FauxPas

Macaulay's Criticism

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What are educated likes and dislikes but biases, and what are wishes but agendas?Part of a critic’s job is to tell us what he likes and dislikes, and how he’s formed his judgment, and Macaulay’s criticisms always come with explanations.

-This assumes honesty and pure motivations. A judge can be unfairly biased or wrongly influenced and produce an unjust outcome. When I see untruthful facts, or illogical statements, or seemingly baseless enmity, I presume something other than noble intentions and truthful reporting underlie the judgment and alleged rationale.

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What are educated likes and dislikes but biases, and what are wishes but agendas?Part of a critic’s job is to tell us what he likes and dislikes, and how he’s formed his judgment, and Macaulay’s criticisms always come with explanations.

-This assumes honesty and pure motivations. A judge can be unfairly biased or wrongly influenced and produce an unjust outcome. When I see untruthful facts, or illogical statements, or seemingly baseless enmity, I presume something other than noble intentions and truthful reporting underlie the judgment and alleged rationale.

Since you are yourself now playing the critic, could you back up the opinion above with specific examples? While I've certainly read bad critics with an agenda, honestly, I'm not sure what you're referring to in Macaulay's case.

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What are educated likes and dislikes but biases, and what are wishes but agendas?Part of a critic’s job is to tell us what he likes and dislikes, and how he’s formed his judgment, and Macaulay’s criticisms always come with explanations.

-This assumes honesty and pure motivations. A judge can be unfairly biased or wrongly influenced and produce an unjust outcome. When I see untruthful facts, or illogical statements, or seemingly baseless enmity, I presume something other than noble intentions and truthful reporting underlie the judgment and alleged rationale.

Since you are yourself now playing the critic, could you back up the opinion above with specific examples? While I've certainly read bad critics with an agenda, honestly, I'm not sure what you're referring to in Macaulay's case.

The statement was broad, and not specifically aimed at Mr. Macaulay. I have noticed that Mr. Macaulay appreciates a certain style, and disapproves of other styles; he tends to use harsh language to disparage those of whom he does not approve. I will not opine as to why he does not approve of certain choreographers, dancers, companies, or styles. However, this does not mean I accept at face value his negative reviews, and I disagree with many of them. I generally dislike the "snarky", obnoxious tone of many critics, who are dismissive of others solely for the sake of humor and promoting readership of their column.

I respectfully disagree with your statement that I am playing the critic. I am simply explaining why I distrust the news media. I have explained why in an earlier post, citing reviews of a rock band, which I knew contained factual errors and resulted in my overall cynicism. Another example of why I distrust the media involves the reporting about a very poor neighbor of mine. We lived in what was considered a rich neighborhood, but, of course, this did not mean all residents were wealthy. The news reported about her alleged suicide in a manner that fit an agenda, or that fit a profile, by discussing the pressures on rich children growing up in competitive environments, and disregarded her impecunious upbringing. The story had no basis in fact whatsoever. I suppose the reporter felt the story about the pressures on rich children was more compelling than the true story about a poor girl who died. Alternatively, the reporter did very little investigating and reported inaccurate facts. Either way, the report was untrue. The reporter was lazy or had an agenda. Therefore, her explanation of the facts supporting her conclusion did not eliminate the wrongful result.

An earlier comment described critics as reaching judgment and explaining rationale. Through this example, I am attempting to show that merely citing facts or a rationale to explain the basis for an opinion does not suffice, when an opinion is preordained or results from laziness or an agenda.

Likewise, judges can create a rationale or selectively use facts to support a preordained conclusion, sought to satisfy various constituencies. I refer you to reports about bribery, extortion, politics, elections, and biases against people of varying races, genders, or nationalities. I admit this is very sad. However, I do not suggest this is universal.

In the art criticism arena, an agenda may include promoting an artist for financial reasons, or personal relationships. We have read about claques on these boards. Reporters may have relationship with public relations specialists. They may have friends who have invested in a show. They may be afraid to disagree with an employer, who has a relationship with a theatre company or its supporters. They may not like a performer who refused an interview, or was brusque due to pain one day, and may hold a personal vendetta. They may have a misunderstanding. The source of bias is endless. None of this refers to Mr. Macaulay. I am just stating the obvious.

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An earlier comment described critics as reaching judgment and explaining rationale. Through this example, I am attempting to show that merely citing facts or a rationale to explain the basis for an opinion does not suffice, when an opinion is preordained or results from laziness or an agenda.

You set a very high bar for purity of intent here. I think the best we can do, as readers, is disagree with a writer's rationale, dispute her facts, or criticize her method or style. But that's not nothing.

