if I don't share AM's enthusiasm to the same degree: if a contemporary opera singer displayed the vocal style of a Thill or Sobinov, I'd be over the moon. He has given ample description of what he sees in San Francisco Ballet's Vanessa Zahorian, of which I've only seen rare glimpses. He didn't mention what I thought was a great performance by a favorite Ballet Arizona dancer of mine in last year's Balanchine program. He doesn't like Veronika Part, and I do. So what? I wouldn't expect to agree with a spouse on everything, either.

Plus, I love the way he writes.

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Mea culpa. I was not referring to newspaper and magazine reviews of books when I mentioned literary criticism in my earlier post, but I now realize that I did not give ample or sufficient thought to my remarks about the value of literary criticism. When I wrote my comment, I was remembering hours spent in the library stacks, reading books of criticism to explain classical literature, and obtaining historical context to help me understand the subject of the criticism. I forgot about the weekly reviews of current fiction contained in the papers, which I enjoy reading just to get a taste of a book (but not the reviewer's outlook), and I also did not recall, for example, my feelings about Prof. H. Bloom (I guess I respond negatively to harsh or opinionated critics at times).

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Interesting comments.

I agree that the NY Times chief critic of any art is taken very seriously within their field. So no matter who was the critic, they'd be under a microscope. The NY Times devotes more space to dance than any other NY newspaper, or I'd venture to say, any other daily newspaper in the United States. Now, if some of the other dance criticism platforms put forth more reviews, we'd have more voices in the mix. I miss regular dance writing in the New Yorker. And the New Republic. And the Nation etc... we used to have dance essayists at many of the major journals. Either the position has been cut or the writers aren't interested in writing long form about dance. Joan Acocella sometimes writes a 50-word preview in the front section of the New Yorker but she no longer even writes once a season under the "Dancing" banner. She now mostly writes about books.

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Joan Acocella sometimes writes a 50-word preview in the front section of the New Yorker but she no longer even writes once a season under the "Dancing" banner.

I could hardly believe they didn't give her space to review Ratmansky's new Nutcracker!

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richard53dog writes:

I also agree on the influence Macaulay has , but the dance criticism issue is a little different than the theater criticism one in that it isn't so much tied to the economic fate of the show being reviewd. The theater critic's power at the NYT is that the review heavily (less than an earlier era, but still a factor) influences ticket sales. And this is a much more tenuous connection with dance reviewing. But the basic connection is still there, the NYT is the first place people tend to go to determine what the "critics" thought. Same thing with music.

Yes, the Times has always had pride of place -- and not unreasonably since it is, after all, arguably the greatest paper in the world even after all this time. And because so many other papers are throwing in the towel as far as arts criticism is concerned, increasingly the Times is the only game in town despite Murdoch's efforts to expand the bailiwick of The Wall Street Journal. So the critics writing for the NYT -- in certain fields, as you note, and in different degrees -- wield disproportionate power, even now. I remember reading that Croce started Ballet Review in part because she was so fed up with Barnes' dance criticism in the Times.

That's why I found media critic Pauline Kael so great: I didn't have to agree with her conclusions, but I knew what movie I was seeing, and the one time she didn't do this,

It's off topic, but Kael wasn't really a media critic. Apart from the occasional review of books connected to movies, she was a one-trick pony. And a lot of filmmakers would say that certainly wasn't the "one time" Kael "didn't do it." Still, I miss her. For better and worse, we won't see her like again.

From a base of real knowledge and experience, I can report that the reviews of recordings and concerts by this band by critics in influencial newspapers and magazines have been, more often than not, based on erroneous factual information, as well as prejudice, self-regard, and self-righteousness.

Even without knowing the name of the band, I don't doubt it, puppytreats.

Good post, puppytreats, thoughtful and thought-provoking.

I add my compliments to Patrick's, puppytreats. I enjoyed reading your post. :)

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increasingly the Times is the only game in town despite Murdoch's efforts to expand the bailiwick of The Wall Street Journal.

