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Macaulay on All-American Ballerinas


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#16 pherank

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Posted 08 July 2013 - 02:43 PM

To get back to Mr Macauley's point, he is referring to the US-born ballerina style of dancing - that sense of freedom on stage that is unique.  Maybe our friend studying in Russia will pursue a post-doc to expand on the topic?

 

 

Yes, I realize that, but my point was that to many Latin Americans the term "US" is not synonymous with "American". It's been voiced enough times in the Latin community that the people of the US of A essentially usurped the term "American". The Americas are one loooooooong stretch of land.



#17 vipa

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Posted 08 July 2013 - 03:29 PM

Perhaps this has been covered, but the "glass half empty" attitude in the statement, "part time ballerinas" is what bothered me.  I believe critics can be critical, but should alway keep in mind that they are writing about human beings who care about their work.  Why couldn't he have written it as a positive - These woman prove themselves to be ballerinas in some of their roles - or something like that.  

 

An artist who achieves greatness (IMO) should not be glibly written off because everything he or she does doesn't reach that pinnacle of greatness.  



#18 ABT Fan

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Posted 08 July 2013 - 04:21 PM

The thing I find troubling about Macaulay is his apparent need to be mean and to personally attack his subjects. That is not dance criticism. He has an obvious wealth of knowledge about dance and music and often times I enjoy his reviews immensely. But when he decides to make fun of someone by going with a joke (when he said Jenifer Ringer had eaten "one Sugarplum too many" following a Nutcracker performance a year or so ago), he not only belittles the dancer but cheapens ballet and even himself. He once said at the end of an ABT review "why doesn't ABT take ballet as seriously as I do?" So Mr. Macaulay, if you take ballet so seriously, then why do you go for the cheap shots, that any fool with pen/paper or computer can type out? A few years ago he wrote that Ethan Steifel resembled a "Hitler youth" and was therefore not believable in his performance (I believe the ballet was Don Q). No intellectual thought went into making that statement. That was an attention grabber. Certainly not a comment from someone who takes the art of ballet seriously.

#19 ivanov

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Posted 09 July 2013 - 02:39 PM

I feel Alastair Macauley has been slowly driven over the edge by the inconsistent quality of the performances at NYCB and ABT.  To me, the clearest indication of this was his review of Jewels a few years ago where he interrupted himself halfway through (like in Peggy Lee’s “Is that all there is?”) to say he couldn’t go on scrounging for positive things to say.  I feel sympathetic to him because I am in the same boat.  If the familiar repertory were presented in a uniformly good or uniformly bad way it would be easier to know how to take it.  The inconsistent reinforcement is the same thing those poor lab rats were subjected to when food pellets were given to them in an unpredictable pattern when they pressed a button.  

 

To me it seems unremarkable to opine that there is one group of dancers whose performances you always enjoy, another group who you sometimes enjoy and a third group you don’t enjoy at all.  As someone above said, I don't always agree with his placement of every dancer, but I don’t think he is far off either.  I do think it is a mistake to say that Ashley Bouder, who joined the company in 2000, is in a more mature group of dancers than Teresa Reichlen, who joined in 2001.  Surely they are almost the same age?  In a way I feel he has come late to the fair and is more emotionally invested in the dancers whose debuts in important roles he witnessed himself.  In any case, since NYCB (and ABT for all I know) is a company of auto-didacts whose artistic development occurs almost in a vacuum, I feel the important comparison is not between different dancers but the imaginary comparison between dancers as they are now and as they might be if only they had been given coaching, the right roles to dance and moral support throughout their careers.



#20 kfw

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Posted 09 July 2013 - 03:18 PM

angelica, on 09 Jul 2013 - 3:59 PM, on the Who Would Be On Your All-American Ballerinas List? on said:

 
I would propose that although Alastair Macaulay may be a full-time dance critic, he is merely a part-time ballet critic. A full-time ballet critic ought to be able to draw audiences in by his/her insights into those aspects of a production or a ballerina that deepen one's appreciation of the art, broaden one's understanding, and move one up to a higher level of experience when attending a ballet performance, not drive them away with a plethora of negative reviews. A full-time ballet critic would not waste his words on ad hominum criticisms of a particular dancer or on crafting sentences that sound erudite but have only some vague or no meaning at all (see Kathleen O'Connell's post above).