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An earlier comment described critics as reaching judgment and explaining rationale. Through this example, I am attempting to show that merely citing facts or a rationale to explain the basis for an opinion does not suffice, when an opinion is preordained or results from laziness or an agenda.

I suppose one could safely assume laziness on a critic's part if he consistently got easily verifiable facts wrong. A pre-ordained opinion, an opinion reached beforehand, is perfectly legitimate if it's not contradicted by the performance or other facts at hand: if dancer X has always been bland, we assume she'll be bland again. Agendas can be good or bad, and good critics will have them just like many Ballet Alerters :) : they'll wish an AD would bring in this choreographer and stop using that one, would give this dancer more roles and less to that one. Really, once we get beyond verifiable facts we're in the realm of taste. I do believe in good and bad taste (and good art I simply don't have a taste for), but once we get beyond those facts it's all but impossible to show that someone has an improper agenda. All we can say is that his taste is lacking.

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I was a little surprised the following does not seem to have raised many eyebrows--it did mine:

"Ms. Lopatkina is the Mariinsky’s equivalent of City Ballet’s Wendy Whelan: an invariably intelligent, experienced and purposeful dancer whose style and physicality are seldom flattered by the most exposing high-classical repertory."

I don't begrudge Macaulay his individual taste in dancers and I partly agreed with what he said about Lopatkina in Symphony in C elsewhere in the review (that she lacked a certain "impetus" the choreography calls for, though I would add praise--for her gorgeous port de bras especially)... still, she is a dancer one rarely sees damned with faint praise (as in main clause) or accused of not being good in classical repertory (as in relative clause).

The comparison with Wendy Whelan shows he knows he is a bit of an outlier on this one--or is even being deliberately provoking--since he is rather an outlier regarding Whelan as well. Anyway, this got my attention which, I suppose, was its purpose. But, from the little I have seen of Lopatkina I rather doubt it's a just summation.

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I was a little surprised the following does not seem to have raised many eyebrows--it did mine:

"Ms. Lopatkina is the Mariinsky’s equivalent of City Ballet’s Wendy Whelan: an invariably intelligent, experienced and purposeful dancer whose style and physicality are seldom flattered by the most exposing high-classical repertory."

It certainly raised my eyebrows---but I chose to ignore it. Ludicrous :smilie_mondieu: While I generally enjoy reading his writings on ballet, we parted company long ago on individual dancers.

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I was a little surprised the following does not seem to have raised many eyebrows--it did mine:

"Ms. Lopatkina is the Mariinsky’s equivalent of City Ballet’s Wendy Whelan: an invariably intelligent, experienced and purposeful dancer whose style and physicality are seldom flattered by the most exposing high-classical repertory."

I don't begrudge Macaulay his individual taste in dancers and I partly agreed with what he said about Lopatkina in Symphony in C elsewhere in the review (that she lacked a certain "impetus" the choreography calls for, though I would add praise--for her gorgeous port de bras especially)... still, she is a dancer one rarely sees damned with faint praise (as in main clause) or accused of not being good in classical repertory (as in relative clause).

It made me smile, because I agree with him. Of the ballets I've seen Lopatkina in, on film and live, the best for me were "Scheherezade" and "Carmen Suite". When I saw her as Lilac Fairy, her extensions were not classical, and I don't find her very musical.

Had I been able to stay over the weekend, if I had to choose, I would have gone to the performance of "Symphony in C" with Kondaurova, not Lopatkina. I find the filmed version of Lopatkina's Second Movement precious.

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I really appreciate this particular review. It shows Macaulay's skill in describing dance movement vividly, concisely, and with a sense of dance history.

...

Those of us not able to get to the performances in Washington or NYC have to rely on video to see the Danes doing Bournonville. We need assistance in "seeing" the performances and putting them in context. Macaulay does this for the Danes as he does for almost all the major companies he reviews. He's a great resource.

Are there other dance critics nowadays who write like this?

Apologies for answering the question so long after it has been asked, but I would have to say that Deborah Jowitt and Marcia Siegel are two of the finest descriptive critics still working today. As I posted elsewhere, Jowitt is now blogging on ArtsJournal, so she's easy to find in the electronic world. Siegel writes for the Boston Phoenix, mostly on Boston-area artists, but does longer essays for the Hudson Review quarterly. Her most recent anthology, Mirrors and Scrims, is primarily about ballet and is certainly worth the finding.

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The comparison made between Whelan and Lopatkina caught my attention, but I'm not familiar enough w. Lopatkina's dancing to judge whether it's valid. I am very familiar w. Whelan's dancing, and her claim to fame is not classical, tutu roles, but neo-classical "leotard" ballets.

