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Macaulay on AcheronLiam Scarlett's new ballet


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#1 atm711

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Posted 03 February 2014 - 11:34 AM

I seldom agree with the Times' Macauley when it comes to individual dancers and I will add his thoughtless review of Scarlett's new ballet. 

Always the master of the put-down he reflects on Scarlett's "cherubic, curly haired, wide-eyed puckishness"---he also has reservations about

"heterosexual partnering" (whatever he means by that, I won't guess)  One of the most b eautifully lyrical parts of the ballet is a mid-section for

for 6 couples---so poetic and I must  say soulful.  I was swept away.  Fortunately I saw this at a dress rehearsal and the ballet was repeated.

 

 



#2 DanielBenton

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Posted 03 February 2014 - 12:24 PM

I can't believe I find myself defending Macaulay (thank you Jack Reed)
but I thought his review brought out (by way of his typical hypercritical style)
some interesting aspects of Scarlett's work.
I appreciated Macaulay's comments about the lack of music/dance
coordination and also his overall impression of "intense but murky". I think
his review was actually favorable (sort of) to Scarlett.
Also, sitting through the first two pieces was
kind of a penance to pay in order to see Scarlett's new piece.

#3 Kathleen O'Connell

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Posted 03 February 2014 - 05:08 PM

Marina Harss’ review of Archeron* Acheron is now up on DanceTabs. (I didn’t notice it in “Links” – did I miss it?) She seems more enthusiastic than McCauley. (She also spends considerably less time clearing her throat than he does. He squanders a whole paragraph to set up the adjective “Stygian,” a word that requires no introduction, frankly, especially after “Asphodel” and “Acheron” have been explained.)

 

She’s spied a reference to Symphony in C. The passage I believe she’s referring to starts at about 1:48 in this clip, featuring Allegra Kent and Conrad Ludlow in the Adagio.

 

Note: I can’t say enough good things about Harss’ dance writing. I admire (and envy!) her disciplined eye and keen ear. I don’t always agree with her critical assessments, but I always trust her to give a lucid and honest account of what happened on stage. In this she reminds me of the great Deborah Jowitt. 

 

 

[Oops! Edited to add the link to Harss' review!]

 

[*Ugh. Edited for a howler of a typo. Archeron is of course a Galactica type battlestar in service with the Colonial Fleet during the First Cylon War.)



#4 DanielBenton

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Posted 03 February 2014 - 05:16 PM

Thanks for pointing to Harss' review. She certainly gives a better feel for what it was like to
be there and see it.

#5 Quiggin

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Posted 03 February 2014 - 11:18 PM

I enjoyed reading both reviews. Marina Harss does also note that “the ballet was dominated by heterosexual couples,” which she relates to the observing boy’s (Anthony Huxley) feelings of being isolated. Alastair Macaulay’s reference to Liam Scarlett’s cherubic public persona is placed in contrast to his attraction to dark subject matter (such as Scarlett’s recent Sadean Hansel & Gretel).

Maybe Macaulay is trying to take a step back to assess the overall character of Scarlett’s work after a couple of years of buzz and PR. Is there “a distinguishing Scarlettian individuality” or worldview he asks.

Laura Cappelle defines it as "his distinctive use of the upper body and the emotional resonance of his plotless works [that] set him apart, as well as his sophisticated use of counterpoint on stage."

And Harss says something similar: "One of the most remarkable aspects of his style is the elasticity of the phrasing, how one movement flows powerfully into the next, with weight and effort... It’s heartening to see these dancers use their upper bodies and arms so opulently, a quality sometimes lacking when they dance works like Symphony in C or, more recently, Diamonds"

That doesn’t exactly answer the question, but neither can Macaulay – and so perhaps it’s too early to tell.

But I don't mind any of Mr. Macaulay’s throat clearings about the Acherontic – or Anacherontic or Anacreontic – worlds. (Or even iambic footwork.) It was Scarlett after all who brought the subject up.

For which more here:

http://www.gtp.gr/TD...ls.asp?id=14883



#6 abatt

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Posted 04 February 2014 - 06:17 AM

Macauley has been carping about heterosexual partnering in new ballets for years in reference to many other choreographs other than Scarlett. 



#7 Kathleen O'Connell

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Posted 04 February 2014 - 06:57 AM

But I don't mind any of Mr. Macaulay’s throat clearings about the Acherontic – or Anacherontic or Anacreontic – worlds. (Or even iambic footwork.) It was Scarlett after all who brought the subject up.
 