 

 
I think a lot of ballet criticism could be disparaged that way. I say could be, not that it should be. What, for example - to pick a passage from the same review that bart noted and that I like as well - does it really mean to say that a dancer has the power to "own their own space and light up the space beyond themselves." And can we prove that one dancer has that power and not another? Not every metaphor will work for every reader, but that one works for me. And for me " "she matches music with movement, she shows how the immense scale of ballet can turn musicality into a vastly three-dimensional form" is a nice way of saying, to reference Balanchine, that we see the music when she dances.
 
Of course you're correct that a good dance critic ought to be able to do all those things you say, but Macaulay's writings does them for me in part through his quibbles and complaints, even when they're unkindly phrased (I'm not defending his unkindness). We can learn from critics by considering why we disagree with them.


#21 Jayne

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Posted 09 July 2013 - 09:13 PM

I think the unhappiness with Mr Macauley is merely a symptom of the real problem: the dearth of excellent critical writing about ballet in NYC.  The city is the great center of dance in the New World and attracts international companies that consider it a great honor to perform there.  Mr Macauley's commentary would not stand out so much, if other papers, magazines and online versions put forth the same effort that Mr Macauley does in his reviews.  

 

What I love most about the London critics is their diversity of opinions.  Boston Ballet's reviews are an excellent example.  Of the 6 plotless works shown, each critic had a different favorite, and different least-favorite.  

 

If we had the same diversity in the NYC critics, we'd just shrug at Macauley's opinion and classify him as a curmudgeon outlier. 



#22 puppytreats

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Posted 11 July 2013 - 09:18 AM

What could be meant by the phrase, "part-time" ballerina, especially in connection with NYCB dancers?  Does the author suggest it means someone who only has star power at times? Or does it mean one who dances in classical ballerina-type roles only at times?  Or does it mean one who shares a job with others? 

 

A ballerina could have good and off days, but is still a ballerina.  For example, Veronika Part is not a part-time ballerina, even if she has trouble with pirouettes.  Ashley Bouder does not lose her stars every time she falls.

 

Articles like this provoke for certain purposes, such as to advance an agenda or stir controversy, or even to fill space, but they also diminish credibility and can be self-defeating.  The loss of credibility, in turn, hurts the goals that the writer seeks to advance.  Seemingly, the author seeks to promote someone, but believes he must do so at the expense of another, which is untrue and unnecessary.  Often, statements have no relationship to the truth.  Any observer of the same scene can readily discredit the reporter.  Many comparisons exist without validity, solely as devices to promote an alternative.  For example, one does not have to criticize Ashley Bouder to praise Tiler Peck. Sometimes mean and untruthful things are said, suggesting even maliciousness, pettiness, or vendettas (or a bad mood and the absence of an editor).

 

The New York Times critic is not the only one guilty of this.  For example, a recent article summarizing the ABT season described Roberto Bolle as appearling solely like a circus strongman carrying a ballerina from one point to another.  I believe Roberto Bolle can communicate more than many of the acrobats spinning and jumping who do nothing to advance a plot or convey emotion, such as the nuanced movement of his pinky in "Onegin",  the careful shift of his gaze in "Sylvia" or "Romeo", the revelation of his inner warmth through the appearance of a soft smile in "Romeo", or the pained lift of his leg into arabesque in "Manon", But, for some reason, the writer of that article believed that to promote David Hallberg or Marcello Gomez (or other personal favorites), he had to disregard these qualities in Mr. Bolle and criticize him instead, which was unnecessary.  One may, of course, criticize anyone for a valid purpose, but the criticism lacked necessity or validity in this context.  Can't one like X without shooting down Y?

 

The topic in the New York Times itself seems odd.  Many complain about "home grown" artists not receiving adequate opportunities, roles, or promotions, such as at ABT, but the "home grown" artists often are not American or from the United States.  One may hope for opportunities to see a local company favorite, but the local, long-term dancers often do not come from America. 



