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Macaulay's Criticism


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#76 puppytreats

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Posted 17 June 2011 - 09:08 AM

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.

#77 Anthony_NYC

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Posted 17 June 2011 - 09:20 AM

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.

#78 puppytreats

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Posted 17 June 2011 - 11:38 AM


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.

#79 Ray

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Posted 17 June 2011 - 12:17 PM

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.

#80 kfw

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Posted 17 June 2011 - 12:38 PM

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.

#81 Drew

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Posted 20 July 2011 - 11:38 AM

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.

#82 atm711

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Posted 20 July 2011 - 11:47 AM

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.

#83 Helene

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Posted 20 July 2011 - 12:35 PM

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.

#84 sandik

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Posted 20 July 2011 - 12:35 PM

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.

#85 abatt

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Posted 20 July 2011 - 12:42 PM

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.

#86 Drew

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Posted 20 July 2011 - 03:49 PM

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).

#87 leonid17

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Posted 05 August 2011 - 12:43 AM

Again, a more than interesting contribution to dance writing by Alistair Macaulay.

http://www.nytimes.c...w.html?ref=arts

I wish he was back in London. We need him here.

Yes, I can hear that chorus among ballettalkers agreeing with me.

#88 bart

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Posted 05 August 2011 - 03:18 PM

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.

#89 puppytreats

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Posted 02 September 2011 - 10:27 AM

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."

#90 Helene

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Posted 02 September 2011 - 10:53 AM

[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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