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Macaulay's Criticism


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#61 Amour

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Posted 16 June 2011 - 12:01 AM

In his review today of Tuesday night's opening performance of the Royal Danish Ballet, Macauley lists the 5 "foremeost classical [ballet] companies" today. His list includes the Danes, the Mariinsky, Bolshoi, Royal Ballet and NYCB but OMITS ABT! I found that remarkable both in its wrongheadedness and its offensiveness. Since when have the Danes exceeded ABT at being a classical company? He even noted that much of the repertoire danced by the Danes on Tuesday was either new (Jorma Elo) or reworked (Napoli). I never hear much about the RDB and don't believe they regularly perform all the classics like Swan Lake or Giselle. Given Macauley's rather obvious preference for NYCB over ABT (which is more like the Royal) it's difficult to see this as an oversight. I find it very offensive for him to basically diss one of NYC's 2 great ballet companies. I think from now on, he should pay for his own tickets to ABT performances. Who needs him!!!!

#62 Helene

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Posted 16 June 2011 - 12:18 AM

Royal Danish Ballet performs "Swan Lake" and "Giselle" regularly, although not every season. Next season they're doing "La Sylphide" and "The Nutcracker", as well as "A Folk Tale", "Bournonville Variations", and "Etudes". The season before (2010-11), the did "Swan Lake", "Sleeping Beauty", as well as "Etudes", "Le Conservatoire", and "Napoli".

The Bournonville rep is as important as the Petipa rep. That RDB has been making updates and changes isn't very different than what has happened to the Petipa ballets under the Mariinsky and Bolshoi.

I think Parisians have more complain about with the exclusion of POB, especially since what all of the companies that Macaulay lists have schools that traditionally imparted company style, although that's no longer the case with the Royal Ballet.

#63 abatt

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Posted 16 June 2011 - 02:51 AM

I was at Tuesday's RDB peformance, and I found the evening pretty disappointing except for Napoli. The dancers were good, but I did not think they were remarkable or exceptional. As the review mentioned, there were numerous glitches on opening night.

#64 Mashinka

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Posted 16 June 2011 - 03:46 AM

I think Parisians have more complain about with the exclusion of POB, especially since what all of the companies that Macaulay lists have schools that traditionally imparted company style, although that's no longer the case with the Royal Ballet.


I agree, although I have reservations about the rep at times POB should definitely feature in a top five. The Royal Ballet however most definitely should not!

#65 bart

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Posted 16 June 2011 - 04:03 AM

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

Everyone notices how the [RDB] men often keep their hands by the hips, formally. But it's worth observing too that even when arms are extended, they usually continue the downward flow of the shoulders: a virtue of baroque style. And even when the torsos are still, they're never stiff; the spine often subtly sways.

And these illustrations of Bournonville style:

Jumps travel not just forward but to the side and back too. A male dancer will alternate between jumps in which the legs stay close together (entrechats) and others where they shoot apart (sissonnes).

A woman in one solo keeps striking balances and brightly falling out of them, playing with equilibrium in a way that points the way to the style of the 20th-century George Balanchine

. In a rapid retreating diagonal a dancer keeps switching between steps that face in the direction he's going and the one he's leaving behind.

The rich Danish use of plié still adds tremendous texture to the style. Some jumps explode, some sail at leisure. Amid the liveliest dances there are sudden pauses or moments of lingering slowness.


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?

#66 kfw

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Posted 16 June 2011 - 04:06 AM

Thanks for that post, bart. While you were posting, I was posting about that same description and analysis. It is one of the things I love about Macaulay’s writing, one of the things that, in my opinion, make him an excellent critic.

#67 bart

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Posted 16 June 2011 - 04:07 AM

kfw, talk about coincidences. We were having the same thought at the same time. So we MUST be right .... no? :wink::thumbsup:

#68 dirac

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Posted 16 June 2011 - 10:06 AM

Are there other dance critics nowadays who write like this?


Well, you might try DanceView and danceviewtimes.......

#69 bart

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Posted 16 June 2011 - 12:22 PM

I didn't wish to diminish other critics. I'm a fond and faithful reader of many serious critics, going back to Denby and Croce.

I was referring to a rather special critical skill -- lucid descriptive writing consisting of a few brief words. The technique is lapidary in nature. The word pictures are always in the context of -- and in the service of -- a larger point.

Most of Macaulay's reviews take time to insert one or more examples of this kind of word picture. He is writing for a general (though highly educated) newspaper audience. That means he cannot assume a specialist readership which has seen the ballets and/or understands ballet terminology. He analyses but also elucidates and teaches. I like and benefit from this.