#23 DanielBenton

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Posted 11 July 2013 - 05:49 PM

As I said (at least) once before, Macualey, who often misses the point of what he is seeing, AND is full of bad feelings, is simply not credible and he cannot be taken seriously as an observer of ballet.  As Jayne says below, just shrug and ignore.  Recently re-reading some of Edwin Denby's reviews of NYCB peformances reminded me of the true role of a critic. 



#24 vipa

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Posted 11 July 2013 - 06:14 PM

As I said (at least) once before, Macualey, who often misses the point of what he is seeing, AND is full of bad feelings, is simply not credible and he cannot be taken seriously as an observer of ballet.  As Jayne says below, just shrug and ignore.  Recently re-reading some of Edwin Denby's reviews of NYCB peformances reminded me of the true role of a critic. 

 Amen - I would add Croce.



#25 Quiggin

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Posted 11 July 2013 - 09:08 PM

Edwin Denby is a problematic gold standard of a critic. He was first of all a poet, a writer and then a critic. You would have to look to Frank O'Hara, James Schuyler, or John Ashbery, who were poets and wrote art criticism, as an equivalent.

 

Arlene Croce wrote for high-minded weekly or monthly periodicals like Ballet Review, Film Culture and the New Yorker under William Shawn (she left in 1994 after Robert Gottlieb left and Tina Brown took over).

 

Alastair Macaulay should really be compared to journalists who write quickly and lightly under deadline pressure, such his predecessor at the New York Times, John Martin, who sometimes couldn't review the whole program if it went on too late into the night. And Martin could be snippy – and genuinely witty – about performances and bodily formats of dancers. The whole business of newspaper reviewing of cultural events is probably pretty much on borrowed time, so Macaulay is perhaps last critic they'll hire other than stringers. I hardly see any classical music coverage at the Times these days, but perhaps I don't look in the right places. And they used to review everything.



#26 rg

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Posted 12 July 2013 - 03:56 AM

Re: Croce's writing outlets, BALLET REVIEW, the journal she started and edited for its first years, was a quarterly that didn't necessarily come out 4x year, tho' that was the aim.

she once noted that in her pre-New Yorker years, i.e. those of BALLET REVIEW, she found herself having to express herself at a certain length and to a certain extent because she might not necessarily have another chance to address the subject at hand; with the New Yorker, however, she was on a 'beat' in a weekly publication, and that if she didn't X or Y on a certain subject at one time she knew another, and another, would likely be possible.



#27 DanielBenton

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Posted 12 July 2013 - 05:00 AM

Thank you vipa and rg for reminding me to re-read Croce, and Quiggin for the poetic reference. A "poetic sensibility" is not the worst approach to discussing ballet! 



#28 ABT Fan

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Posted 12 July 2013 - 07:29 AM

What could be meant by the phrase, "part-time" ballerina, especially in connection with NYCB dancers? 


I intrepreted this to mean a principal who doesn't dance all that often. I don't know Macauley's intent, but that was how I read it.

#29 aurora

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Posted 12 July 2013 - 07:51 AM

 

What could be meant by the phrase, "part-time" ballerina, especially in connection with NYCB dancers? 


I intrepreted this to mean a principal who doesn't dance all that often. I don't know Macauley's intent, but that was how I read it.

 

I think that was not how he meant it, because while perhaps your reading could be accurate with regards to Wendy Whelan at this point in her career, Bouder would certainly not qualify.



#30 kfw

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Posted 12 July 2013 - 10:20 AM

 

What could be meant by the phrase, "part-time" ballerina, especially in connection with NYCB dancers? 


I intrepreted this to mean a principal who doesn't dance all that often. I don't know Macauley's intent, but that was how I read it.

 

 

Macaulay's meaning is clear from his full sentence:

 

 

Ashley Bouder, Maria Kowroski, Janie Taylor and Wendy Whelan are mature dancers but part-time ballerinas — extraordinary artists in only parts of their repertory.




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