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Macaulay's Criticism


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#31 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 18 February 2011 - 11:12 AM

The Post and The Times have different goals, styles, editors and readers. But in the two years writing at The Post, the most refreshing thing has been the full-on immersion in making my own taste less important. Sure, it's there and it's essential, but it's not where the column starts nor where it ends - which is with reportage and giving the reader a visual sense of what was on the stage. I'd love another paragraph for context and analysis, but that's not in my word count.

I couldn't do the sort of meaty criticism or comprehensive coverage possible in The Times, but it's refreshing for it not to be central whether I like what I see or not - and it's a different school of thought on arts writing. I've long tried to evaluate things by how well they achieve their goals, not mine - these two years have given me a lot of practice!

#32 miliosr

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Posted 26 May 2011 - 04:05 AM

Here is the review:

http://www.nytimes.c...l?_r=1&ref=arts

Two points. Macaulay is always castigating ABT for not programming more mixed bills at the Met (even though he has admitted they don't sell.) For those of you who may have attended the mixed bill, did it sell???

My second point is in regard to the almost non-review of Antony Tudor's Shadowplay. Note to Macaulay: Rather than spending the first seven paragraphs of the review acting like a wannabe artistic director for ABT, maybe your time (and ours) would have been better spent telling us why Shadowplay is "a relic" and "ponderous".

#33 kfw

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Posted 26 May 2011 - 07:30 AM

My second point is in regard to the almost non-review of Antony Tudor's Shadowplay. Note to Macaulay: Rather than spending the first seven paragraphs of the review acting like a wannabe artistic director for ABT, maybe your time (and ours) would have been better spent telling us why Shadowplay is "a relic" and "ponderous".

I count five paragraphs of introduction and editorial comment, two of which are only a sentence apiece, before the heart of the review. A good many posters here seem to be wannabe ABT (or NYCB or Mariinsky) artistic directors, and who can blame them? (Me, I have a few suggestions for Suzanne Farrell, if she's foolish enough to listen to them). I'd have liked more on "Shadowplay," since it seems to be rarely performed in New York, but there were those three premieres to concentrate on. And I want a critic to be engaged enough to give advice. Macaulay's hardly the only one who does.

#34 Anthony_NYC

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Posted 26 May 2011 - 09:48 AM

You can go to the Metropolitan Opera's website and see that the mixed bill indeed is not selling well. It's mystifying: three famous choreographers presenting new ballets with great dancers in the middle of ballet season in New York. I don't pay much attention to advertising, but is ABT's PR department perhaps to blame? At any rate, given this state of affairs I can't see anything wrong with Macauley devoting several paragraphs to a discussion about ABT's programming. And his self-deprecating humor made me laugh:

Audience excitement on opening night was kindled by the presence in the auditorium of the world’s most famous Black Swan in an advance stage of pregnancy. And despite the Met’s vast size and two central aisles, the powers that be decided to place Natalie Portman, the three choreographers and the ballet’s executive director in the seats immediately behind, before and across the aisle from me. I had the feeling that they were all going to say “Come quietly, please, Mr. Macaulay,” and lead me away to ballet prison.



#35 miliosr

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Posted 26 May 2011 - 01:51 PM

My second point is in regard to the almost non-review of Antony Tudor's Shadowplay. Note to Macaulay: Rather than spending the first seven paragraphs of the review acting like a wannabe artistic director for ABT, maybe your time (and ours) would have been better spent telling us why Shadowplay is "a relic" and "ponderous".

I count five paragraphs of introduction and editorial comment, two of which are only a sentence apiece, before the heart of the review. A good many posters here seem to be wannabe ABT (or NYCB or Mariinsky) artistic directors, and who can blame them? (Me, I have a few suggestions for Suzanne Farrell, if she's foolish enough to listen to them). I'd have liked more on "Shadowplay," since it seems to be rarely performed in New York, but there were those three premieres to concentrate on. And I want a critic to be engaged enough to give advice. Macaulay's hardly the only one who does.

I'm afraid we'll have to agree to disagree regarding what we want out of a critic. :wink:

#36 miliosr

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Posted 26 May 2011 - 01:58 PM

You can go to the Metropolitan Opera's website and see that the mixed bill indeed is not selling well. It's mystifying: three famous choreographers presenting new ballets with great dancers in the middle of ballet season in New York. I don't pay much attention to advertising, but is ABT's PR department perhaps to blame?

Just thinking out loud here . . . is it the PR department's fault or is ABT's leadership trying to push something that the vast majority of the Met audience (as compared to the Fall City Center audience) just doesn't want???

At any rate, given this state of affairs I can't see anything wrong with Macauley devoting several paragraphs to a discussion about ABT's programming.