#70 canbelto

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Posted 16 June 2011 - 12:31 PM

In his review today of Tuesday night's opening performance of the Royal Danish Ballet, Macauley lists the 5 "foremeost classical [ballet] companies" today. His list includes the Danes, the Mariinsky, Bolshoi, Royal Ballet and NYCB but OMITS ABT! I found that remarkable both in its wrongheadedness and its offensiveness. Since when have the Danes exceeded ABT at being a classical company? He even noted that much of the repertoire danced by the Danes on Tuesday was either new (Jorma Elo) or reworked (Napoli). I never hear much about the RDB and don't believe they regularly perform all the classics like Swan Lake or Giselle. Given Macauley's rather obvious preference for NYCB over ABT (which is more like the Royal) it's difficult to see this as an oversight. I find it very offensive for him to basically diss one of NYC's 2 great ballet companies. I think from now on, he should pay for his own tickets to ABT performances. Who needs him!!!!


I go to the ABT regularly but it's not really a great classical company. The lack of uniformity among the corps de ballet and principals is an automatic demerit, as is the truncated and often cheesy productions of "the classics" that they perform (their Swan Lake and Sleeping Beauty are awful). They rely a lot on guest artists for their spring season, and their famous male roster is thinning rapidly.

#71 aurora

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Posted 16 June 2011 - 01:57 PM

I go to the ABT regularly but it's not really a great classical company. The lack of uniformity among the corps de ballet and principals is an automatic demerit, as is the truncated and often cheesy productions of "the classics" that they perform (their Swan Lake and Sleeping Beauty are awful). They rely a lot on guest artists for their spring season, and their famous male roster is thinning rapidly.


On the other hand, I would argue that while NYCB may be a great company it is not a great classical company at ALL. It is a neoclassical company. In fact I thought this was general knowledge not an opinion.

#72 Paul Parish

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Posted 16 June 2011 - 10:04 PM

Bart, I just wrote you a LONG reply, which somehow the software ate up completely. In brief, I praised the kind of writing you're praising here, and referred you to Edwin Denby, who wrote for the NY Herald Tribune at a Time when the Times's criticism of all the arts was grey and mediocre, and who was the greatest critic of dance yet to appear in English. Check out his collected works; Macaulay is writing in his tradition and is the best dance critic the Times has ever had.

THe kind of writing you praise is in fact the evidence a critic introduces to back up his/her claims, and Denby was its greatest practitioner. His description of the lifts in 'COncerto Barocco' is among the sublime passages of mid-20th century critical prose in English. All his admirers try to include some passages that give the picture to the reader like Denby did, if the editor will give room for it.

Here's an example of what I consider that sort of thing from MY review of the RDB in Berkeley, which came out in last week's BayArea Reporter, the gay weekly of San Francisco, which has an excellent arts section and gives us writers rather a lot of room to say what we think:

"The great glory of the RDB is the footwork – Danish dancers, men and women, have feet that are more articulate than most people’s hands. Traditionally they’ve worn white tights and special shoes, black-rimmed with a white diamond down the instep, which makes the pointing of the foot flash like a bolt of lightning. The optical illusion created when the knee straightens and the foot points completely makes the line of the leg look much longer than it is in fact, which is why a ballerina standing on pointe looks radiant, like a star. The pointe shoe allows a dancer to create that finished line that goes out to infinity, which otherwise can only be created by tearing the body away from the floor altogether –i.e., by jumping. The Danish technique contains as many kinds of jumps as Inuit has words for snow – there are tiny jumps, medium-sized jumps, grands jetes; there is a whole category in which the legs cross in mid-air like scissors, the feet flash back and forth in the twinkling of an eye – but you did see it, and they DID DO IT. It’s like a miracle. Furthermore, the style has many many very small steps against which the jumps can stand out by contrast."

#73 puppytreats

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Posted 17 June 2011 - 05:49 AM

Bart, I just wrote you a LONG reply, which somehow the software ate up completely. In brief, I praised the kind of writing you're praising here, and referred you to Edwin Denby, who wrote for the NY Herald Tribune at a Time when the Times's criticism of all the arts was grey and mediocre, and who was the greatest critic of dance yet to appear in English. Check out his collected works; Macaulay is writing in his tradition and is the best dance critic the Times has ever had.

THe kind of writing you praise is in fact the evidence a critic introduces to back up his/her claims, and Denby was its greatest practitioner. His description of the lifts in 'COncerto Barocco' is among the sublime passages of mid-20th century critical prose in English. All his admirers try to include some passages that give the picture to the reader like Denby did, if the editor will give room for it.

