FauxPas

Macaulay's Criticism

151 posts in this topic

And no mention of the glory that was Part/Gomes in the recap by Mr. Macaulay?

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I hope you sent a note to this effect to the NYT.

I wondered that myself. After I read the BT reviews of the Gorak/Lane performance from people I gave grown to trust, I was puzzled. Macaulay has for me become an unreliable critic. It seems to me that for men particularly, there are body types that he so favors, Halberg and Gorak being examples of that body type, that he seeks to write favorably about them no matter what. There are other dancers that I wish he'd stop reviewing, because he writes the same negative things about them over an over again.

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Halberg and Gorak being examples of that body type

Halberg and Gorak don't seem like the same body type at all. Just the immense difference in height is enough to draw the line I'd think.

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Michael, I can see the similarities - same beautiful line, gorgeous feet, noble bearing; but with Gorak in a smaller package.

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Michael, I can see the similarities - same beautiful line, gorgeous feet, noble bearing; but with Gorak in a smaller package.

That exactly what I meant. Yes there is a height difference, but both have very highly arched and flexible feet, both are very long muscled and have a similar look to their line, both have flexible backs that allow a high arabesque. It is actually not my favorite look in a male dancer, but I think they are quite similar in many ways.

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The similarity is thus classicism. The classical body. That's what Macauley prefers and it's the source of a great deal of his criticism of dancers. What one's discerning in him is the fact that he's asserting those values.

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The similarity is thus classicism. The classical body. That's what Macauley prefers and it's the source of a great deal of his criticism of dancers. What one's discerning in him is the fact that he's asserting those values.

Michael, it seems we will have to agree to disagree on this. To my way of thinking a classical body, or classical proportions have nothing to do with super high insteps and a flexible back. I believe that Margot Fonteyn had one of the most truly classical bodies of all time. Macauley favors a certain look in a dancer, as I've said before, and that is of course fine. My problem is that he tends to overlook flaws in a performance if the dancer has a certain body type, and never seems to look at a dancer who doesn't have that body type with fresh eyes. It's almost as if he doesn't have to attend a performance to write a review. For me as a reader there is nothing to be gained by it.

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Macaulay has noted in numerous reviews that Sara Mearns does not have an ideal figure for dance - broad, high shoulders. However, he regards her as the greatest ballerina in the US.

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Macaulay has noted in numerous reviews that Sara Mearns does not have an ideal figure for dance - broad, high shoulders. However, he regards her as the greatest ballerina in the US.

This is true. And I think it shows he is not *absolutely* wedded to his physical ideal. But the fact is, he does feel the need to mention her physical "deficiencies" (and he clearly sees them as such) in nearly every review of her, no matter how much he praises her (which, indeed he does!). Clearly physique is not everything to him. But it is a lot.

I also would suggest that he is more wedded to a specific physical ideal with regards to male dancers than female ones.

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I'm not sure I agree with you about his ideals concerning men vs. women. He frequently notes that Sterling Hyltin has an ideal figure. Most recently, he noted the perfection of Ashley Laracey's ballerina proportions.

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Macaulay has noted in numerous reviews that Sara Mearns does not have an ideal figure for dance - broad, high shoulders. However, he regards her as the greatest ballerina in the US.

This is true. And I think it shows he is not *absolutely* wedded to his physical ideal. But the fact is, he does feel the need to mention her physical "deficiencies" (and he clearly sees them as such) in nearly every review of her, no matter how much he praises her (which, indeed he does!). Clearly physique is not everything to him. But it is a lot.

I also would suggest that he is more wedded to a specific physical ideal with regards to male dancers than female ones.

Yes, up until now, I have just found it occasionally irksome when Macaulay mentions the same physical "deficiencies" over and over again. However, what provoked me write about the Nutcracker review is that the partnering he described was not what occurred on stage--not by a long shot--and I suspect his assessment was at least partially influenced by his strong preference for male dancers in the Gorak mold. (He did, after all, mention Gorak's beautiful feet in the same paragraph.) I, too, find that sort of male dancer to be among the most beautiful, but at the end of the day, I want hear about the actual dancing--not some impressionistic, vague description that completely misrepresents the performance.