This is precisely what drives me up and over the wall about him. He very clearly wants more of the mixed bills at the Met even though much testimony exists to the fact that these bills don't sell. (He even admitted as much in print several years ago when he reviewed an Ashton/Balanchine double-feature.) How much of a bath does he think ABT can take with these non-selling mixed bills? (This is a rhetorical question, of course!)

#37 puppytreats

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Posted 26 May 2011 - 04:59 PM


You can go to the Metropolitan Opera's website and see that the mixed bill indeed is not selling well. It's mystifying: three famous choreographers presenting new ballets with great dancers in the middle of ballet season in New York. I don't pay much attention to advertising, but is ABT's PR department perhaps to blame?

Just thinking out loud here . . . is it the PR department's fault or is ABT's leadership trying to push something that the vast majority of the Met audience (as compared to the Fall City Center audience) just doesn't want???

At any rate, given this state of affairs I can't see anything wrong with Macauley devoting several paragraphs to a discussion about ABT's programming.

This is precisely what drives me up and over the wall about him. He very clearly wants more of the mixed bills at the Met even though much testimony exists to the fact that these bills don't sell. (He even admitted as much in print several years ago when he reviewed an Ashton/Balanchine double-feature.) How much of a bath does he think ABT can take with these non-selling mixed bills? (This is a rhetorical question, of course!)



I wish I could go to see ABT and NYCB, but who has the time or money? I think a lot of people fall into the same category.

#38 vipa

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Posted 26 May 2011 - 06:08 PM

In terms of a mixed bill selling I think that there is PR and there is also choice of ballets. ABT presented 3 of the most active choreographers around, but your casual ballet goer doesn't know that (B. Millipied might be know because of the movie, but I bet most people don't make the connection and/or don't care). You add to that a Tudor ballet that is far from his best and not very well know, and it doesn't translate to a hot ticket.

Ballet Theater has had many ballet over the years that did and could sell well as on a rep program - Billy the Kid (a number of ABT guys would be great in it), Rodeo, 3 Virgins and a Devil, Push Comes to Shove -- could they get a guest like Cojocaru, Osipova or whoever to do Taglioni in Pas De Quatre.

Obviously, I'm not putting together a program, just trying to make the point that a program could be put together what would sell with the right hook and a little PR push.

#39 Barbara

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Posted 26 May 2011 - 06:10 PM

Puppytreats, you make a good point. If budget would allow I would see everything ABT presents. But having to apportion funds over the season I must see my favorite classics, sometimes more than one cast and so I have to draw the line somewhere. I really wanted to see Bright Stream but simply could not do it - especially with RDB and Kirov to consider. I fervently hope Mr. McKenzie doesn't think empty seats are simply a matter of disinterest.

#40 4mrdncr

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Posted 26 May 2011 - 07:10 PM

I would have liked to see the mixed rep programs too, but time, distance, cost to travel + tickets, AND the fact the mixed-reps were only 4 days, and all in the middle of the week, prevented me. I have to work to live, and getting time off in the middle of the week takes some negotiation. I also have to choose either to attend a matinee, and miss one day of work; or if I do try to attend an evening performance, must rush out of work, take a 4hr bus/train ride into the city, maybe arrive in time to see something, then get no sleep so I can catch the return bus/train at 4am the next morning and still make work that afternoon. It's a tough sell.
I am very glad ABT is still doing a City Center season, and if they are true to form, some programs will be repeated on the weekends so I can better attend them.

#41 puppytreats

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Posted 27 May 2011 - 11:02 AM

"I fervently hope Mr. McKenzie doesn't think empty seats are simply a matter of disinterest."
- I fear this is how many will interpret the situation. Probably government funding is affected by this, too.


Why do NYCB and ABT compete during the same season?

#42 Anthony_NYC

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Posted 27 May 2011 - 01:02 PM

Why do NYCB and ABT compete during the same season?


With City Opera vacating the State Theater, I hope ABT and City Ballet will alternate seasons there. It would make so much more sense than their competing directly against one another, and after all it is the theater created especially for ballet. And many of ABT's mixed bills would look much better in a less monumental house.

miliosr, I'm not sure I am understanding you right. ABT is only doing four performances of a single mixed bill this season. They're clearly not listening to Macauley's advice anyway (and I'm sure he's not expecting them to), and in the meantime his talking about the program generates press and therefore interest. In fact, the friend I attended with last night decided to go with me at the last minute precisely because Macauley's article piqued her curiosity.

#43 miliosr

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Posted 27 May 2011 - 02:39 PM

miliosr, I'm not sure I am understanding you right.

Often, I'm not sure I understand me right either. :wink:

ABT is only doing four performances of a single mixed bill this season. They're clearly not listening to Macauley's advice anyway (and I'm sure he's not expecting them to), and in the meantime his talking about the program generates press and therefore interest. In fact, the friend I attended with last night decided to go with me at the last minute precisely because Macauley's article piqued her curiosity.