Ahem :) The Post doesn't come close in terms of coverage space or influence but I'm putting in a good word for our arts section. Rather than let Clive Barnes' position disappear through attrition, they added writers - and all the reviewers are people I'm proud to have as colleagues. Our word count is tight, but I think everyone there gets maximum efficiency from the space. And I believe we reach more people locally than The Times. So read us too!

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increasingly the Times is the only game in town despite Murdoch's efforts to expand the bailiwick of The Wall Street Journal.

Ahem :) The Post doesn't come close in terms of coverage space or influence but I'm putting in a good word for our arts section. Rather than let Clive Barnes' position disappear through attrition, they added writers - and all the reviewers are people I'm proud to have as colleagues. Our word count is tight, but I think everyone there gets maximum efficiency from the space. And I believe we reach more people locally than The Times. So read us too!

Quite right, Leigh. I thought of that after I put up my post but didn't get around to clarifying. The Post certainly does deserve points for preserving their performing arts coverage when everyone else is cutting back. My use of "only game in town" was misleading - I was thinking also when I wrote that of papers aspiring to a broad national reach.

The now-defunct New York Sun was a rag but they did have excellent arts coverage.

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I don't know what other "tall blonds" he loves besides David Hallberg.

Chase Finlay (although maybe he is a dirty blond?) :)

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/17/arts/dance/17nycb.html?_r=1&ref=arts

Ah, so it's not tall blonds he loves, but some tall dancers "with a long neck and handsome carriage; an attentive and capable partner; and a skilled dancer of beautifully stretched lines and gleaming precision." -- I certainly wouldn't argue about these criteria -- and from the rest of the review, certainly not to the exclusion of other types for men.

Most of what I've read all-around about Finlay has been glowing, and it's a bit like noticing Pavarotti has a nice voice.

]That's why I found media critic Pauline Kael so great: I didn't have to agree with her conclusions, but I knew what movie I was seeing, and the one time she didn't do this,
It's off topic, but Kael wasn't really a media critic.

As a film critic, she certainly was in the spectrum of rock critics to dance critics who write for newspapers and magazines, which was the topic.

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increasingly the Times is the only game in town despite Murdoch's efforts to expand the bailiwick of The Wall Street Journal.

Rather than let Clive Barnes' position disappear through attrition, they added writers - and all the reviewers are people I'm proud to have as colleagues. Our word count is tight, but I think everyone there gets maximum efficiency from the space. And I believe we reach more people locally than The Times. So read us too!

Very true. The Post could have let it's arts coverage go the way of the Daily News. There might not be as much space, but there is frequency, which can be just as important in letting the public know there's always lots going on.

kfw: Do you think the New Yorker wouldn't have made the space for an Acocella piece on the Ratmansky Nutcracker? It's my feeling that she's just not that interested in what she's seeing to write a long review. If she wanted to write, I think she'd get the space.

I think some people on this board have complained about some criticisms by Macaulay's of popular dancers. Although I don't always agree with him, but what I do like about his writing is that he explains exactly what he doesn't like and he's got enough experience and knowledge to make those claims.

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As a film critic, she certainly was in the spectrum of rock critics to dance critics who write for newspapers and magazines, which was the topic.

We are working from a different definition of the term “media critic.” My understanding of the contemporary definition is that a media critic is someone who comments on the place and status of various media, often news media, in contemporary culture, a definition which embraces the (relatively) new field of media studies. Film, to use a term Kael disliked, is a medium, but I think of dance, theater, music, and film critics as arts critics, not media critics. Kael restricted herself exclusively to movies, rarely venturing beyond that confine to make larger comments on media although she often generalized on the topic of culture high and low. We can agree to disagree.