I, too, am very much influenced by a dancer's body. I would be lying if I said that Veronika Part's 1940s starlet face and long limbs did not play into my admiration for her. It's easier for me to respond positively to a dancer of her physique than someone who perhaps appears more girlish on stage, such as Cojocaru or Reyes. There's no separating the body and the dancing, but I like to think that I can look at dancers with fresh eyes and appreciate what they bring to the steps.

Hallberg and Part are probably my physical "ideals" at ABT, but their partnership was problematic. (I remember when Hallberg stepped in at the last minute to partner Part in Swan Lake, and the pas de deux were difficult to watch at times.) I'd rather admit that they didn't work well together than let my admiration for their artistry and, yes, physical beauty, cloud my judgment of their performance.

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Sorry to harp on this, but I guess part of what bothers me about Macaulay's reviews, and what I didn't realize until this discussion, is that he sometimes actually separates a dancer's performance from his or her body. Sara Mearns is America's top ballerina in spite of her body. Veronika Part delivered a warm, assured Nutcracker performance in spite of her broad shoulders. I truly think that these dancers are succeeding because of their bodies and their expressive potential.

It's like saying Maria Callas is a legendary singer in spite of her highly idiosyncratic voice. She made it work to its full expressive potential even though it was not considered conventionally "beautiful." I think we need to give dancers credit for sometimes doing the same, although I realize ballet is an art form in which there is a more standardized idea of perfection.

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Re repetition -- when you write for a general readership publication, you often repeat certain ideas from review to review since you cannot assume that the person reading your review tomorrow has read anything else you've written in the past. I don't know if this is a conscious strategy for AM, or just an automatic response, but I know that I often repeat information and opinion that I think is cogent to the point I'm trying to make.

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Sorry to harp on this, but I guess part of what bothers me about Macaulay's reviews, and what I didn't realize until this discussion, is that he sometimes actually separates a dancer's performance from his/or her body. Sara Mearns is America's top ballerina in spite of her body. Veronika Part delivered a warm, assured Nutcracker performance in spite of her broad shoulders. I truly think that these dancers are succeeding because of their bodies and their expressive potential.

It's like saying Maria Callas is a legendary singer in spite of her highly idiosyncratic voice. She made it work to its full expressive potential even though it was not considered conventionally "beautiful." I think we need to give dancers credit for sometimes doing the same, although I realize ballet is an art form in which there is a more standardized idea of perfection.

Amen.

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I really have nothing to say at the moment as I think about the comments, but I just want to thank you all! I am blessed to be able to go to a place where serious, thoughtful, intelligent discussions take place about an art form I care about!

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Maria Callas is a legendary singer in spite of her highly idiosyncratic voice. Without her musicality and intense devotion to phrasing and drama, few would have listened to her twice. A beautiful voice or a voice with a ping might not be as compelling musically, a la Pavarotti in opera -- in song, he was a different singer -- but people will listen to that voice over and over again.

There are singers and dancers who do everything possible to hide what could be considered shortcomings, and there are singers and dancers who use it and/or flaunt it and create something unique and unexpected, causing the viewer or listener to rethink standards. What we consider great now might be considered dryly technical, anemic, and beside the point when many iconic classical and neoclassical ballets were created, and the tempi beyond distorted, and there are fantastic dancers now who look more like the photos of dancers from the early to mid-20th century who have the Italianate technique and qualities that were so prized then.

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Interesting point Helene. I have a friend, a choreographer in musical theater, who has jokingly commented to me as she watches a dancer "If she thinks she's so good, she should try it in my body."

Of course it's meant as a joke, but it makes one think about what people can and choose to do with the instrument they have.

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Maria Callas is a legendary singer in spite of her highly idiosyncratic voice. Without her musicality and intense devotion to phrasing and drama, few would have listened to her twice. A beautiful voice or a voice with a ping might not be as compelling musically, a la Pavarotti in opera -- in song, he was a different singer -- but people will listen to that voice over and over again.

There are singers and dancers who do everything possible to hide what could be considered shortcomings, and there are singers and dancers who use it and/or flaunt it and create something unique and unexpected, causing the viewer or listener to rethink standards. What we consider great now might be considered dryly technical, anemic, and beside the point when many iconic classical and neoclassical ballets were created, and the tempi beyond distorted, and there are fantastic dancers now who look more like the photos of dancers from the early to mid-20th century who have the Italianate technique and qualities that were so prized then.

