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Macaulay on All-American Ballerinas

65 posts in this topic

Chung, like Alex Wong (formerly MCB), trained at Goh Ballet in Vancouver.

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reposting, as the discussion moved here:

Well, Macualay as usual has his opinions. These are some of his dimmest in recent memory.

Sarah van Patten is questionable (especially when omitting FRANCES CHUNG, a vastly superior and more brilliant dancer), but Patricia Delgado? There are corps and soloist dancers in every major US company better than Patricia Delgado. She's no sister Jeanette, that is for sure.

Sterling Hyltin (?!?!??!!) and no Melissa Hough, Margaret Severin-Hansen, Victoria Jaiani, CARRIE IMLER, Carla Korbes, Julie DIana, or Wendy Whelan?

Hough and Severin-Hansen are great ballerinas by any standard, but clearly only certain companies are worth Macaulay's royal attention--and only certain dancers in those companies (cf. Chung, Imler, Diana, Whelan--whom he has so often and stupidly trashed.....)

Ludicrous.

It looks like the article is about American-born dancers - in the seventh paragraph he mentions that Gillian Murphy was actually born in Britain. Frances Chung is from Vancouver, Canada (http://www.sfballet.org/company/dancers/principals/Frances_Chung) - therefore I forgive for her exclusion..... And Carla Körbes is from Brazil (http://www.pnb.org/Artists/Principals/CarlaKorbes.aspx).

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Well, Macualay as usual has his opinions. These are some of his dimmest in recent memory.

Ludicrous.

He can't stand Wendy Whelan. He almost always gave her negative reviews. Also, he was not a reviewer for the NY Times while Wendy was in her prime, and when she had her legendary partnership w. J. Soto. I think Whelan gave electrifying and intense performances of certain neoclassical roles (Agon, 4Ts, SVC) which have not been matched by her successors at NYCB.

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Sarah van Patten is questionable (especially when omitting FRANCES CHUNG, a vastly superior and more brilliant dancer

Sorry, no, I have to disagree with that statement.

From a technical standpoint, there is no comparison of van Patten and Chung in terms of precision, footwork, placement, and speed. Chung's virtuosity is rare, and van Patten's technique has never been her strongest point.

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From a technical standpoint, there is no comparison of van Patten and Chung in terms of precision, footwork, placement, and speed. Chung's virtuosity is rare, and van Patten's technique has never been her strongest point.

JSMU, you are totally entitled to your viewpoint. Ballet dancers are more than athletes, or technicians. They are supposed to be artists, which is a whole different realm, and a very subjective one. The All-American Ballerinas have to be exceptional interpreters of their art form.

If you've read through the entire thread(s) on this subject, and been a reader of Macaulay's articles, then you know that one of the main themes of this thread has been Macaulay's need to praise one dancer by putting down others. As Jock Soto put it,

"Dear Alastair Macaulay, if you are going to write about great ballerinas, can you do so without insulting them? Also if you knew what these ballerinas do to become themselves then why don't you put on a pair of Pointe shoes for the next twenty years. It's time for the NY Times to fire you. Have a nice day."

Please don't do the same thing by putting down one deserving dancer to raise your own champion. [interesting that in this case Macaulay himself would probably disagree with you.]

Enjoy the dancing of Frances Chung this upcoming season: it should be a really good season (if they can just get their labor contract signed).

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Macaulay is always a fascinating topic on Ballet Alert. innocent.gif

I suspect this is due to more than matters of taste.

One advantage Macaulay has is that he gets to see an enormous number and range of performances, including many by companies and dancers who are outside the NYC market. Few reviewers have this kind of travel budget and access to print. He does his research. The few times I have observed him in the audience, he seemed to be deeply attentive to what is going on onstage. His visual memory is exceptional.

Most of us focus by necessity on one or just a few companies. Our viewing experience is such that we become experts on the dancers we have the chance to see, which often breeds emotional commitments that make it hard for us to hear criticism (or, worse, indifference) from outsiders. (I'm talking live performance, here. DVDs and YouTube tell us a lot, but not, perhaps, as much as we would like to think.)

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Most of us focus by necessity on one or just a few companies. Our viewing experience is such that we become experts on the dancers we have the chance to see, which often breeds emotional commitments that make it hard for us to hear criticism (or, worse, indifference) from outsiders. (I'm talking live performance, here. DVDs and YouTube tell us a lot, but not, perhaps, as much as we would like to think.)

I don't actually question Macaulay's capabilities as a dance writer, but I do question his choices, and perhaps his ethics.

This just appeared on another thread, but this BEST OF SEASON 2012 - 2013 list pretty much ignores any contribution from the Americas. Apparently Julie Kent was the only exceptional US dancer this past year - and Sonia Rodriguez in Canada.

Sonia Rodriguez, National Ballet of Canada

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I have to say I agree with Pherank on this one. I respectfully disagree with your opinions on both Sarah Van Patten and Patricia Delgado, as I've seen both give near-definitive performances of several coveted roles, particularly in the Balanchine rep. I may prefer them to Chung, but that opinion is perhaps not even relevant to this conversation. I think it would be nice if we simply presented the dancers we loved most in America. By putting dancers down to elevate those we like, it puts us on the level many complain Macaulay is stooping to, especially when it's pitting sister against sister.

I'm not sure that his exclusion of several wonderful ballerinas has anything to do with him showing preference to specific companies. I, too, love Margaret Severin-Hansen, but perhaps he simply hasn't seen Carolina Ballet perform. Macauley is certainly a lightning-rod for controversy, but ultimately, and in spite of some comments in his work that irk me, he writes intelligently and with passion, and that is what matters to me.