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I'm not sure that can be factually disagreed on, however, at least in most contemporary intellectual usage. If so, then theater and dance and music critics are also 'media critics'. A 'media critic' in this day and time is usually referred to as any of several kinds of theorists, going back even before Marshall MacLuhan, and long including those who double as philosophers like Jean Baudrillard and Slavoj Zizek and Noam Chomsky and all the left-leaning writers who talk about the manipulation of societies by TV--and there is always connection with 'media studies', which is always getting bigger and bigger as it's just 'so much fun', it seems (obviously, I've been a bit too exposed to some of this to enjoy it as much as some of its favourite hobbyists, whom I've known wisely but too well). But even if one insists on calling Pauline Kael and Stephen Holden 'media critics' (and even if one is considered to be accurate, although I don't thnk it is), the fact is definitely that Pauline Kael is known to be a 'film critic' to quite as great a degree that Alistair Macaulay is known to be a 'dance critic'. A 'media critic' is one who critiques media, in common intellectual parlance; 'which' medium one is in doesn't constitute (for most people) that they are a 'media critic', but rather whether they talk about media as such or not, not specific works within the medium (unless that's attached to the other while being subsumed to it, as in some of Zizek's observations about 'The Matrix', 'High Noon', etc.)

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kfw: Do you think the New Yorker wouldn't have made the space for an Acocella piece on the Ratmansky Nutcracker? It's my feeling that she's just not that interested in what she's seeing to write a long review. If she wanted to write, I think she'd get the space.

Perhaps you're right. It seems odd that she wouldn't want to weigh in on a new work everyone was talking about, but perhaps it just didn't engage her and she knows she gets just so much space a year and wants to save it for something else.

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As a film critic, she certainly was in the spectrum of rock critics to dance critics who write for newspapers and magazines, which was the topic.

We are working from a different definition of the term “media critic.” My understanding of the contemporary definition is that a media critic is someone who comments on the place and status of various media, often news media, in contemporary culture, a definition which embraces the (relatively) new field of media studies. Film, to use a term Kael disliked, is a medium, but I think of dance, theater, music, and film critics as arts critics, not media critics. Kael restricted herself exclusively to movies, rarely venturing beyond that confine to make larger comments on media although she often generalized on the topic of culture high and low. We can agree to disagree.

puppytreats was talking about critics who are published in mainstream media, like newspapers and magazines, as opposed to books of literary criticism clarified in a second post in the thread. That was the topic of conversation.

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A 'media critic' is one who critiques media, in common intellectual parlance; 'which' medium one is in doesn't constitute (for most people) that they are a 'media critic',

Yes, thank you, Patrick, you said it better than I did.

Regarding the dearth of dance writing in The New Yorker, an event like Ratmansky's new Nutcracker is the kind of topic the magazine should be covering, and if Acocella doesn't want to I wish they would find someone who does. I suppose it's possible regular dance writing isn't wanted there but I find that hard to believe, although anything's possible with magazines these days.

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Helene, I felt uncomfortable with Macaulay's "her own press notice" phrase because it seems to relate to the ethics of the professional dancer and artist, beyond the quality of the performance in question. Claiming that the dancer put his/her own personal interest over the performance is something to be told with due caution, only when he/she really did, or there are sufficient reasons to think like that. As the dancer's intention cannot be directly proved, we have to infer from what we've seen, and, to me, the Sunday performance wasn't that bad to justify his comments. Anyway, it seems that it's only me to link that specific phrase with the artist's ethic issue, and my question/curiosity is resolved.

Macaulay, generally, may well have confidence in his taste, which may be a very refined one, considering his title as the NY times chief dance critic. But, I think he also should be aware of the dark side of the taste - a part of which, however small, has nothing to do with his knowledge, however vast it is, in ballet, just coming from his whole life, ballet-related or not. It's given to him like his fingerprints, and I don't think it's the place where confidence may be allowed - it will be the opposite. And, as he himself cannot clearly know what kind of and how much of innate bias is mingled with his acquired, cultivated, educated taste, I think the degree of confidence in taste as a whole should be always carefully monitored. I don't dislike Macaulay's describing in his review what he doesn't want to see, but want to know why, and, which part of the taste it comes from. Further, I don't expect, or, want (why?) him to exactly agree with me on a performance - I don't want to have two exactly same photos at my hands when trying to reconstruct the performance in my mind through various reviews, like making a 3D movie with many photos taken from different points, but need to know where he took the photo.

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