Here's an example of what I consider that sort of thing from MY review of the RDB in Berkeley, which came out in last week's BayArea Reporter, the gay weekly of San Francisco, which has an excellent arts section and gives us writers rather a lot of room to say what we think:

"The great glory of the RDB is the footwork – Danish dancers, men and women, have feet that are more articulate than most people’s hands. Traditionally they’ve worn white tights and special shoes, black-rimmed with a white diamond down the instep, which makes the pointing of the foot flash like a bolt of lightning. The optical illusion created when the knee straightens and the foot points completely makes the line of the leg look much longer than it is in fact, which is why a ballerina standing on pointe looks radiant, like a star. The pointe shoe allows a dancer to create that finished line that goes out to infinity, which otherwise can only be created by tearing the body away from the floor altogether –i.e., by jumping. The Danish technique contains as many kinds of jumps as Inuit has words for snow – there are tiny jumps, medium-sized jumps, grands jetes; there is a whole category in which the legs cross in mid-air like scissors, the feet flash back and forth in the twinkling of an eye – but you did see it, and they DID DO IT. It’s like a miracle. Furthermore, the style has many many very small steps against which the jumps can stand out by contrast."


Beautiful and vivid, Paul.

The problem I have with critics is their agenda. Careers or works of art that take years to create can be destroyed by a critic trusted by the reader who is unaware of the agenda or the critic's power or bias. That is also a disservice to the reader, and to the publisher. Even critics without an agenda can unfairly influence results by being lazy, uninformed, or wrong. Reliance on opinion of an unqualified or biased expert creates unnecessary harm. This is my main problem with Macaulay. While his writing can be descriptive, and beautiful when he is inspired, his tone can be obnoxious and off-putting, and his criticism unfair, when he has an agenda or bias against a dancer or choreographer.

#74 kfw

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Posted 17 June 2011 - 06:32 AM

The problem I have with critics is their agenda. Careers or works of art that take years to create can be destroyed by a critic trusted by the reader who is unaware of the agenda or the critic's power or bias. That is also a disservice to the reader, and to the publisher. Even critics without an agenda can unfairly influence results by being lazy, uninformed, or wrong. Reliance on opinion of an unqualified or biased expert creates unnecessary harm. This is my main problem with Macaulay. While his writing can be descriptive, and beautiful when he is inspired, his tone can be obnoxious and off-putting, and his criticism unfair, when he has an agenda or bias against a dancer or choreographer.

puppytreats, would you say that Ballet Alert posters who wish Kevin McKenzie would cast from within the company more often, and rely less on outside stars, have an acceptable opinion about what ABT needs, or have an agenda? Do Veronika Part fans who overlook her technical weaknesses have a bias, or is the bias on the side of the detractors who are unmoved by her strengths? As I’m sure you’ll agree, education breeds taste, and taste breeds likes and dislikes. 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. I agree that his tone is too harsh sometimes, but critics should have and express strong opinions, the better to sharpen the thoughts and perceptions of their readers.

#75 Anthony_NYC

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Posted 17 June 2011 - 08:59 AM

The problem I have with critics is their agenda. Careers or works of art that take years to create can be destroyed by a critic trusted by the reader who is unaware of the agenda or the critic's power or bias. That is also a disservice to the reader, and to the publisher. Even critics without an agenda can unfairly influence results by being lazy, uninformed, or wrong. Reliance on opinion of an unqualified or biased expert creates unnecessary harm. This is my main problem with Macaulay. While his writing can be descriptive, and beautiful when he is inspired, his tone can be obnoxious and off-putting, and his criticism unfair, when he has an agenda or bias against a dancer or choreographer.

Only a bad critic as an agenda; a good critic has an opinion. Because what they're writing about is worth having an opinion about. I don't think a critic or newspaper can be blamed if a lazy or ignorant reader is going to let one columnist do their thinking for them.

Both Edwin Denby and Virgil Thompson have written classic (and beautifully concise) essays about the task of the critic. I don't have the volumes handy, but one or the other has a marvelous passage comparing the critic to a man on the street talking vehemently to someone else. A passing stranger might well think the guy is crazy, but at the same time it's apparent that whatever he is talking about must be very real to him, and important.

I first "experienced" dance when I was living in the cornfields of the Midwest. Writers like Denby, Kirstein, Croce made me view ballet as essential to properly furnishing one's mind--this before I'd ever seen a single performance. I had no way of knowing if they were right or wrong in their judgements, but I craved to see ballet for myself and eventually found my way to New York for that very purpose. While I don't think most critics concern themselves--nor should they--with selling a particular company or performance (that's called having an agenda!), they do by their very existence serve the general cause of selling ballet. And these days more than ever we should be grateful that the New York Times has a superb dance critic, that several times a week there is a substantial column in the paper, that even people who never read those columns can't help but see that dance is newsworthy, that is matters.

Anthony


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