 

I don't either, for the record. It's appropriate to discuss a work's title in a review, especially one that seems a pointed as Scarlett's. What I did mind was the tangent on Tom Stoppard, "The Invention of Love," and A. E. Housman, which, on a first reading at least, struck me as being there mostly to let us know that McCauley has been to a play. The quoted material -- "I'm dead then. Good. And this is the Stygian gloom one has heard so much about." -- could actually have been deployed with real wit. But McCauley prefaces it with "Soon after the curtain rose on “Acheron,” I remembered how Tom Stoppard’s play ... " which pulls the focus away from the ballet under discussion to an unrelated work in another discipline and to McCauley himself. (And I mean to him as a person, not to his critical response to a work, which I'm very much interested in.) But he's writing under deadline and this stuff is hard to do.  But that's why there are editors.

 

"Iambic footwork" may be a pun too far, but a little mischief never hurts ... 



#8 dirac

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Posted 04 February 2014 - 10:00 AM

Macauley has been carping about heterosexual partnering in new ballets for years in reference to many other choreographs other than Scarlett. 

 

I've noticed that, as well.



#9 sandik

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Posted 04 February 2014 - 12:06 PM

 

But I don't mind any of Mr. Macaulay’s throat clearings about the Acherontic – or Anacherontic or Anacreontic – worlds. (Or even iambic footwork.) It was Scarlett after all who brought the subject up.
 

 

I don't either, for the record. It's appropriate to discuss a work's title in a review, especially one that seems a pointed as Scarlett's. What I did mind was the tangent on Tom Stoppard, "The Invention of Love," and A. E. Housman, which, on a first reading at least, struck me as being there mostly to let us know that McCauley has been to a play. The quoted material -- "I'm dead then. Good. And this is the Stygian gloom one has heard so much about." -- could actually have been deployed with real wit. But McCauley prefaces it with "Soon after the curtain rose on “Acheron,” I remembered how Tom Stoppard’s play ... " which pulls the focus away from the ballet under discussion to an unrelated work in another discipline and to McCauley himself. (And I mean to him as a person, not to his critical response to a work, which I'm very much interested in.) But he's writing under deadline and this stuff is hard to do.  But that's why there are editors.

 

"Iambic footwork" may be a pun too far, but a little mischief never hurts ... 

 

 

He comes from a critical practice that is much more accustomed to cross-references (literature/dance/music/art/history) than the more direct, observation and description criticism that we mostly see here in the US. 

 

One of the many plusses of the internet is our access to many more critical voices from around the world -- I'm always interested in seeing what colleagues have to say about something, especially if it's a performance or an artists I've reviewed myself.  But I'm even happier to see other approaches to writing itself.



#10 Kathleen O'Connell

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Posted 04 February 2014 - 01:53 PM

 

 

But I don't mind any of Mr. Macaulay’s throat clearings about the Acherontic – or Anacherontic or Anacreontic – worlds. (Or even iambic footwork.) It was Scarlett after all who brought the subject up.
 

 

I don't either, for the record. It's appropriate to discuss a work's title in a review, especially one that seems a pointed as Scarlett's. What I did mind was the tangent on Tom Stoppard, "The Invention of Love," and A. E. Housman, which, on a first reading at least, struck me as being there mostly to let us know that McCauley has been to a play. The quoted material -- "I'm dead then. Good. And this is the Stygian gloom one has heard so much about." -- could actually have been deployed with real wit. But McCauley prefaces it with "Soon after the curtain rose on “Acheron,” I remembered how Tom Stoppard’s play ... " which pulls the focus away from the ballet under discussion to an unrelated work in another discipline and to McCauley himself. (And I mean to him as a person, not to his critical response to a work, which I'm very much interested in.) But he's writing under deadline and this stuff is hard to do.  But that's why there are editors.

 

"Iambic footwork" may be a pun too far, but a little mischief never hurts ... 

 

 

He comes from a critical practice that is much more accustomed to cross-references (literature/dance/music/art/history) than the more direct, observation and description criticism that we mostly see here in the US. 

 

One of the many plusses of the internet is our access to many more critical voices from around the world -- I'm always interested in seeing what colleagues have to say about something, especially if it's a performance or an artists I've reviewed myself.  But I'm even happier to see other approaches to writing itself.

 

 

I have absolutely no issue with dance critics cross-referencing other works of art: ballet doesn't happen in a vacuum and a good critic will draw our attention to the meaningful (or interesting or enlightening or just plain fun) connections between one thing and another. In this particular case, however, there doesn't seem to be any real connection between the work under review and the work referenced. McCauley brings up "The Invention of Love" solely to tee up "Stygian gloom" and apply it to Mark Stanley's lighting. If there is a deeper connection between Stoppard's play and Scarlett's ballet, McCauley didn't elaborate. 



#11 Quiggin

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Posted 04 February 2014 - 02:54 PM

 

If there is a deeper connection between Stoppard's play and Scarlett's ballet, McCauley didn't elaborate. 