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The comparison made between Whelan and Lopatkina caught my attention, but I'm not familiar enough w. Lopatkina's dancing to judge whether it's valid. I am very familiar w. Whelan's dancing, and her claim to fame is not classical, tutu roles, but neo-classical "leotard" ballets.

Macaulay has been very sparing in his praise of Whelan in her home repertory (neo-classical leotard ballets)...often expressing strong reservations or praising her rather tepidly.

As I said above, I don't begrudge him his perspectives on particular dancers. I don't always agree with them either, and that is to be expected. But I noted this instance because Whelan and Lopatkina are very high profile, very admired, and also very loved dancers--really major figures in their respective companies--so it's...well...of interest when he seems to challenge the common wisdom regarding their stature. I should think there is even an edge of deliberateness in the gesture, however sincere (and I assume it IS sincere).

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Leonid, that is indeed a wonderful article. How I wish I had been there to see the presentation.

Macaulay's pieces often make me wish I had been at a performance. His ability to conjure up word pictures of dance movement is so well developed, that often makes me feel that somehow, quite magically, I HAD been there.

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I have appreciated certain recent Macaulay articles, including today's on the Degas exhibitions. However, I do not understand this quotation:

"whereas balletomanes deplore alternative renditions of the same step, Degas relished them too."

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[ADMIN BEANIE ON]

The Times may allow ad hominem remarks in its comments section, but we don't allow them here.

[ADMIN BEANIE OFF]

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Macaulay also says this just before the repetitions quote:

Theatergoers detest restricted views; Degas, when painting, loved them.

This great one, recently in San Francisco and now in Australia, has a squeezed out limited view but nice variation of poses.

Dancers Climing the Stairs

Often though Degas drew the sames poses over and over, and identified with dancers at the barre, and moved them around in his paintings with the banality of checkers than leaps of chess pieces. Macaulay's balletomanes I guess are more easily bored.

Degas also is grittier and more realisitic than romantic than even Macaulay allows – more like Zola – and his dancers are not attractive and not in attractive poses.

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As much as I appreciate and learn from Macaulay, I find the following bit in his 10/8 NYCB review pretty far-fetched:

I realized for the first time that “Prodigal Son” is like a précis version of Wagner’s “Parsifal.” The hero sets forth from a religious background he doesn’t appreciate, is seduced by a siren whose allure includes a maternal element, is rejected and sent wandering. The story ends with a powerful recognition scene as he returns to his earlier community.
Leaving Parsifal aside, a religious background the hero doesn’t appreciate? There is no hint of this in the Biblical story or, as far as I can see, in the ballet.
A siren whose allure includes a maternal element? Does the son confuse domination with maternal love, or does Macaulay?
A powerful recognition scene? In the Biblical parable, the son recognizes that he’d be better off as a hired hand on his father’s land than as the pauper he’s become. Is this really in the ballet?

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As much as I appreciate and learn from Macaulay, I find the following bit in his 10/8 NYCB review pretty far-fetched:

I realized for the first time that “Prodigal Son” is like a précis version of Wagner’s “Parsifal.” The hero sets forth from a religious background he doesn’t appreciate, is seduced by a siren whose allure includes a maternal element, is rejected and sent wandering. The story ends with a powerful recognition scene as he returns to his earlier community.
Leaving Parsifal aside, a religious background the hero doesn’t appreciate? There is no hint of this in the Biblical story or, as far as I can see, in the ballet.
A siren whose allure includes a maternal element? Does the son confuse domination with maternal love, or does Macaulay?
A powerful recognition scene? In the Biblical parable, the son recognizes that he’d be better off as a hired hand on his father’s land than as the pauper he’s become. Is this really in the ballet?

I'll disagree with one point here: I think a maternal reading of the choreography is entirely plausible (as it is in many B ballets, imho). The siren is larger than he is, for one, replicating mother-child proportions; and in the end pose he's curled up in her lap--we see a triumphant whore as she looks out at us, arm up-stretched in victory (or like a cobra?), but he's got his face buried in her bosom.

jr_prodigal_kondaurova_lobukhin_107_500.

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Good points, thanks. But as you say, that pose comes only at the end of their encounter – it doesn’t reflect his initial attraction – and it also seems to be more her doing than his. The disparity in size of course reflects the disparity between her sexual power and his power to resist it, or to at least resist being ruined by it.

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Good points, thanks. But as you say, that pose comes only at the end of their encounter – it doesn’t reflect his initial attraction – and it also seems to be more her doing than his. The disparity in size of course reflects the disparity between her sexual power and his power to resist it, or to at least resist being ruined by it.

Well, Freud would say there's a connection there; and that mothers can "smother" their sons (don't shoot the messenger!). B was of course not a Freudian, but it was the 1920s here. And, after all. the end of the ballet affirms another Freudian anxiety: that in not escaping the "mother" you won't be able to detach yourself from your father, either.