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brokenwing, I'm definitely with you on this:

By putting dancers down to elevate those we like, it puts us on the level many complain Macaulay is stooping to, especially when it's pitting sister against sister.

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Some people argue over their favorite automobiles, we debate the best American ballet dancers. Artists can be the best in their field, without needing to be the best in all fields. Van Gogh, Picasso, Rembrandt, Sargent, and so many others are all the best painters of their genres, but do not need to cross genres to justify themselves. Actors can be great without being wonderful at comedy. Meryl Streep could never play Winnie Mandela. But she is still a great actress of our time. (although Robert Downey Jr was uniquely wonderful in Tropic Thunder - crossing racial and comedy lines).

I feel the same way about neoclassical dancers. Ms Whelan does not need to excel as Giselle, Juliet or Raymonda in order to be great. Likewise Natalia Makarova does not need to excel in the entire Balanchine rep in order to be great. Actors can be great without being wonderful at comedy.

Ballet companies are expanding their rep to include more and more modern pieces. This is fine, except that critics and fans nitpick them for falling short of the original dancers' style in the modern genre. Is this really fair? If the Merce Cunningham company decided to put on a traditional, romantic Giselle - wouldn't that seem strange? They wouldn't look like the Romantic visions because their bodies have trained in a different genre for so long.

The expectations for ballerinas has expanded so widely that it is well-nigh impossible to meet the standard in the critic (or fan's) imagination.

Perhaps a better standard will be based on emotion "I will regret so much her retirement from the stage, because no one dances like her"

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Ballet companies are expanding their rep to include more and more modern pieces. This is fine, except that critics and fans nitpick them for falling short of the original dancers' style in the modern genre. Is this really fair? If the Merce Cunningham company decided to put on a traditional, romantic Giselle - wouldn't that seem strange? They wouldn't look like the Romantic visions because their bodies have trained in a different genre for so long.

I agree with much in your post--though sometimes it can help one to understand what one admires about one ballerina to compare her to someone one admires less--but the above seems to me an entirely different issue.

I don't think critics and fans are "nitpicking" when they see things danced in a way that often evacuates them of their meaning/impact and feel they need to say something. If a ballet company chooses to dance Cunningham, then I think it is fair for viewers to reflect on what those dancers are doing with it for good or ill. Someone might even say they like it danced by ballet dancers even if it is 'wrong'--but a knowledgeable viewer will know the difference and a less knowledgeable one who wants to know more may well be curious about what the difference is. And someone who has only seen ballet dancers dance modern dance classics (Graham, Taylor, Cunningham, even Tharp in some incarnations) may be forgiven if they sometimes wonder what the fuss is about.

Cunningham precisely did NOT have his dancers dance Giselle--modern dancers don't tend to pretend their technical prowess can take on anything and in any case most major modern dance companies were founded in part to do new work if not work in an entirely new idiom. Ballet dancers, who do have extraordinary prowess, are often capable of crossing over...up to a point (call it pun intended)...but not without costs that I don't think it would be nitpicking to mention.

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I always thought that Cunningham's women could dance anything they wanted to.

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[Admin beanie on]

A reminder to discuss the topic, not each other.

We also assume that if someone makes a value judgement or statement about an aesthetic issue or performance, it is their opinion, unless they attribute it to someone else. We'd use 10% more bandwidth if everyone preceded their statements with "In my opinion" and "I think."

[Admin beanie off]

This just appeared on another thread, but this BEST OF SEASON 2012 - 2013 list pretty much ignores any contribution from the Americas. Apparently Julie Kent was the only exceptional US dancer this past year - and Sonia Rodriguez in Canada.

Sonia Rodriguez, National Ballet of Canada

It's from a European publication. Just as many US critics don't get to Europe too often to see the great dancers there, the same is true of European critics, who may get to NYC once in a while, but have a much wider range of companies they can see using extensive and efficient train systems.

Pamela Rosenberg was a symposium speaker during Seattle's third Ring Cycle this summer. She started by saying that in post-war Germany alone, there were 150 opera houses alone. People could see several productions of the same opera within an hour of where they lived.

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.... European critics, who may get to NYC once in a while, but have a much wider range of companies they can see using extensive and efficient train systems.

... but a lot fewer ballet companies (as opposed to other forms of dance) than there were a generation ago.

The article linked by phrank consists of nominations by "international dance critics." It's a lot easier to be an "International dance critic" in Europe, with the shorter distances between countries, than in North America. The large number of names (and companies) suggests that the critics were trying hard to get maximum coverage for as many companies as possible.

The few "American" dancers (by birth and training, or by career) seems pretty restricted to those from US companies which have actually performed in Europe in recent years. Kent from ABT; Kochetkova and Tang (and Taras Domitro) from San Francisco, Joseph Gatti, who danced with Corella's company in Spain..

One thing that DID intrigue me about this list was the absence of women from Russian companies. (There's only one man, from the Mariinski.) Isn't Russia considered a part of Europe anymore?

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Well, Macualay as usual has his opinions. These are some of his dimmest in recent memory.

Ludicrous.

He can't stand Wendy Whelan. He almost always gave her negative reviews.

"Can't stand" is a little strong. Reviewing her Jacob's Pillow program this summer he wrote that

she’s uncompromising, generous, bold, enthusiastic, adult, at the same time decisive and investigative. Few dancers in any genre show better that a work should be a process of self-discovery.

[and]

It’s hard to think of another woman who could dance these pieces, by four different choreographers, half so strikingly. Everything about her is riveting, interesting, unusual, intelligent.

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