Thank you, Helene, for so eloquently describing this issue. I do think I was being a bit black-and-white about the whole thing. The quirks in a dancer's body or singer's voice probably often feel like hindrances and aren't automatically gifts that make one distinctive in a good way. (I sometimes wonder if Part would be easier to spin in supported pirouettes if she were less broad-shouldered.) So, in that regard, I can see why Macaulay acknowledges these things as challenges a dancer may have to work with. I appreciate Macaulay's openness to Mearns, and I wish he would speak more about the way dancers might work with bodies that aren't considered the ideal (of our era, at least).

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There are singers and dancers who do everything possible to hide what could be considered shortcomings, and there are singers and dancers who use it and/or flaunt it and create something unique and unexpected, causing the viewer or listener to rethink standards.

And let's not forget those who are attracted to this new form of instrument (dancer's body; singer's voice; etc.), and who are inspired to create new work (sometimes world-changing work) for them. Balanchine was inspired in this way by Le Clercq, Adams, Kent.

Calas' career was not about new work, though it did foster a revival of operas in the bel canto rep that had been allowed to languish unproduced and unrespected. She also benefited from the support of conductors, directors and designers who recognized something remarkable and unique about her, and who created productions that showcased her originality.

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My problem with Macauley's approach to Mearns's body is that he isn't talking about things that hamper her ability to dance. He's talking simply about what he finds physically attractive. And that's where I have issues. I realize that beautiful people (as in beautiful faces for instance) have an easier time getting ahead in dance because people want to pay ticket price to see them. But I think as a critic Macauley should be trying to see beyond that. I'm not a dancer, but it doesn't seem to me that her weight poses any problems for her onstage. She has an incredible body - strong and graceful. To me, this sometimes makes Macauley's criticism a version of 19th century dilettantism.

Sorry, this is just one my bones to pick. As for the misplaced praise of Gorak - I wonder if he was just tired and missed those things or if he actually saw the performance as going very differently. Or if he simply can't see any problems with a dancer he likes. I think there are probably some musicians who I would forgive almost anything (Jeremy Denk, Hilary Hahn, Emmanuel Pahud). But I'm not a music reviewer for the New York Times.

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To me, this sometimes makes Macauley's criticism a version of 19th century dilettantism.

Like "connoisseurship" and "beauty" in art history which got left behind in the '70s for broader ranger of criteria (iconology, social context) than just the "critic's eye."

From comments here I realize AM can get annoying when he talks about dancers' bodies, as if he holds some little grudge against them – and there's something puritanical about it, as if it were a kind of moral choice on the part of the dancer.

But on the other hand dancers are their bodies – like a car you get in and drive around on winding road. Their shapes, the zig zag contours of dancers arms or their legs, short waists or overly long makes a difference in the graphic impact of their dancing (Martins, Farrell, Garcia, Mazzeo, Sylve). Sometimes they're a jumble of characterisitics, like Cezanne paintings. What's exciting is to read the classical steps through those distorting mirrors.

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I think Macaulay has mentioned Mearns' physique more often after the thunderstorm that developed from his "too many sugar plums" critiques of Jenifer Ringer (and her partner for that performance, I can't think of his name).

At any rate, when you see pictures, it's very clear that she is as lean as her body type will allow her to be.

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Ringer's partner was Jared Angle, and AM's comment about him was even more insulting than the comment regarding Ringer. Hovever, the uproar the ensued related to Ringer, not Angle. In part, that was because Ringer decided to take to the media and give interviews about it to just about anyone who wanted to book her for a segment.

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The reason Ringer had a forum at all was that she is female, which triggered a firestorm, while almost no one noted that he really handed it far worse to Angle. The press followed her after it became a story to follow. If Macaulay had just commented about Angle, the may have been one article or blog post about how disorderd eating applies to men, too.

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I have the impression that AM's comment about Ringer's weight indirectly contributed to increased "celebrity" for Ringer, which in turn probably helped her to secure her book deal. So AM's nasty remarks may have actually helped Ringer.

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