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I've never thought about the Siren as a maternal figure, but it's an interesting take. I do understand that the Prodigal is rejecting a religious background that he doesn't appreciate. That's the whole point of the opening scene, where his sisters and his father are praying with bended heads, but the Prodigal keeps looking away into the distance. His family is deeply religious and traditional, which he rejects. He does not appreciate these values until he returns, crawling with his last breath, back to the family.

The point that most resonated with me from the NY Times' latest review is the description of Bouder's dancing in Namouna. I enjoy Ringer's dancing very much, but I have to say that seeing Bouder take over the cigarette role breathed new and thrilling life into the part. Bouder's articulation of the footwork made the choreography of that part come alive for me in a way it never had when Ringer did the part.

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Guys I don't mean to harp on the Freudian reading, but it's always seemed so self-evident to me, in thinking about PS being a product of its time: B has re-imagined the prodigal son as a Freudian neurotic, who sleeps with his mother but can't kill his father (and thus become an autonomous individual). Like so many other figures in modernist art of the period.

Again, this is not to say that I think this is the only reading of the ballet. I just thought this was kind of a standard one (and the one to which Macaulay is alluding). And one which we can of course reject.

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Guys I don't mean to harp on the Freudian reading, but it's always seemed so self-evident to me, in thinking about PS being a product of its time: B has re-imagined the prodigal son as a Freudian neurotic, who sleeps with his mother but can't kill his father (and thus become an autonomous individual). Like so many other figures in modernist art of the period.

Again, this is not to say that I think this is the only reading of the ballet. I just thought this was kind of a standard one (and the one to which Macaulay is alluding). And one which we can of course reject.

Very interesting. I'll have to reread some of the criticism. I don't think of Balanchine as consciously drawing on psychology but, as Freud would say, that may have been in the back of his mind.

abatt, I disagree that the son is rejecting a religious and traditional background. Those categories are lacking in the source material - the parable - which Balanchine, who professed Orthodox faith, is illustrating. More importantly, they’re ahistorical. Society was completely religious. Rebellion against religion and family are modern categories, not New Testament ones.

In the ballet, Balanchine shows the son preparing to leave before the Father appears. The Father then draws the family together to bless the son. That’s what a patriarch did. In other words, Balanchine shows the family being the family, in order to put into relief the son’s leaving the family.

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I sometimes disagree with Macaulay's opinions but usually find him rather reliable in reporting what actually occurs onstage. However, I find it hard to reconcile his reportage of the Gorak/Lane performance in the recent Nutcracker round-up review:

"Watching Ballet Theater’s “Nutcracker” at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, which ended on Dec. 22, I was gratified to see how experience can transform a dancer. When Joseph Gorak joined the company four years ago, you couldn’t miss his phenomenally arched feet or his boyish sweetness or, alas, that he was no partner. Look at him now! His feet are the same, his sweetness has become adult (or, rather, he’s both boyish and manly), and, though not tall, he can partner Sarah Lane and other petite women with style and even panache.

Two years ago, the pas de deux of Alexei Ratmansky’s “Nutcracker” looked like a troublesome obstacle course for Mr. Gorak. Now he and Ms. Lane make them expressive, musical, exciting."

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/01/arts/dance/nutcracker-dancers-in-this-seasons-performances.html?_r=0

I couldn't agree more that Gorak is one of ABT's most promising dancers and that he continues to grow each season. However, the 12/19 Nutcracker performance featured some of the most tense, sloppy partnering I've ever seen from the company, as I've already noted in the ABT forum. I wondered if perhaps Gorak was injured. He was replaced in the Chinese dance on 12/21 and in the lead role on 12/22.

I understand being enamored with a dancer and forgiving errors, but it almost feels as if Macaulay didn't attend the performance. (And Gorak danced the lead role only one time this season, on 12/19.) Young, attractive male dancers with "ideal," danseur noble-esque proportions seem to get a free pass from Macaulay these days. Many of these dancers (Hallberg, Tamm, Gorak, Whiteside, Finlay) are in fact excellent dancers, but when reading Macaulay's reviews of them, I sometimes feel as if he is too much of a devoted fan instead of a critic.

Just one sidenote: When discussing Lane in the same article, Macaulay uses relatively vague terms to describe her dancing, but he provides a much more fair, accurate assessment. She's a beautiful, at times lyrical dancer with a warm stage presence, but she can tense up when things don't go the way she likes. She seems on the cusp of being principal material, but it has been difficult to figure out whether she can really carry a full-length ballet. (In my own opinion, she at least deserves the opportunities being given to Seo and Boylston, and she is certainly more technically proficient than the former.)

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