I guess my bottom line is this: I'm not convinced that the vast majority of the ABT audience (or at least the ABT Met audience) is all that interested in mixed bills with new works by leading choreographers. I think the vast majority of the audience (as compared to the ABT intelligentsia on this board) only want to see their favorite stars in multi-act story ballets (no matter how terrible the actual productions may be.) In that sense, I agree with Arlene Croce when she wrote in 1995 or 1996 that, "of all the major companies, ABT has changed the least." It's still the same old gaudy warhorse [not a judgement -- just an observation] it's been since at least the 1960s, and, in my opinion, a large segment of ABT's audience is perfectly happy with that state of affairs. So why, if I'm Macaulay, do I harp on ABT in print for something that, institutionally, is unlikely in the extreme to happen???

That being said, though, there's no way of knowing what the ABT audience really wants apart from ticket sales and/or some kind of comprehensive survey of the ABT audience itself.

#44 papeetepatrick

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Posted 27 May 2011 - 04:41 PM


Why do NYCB and ABT compete during the same season?


With City Opera vacating the State Theater, I hope ABT and City Ballet will alternate seasons there. It would make so much more sense than their competing directly against one another, and after all it is the theater created especially for ballet. And many of ABT's mixed bills would look much better in a less monumental house.


I hope they don't, and I like their competing against each other, it's healthy. But going to the Met for literally almost anything is better than going to the State if the money part is working for the company. Who needs that tinny sound you get at State Theater? Last summer I saw the Ashton program of 4 ballets, and the advantages definitely outweighed the disadvantages. ABT is used to projecting big, as I see it, and especially for the big 19th century 'warhorses', they need the Met. I've been seeing ABT sporadically at the Met for 30 years (probably only 20% as much as I've been to NYCB), and I'd hate to see them have to undergo the reduction that State Theater would require(although if it just substituted for the CC season, that would be all right); this is something you can even see when one of the big male stars from ABT guests with NYCB--they're used to big projection so that they really stand out a little more than they should, since that's what ABT is all about. And at the Met, even if the orchestra playing isn't first-rate, it still sounds fabulous compared to what you hear at State; you don't even care if they didn't practice or sound a little lazy sometimes, you're so grateful. I dread that aspect of going to RDB in a few weeks, although the delicacy of the Danish choreography probably will be one thing that will look better in the smaller house. Peter Martins's Sleeping Beauty would itself be much better at the Met, although that's not going to happen. I recall seeing Merrill Ashley's Carabosse in disbelief last year, looked like an old Mighty Mouse cartoon and sounded like it too. Yes, it was that small.

I agree with Arlene Croce when she wrote in 1995 or 1996 that, "of all the major companies, ABT has changed the least." It's still the same old gaudy warhorse [not a judgement -- just an observation] it's been since at least the 1960s, and, in my opinion, a large segment of ABT's audience is perfectly happy with that state of affairs.


I used to be very judgmental about this aspect of ABT, but now I'm like the 'large segment of the audience' who 'is perfectly happy with' it. I want the warhorses and stars there, and if that means I've turned into a philistine in some ways, I'm not worried about it. They get Osipova and Vishneva, just like they got Makarova and Baryshnikov. And it's fun for NYCB types and ABT types to compete with each other sometimes. Makes me think that now that if you see 'Swan Lake' at NYCB, you know you're probably never going to see the Balanchine Act II again there, which would be what that house should be more about (I think it was on a program a few seasons ago, but that's not what you will usually see there.) After having seen Martins's SB and SL at State Theater, there's not a single 'Swan Lake' or 'Sleeping Beauty' at ABT I wouldn't rather see, no matter who was in the cast, and even if the corps was not overly inspired (they're not nearly always at NYCB either). But if ABT was doing their big things at State Theater, I'd never go. The whole idea sounds claustrophobic, homogenizing.

#45 Amy Reusch

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Posted 27 May 2011 - 07:15 PM

I believe the two companies competing against each other actually helps to build excitement about going to the ballet... the double blast of PR about the competing seasons probably gets more people to consider going to the ballet than if they weren't in competition. It works for retail, why not for performing arts? There are more people in the potential audience than are actually reached. If it were a small town and the population was already maxed out, maybe... but I am sure there is still a large "sleeping" audience that hasn't been tapped yet. I don't think the competition spreads the audience too thin, I think it's the high cost of tickets that slows the flow of the ticket sales. Sure Broadway gets high prices, but hey, those prices slow down many of us as well... and there is more awareness of the Broadway half-price ticket booth perhaps than of discounts on ballet tickets...


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