 

 

But it's a such good line and has such perfect tone – And [so] this is the Stygian gloom one has heard so much about. It sort of calms Scarlett’s portentous title, allows Macaulay to say "Are these characters [really] dead, as the title “Acheron” implies? They’re still creatures of sexual and sensual behavior." In the underworld of Homer, unlike Scarlett’s, remember that Odysseus has to bring a liter of blood or so in order to revive the shades he meets and to get any sort of intelligence out of them.



#12 Kathleen O'Connell

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Posted 04 February 2014 - 03:35 PM

 

 

If there is a deeper connection between Stoppard's play and Scarlett's ballet, McCauley didn't elaborate. 

 

 

But it's a such good line and has such perfect tone – And [so] this is the Stygian gloom one has heard so much about. It sort of calms Scarlett’s portentous title, allows Macaulay to say "Are these characters [really] dead, as the title “Acheron” implies? They’re still creatures of sexual and sensual behavior." In the underworld of Homer, unlike Scarlett’s, remember that Odysseus has to bring a liter of blood or so in order to revive the shades he meets and to get any sort of intelligence out of them.

 

 

It is a good line, and I stated as much. I nonetheless find the way it was introduced into the review clumsy at best. 

 

And just to be clear, I'm not grinding some sort of anti-McCauley ax. I've found real value in many of the things he's written. But he can be infuriatingly facile at times: and that's exactly how his opening contention that the darkness of Scarlett's subject matter was somehow "curious" given his "cherubic" appearance struck me. One's looks are hardly a marker of the subject matter one is drawn to probe.  (Unlike atm711, I didn't read it as a put-down.)



#13 canbelto

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Posted 04 February 2014 - 07:26 PM

I think most critics have their set likes and dislikes, and one of Macauley's known dislikes is overtly "sexy" pas de deux between a man and a woman that doesn't fit his aesthetic. I think that's what he meant by "heterosexual partnering." 

 

He goes more into it later on:

 

 

Are these characters dead, as the title “Acheron” implies? They’re still creatures of sexual and sensual behavior. In one motif, Mr. Danchig-Waring, standing behind Ms. Mearns, runs his hands down her shoulders and upper arms; Mr. Angle, also from behind, plants an emphatic kiss on Ms. Krohn’s neck; and in one incident all three couples seem to nuzzle each other, heads and necks interlocking fondly.

 

Odder is the way the female dancers, lifted or supported, keep opening their groins at the audience. Near the end, for example, a number of women, lifted from behind and facing the audience, have their knees tensely bent and held together; then, suddenly, they part their thighs for our benefit. This is one of several images of behavior that are never resolved in terms of poetic meaning.

 

It's this kind of choreography that he dislikes and he's pretty consistent about the reasons why he dislikes it. I don't think he's being unreasonable in the sense that ballet is an art form dominated by personal aesthetic. If he doesn't like seeing something onstage, he's entitled to explain why he doesn't like it. 

 

Think this is one of his best reviews. He doesn't make snide snippy comments about dancers and instead focuses pretty specifically about the ballet.



#14 dirac

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Posted 04 February 2014 - 11:19 PM

I didn't find the reference to Stoppard particulary distracting, myself. And given the ballet's subject matter and title I can understand why the work of Housman might come to Macaulay's mind.

 

Always the master of the put-down he reflects on Scarlett's "cherubic, curly haired, wide-eyed puckishness"-

 

 

Respectfully, atm711, I tend to agree with those who have said that this wasn't intended as a put-down.

 

It's also a trope I've seen in other profiles of artists (e.g., "Some not familiar with his work might find it hard to imagine, given X's cherubic face, bright eyes, and cheerful outlook, that in his writing he is preoccupied with the grimmest of subjects, torture and murder." )



#15 Kathleen O'Connell

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Posted 05 February 2014 - 05:28 AM

I didn't find the reference to Stoppard particulary distracting, myself. And given the ballet's subject matter and title I can understand why the work of Housman might come to Macaulay's mind.

 

Always the master of the put-down he reflects on Scarlett's "cherubic, curly haired, wide-eyed puckishness"-

 

 

Respectfully, atm711, I tend to agree with those who have said that this wasn't intended as a put-down.

 

It's also a trope I've seen in other profiles of artists (e.g., "Some not familiar with his work might find it hard to imagine, given X's cherubic face, bright eyes, and cheerful outlook, that in his writing he is preoccupied with the grimmest of subjects, torture and murder." )

 

I took it as a tactic employed by a writer on deadline in search of a lede in the wee hours of the morning, and nothing more sinister than that. Were McCauley writing on a different schedule, I suspect (or at least I hope) he'd jettison some of the tools he relies on to crank out timely copy. 




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