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Macaulay on Forsythe (Boston Ballet Tour)

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Whether one agrees or not with Macaulay, the way he went about writing his review was not the right way to do it. Certainly negative reviews are necessary, and I'd argue that well-written critiques are few and far between today, but far more needed today than ever.

The problem with Macaulay's review is that he's telling us about his internal emotional dialogue without giving us a basis on which to judge or even understand his pronouncements. It doesn't help that he uses somewhat disingenuous devices like his imagined Forsythe dialogue, too.

Imagine two different people describing the same sunrise: "Ugh, why am I still up? I hate this job!" Or "That's the most beautiful thing I've ever seen." Both are equally valid impressions of the same event, but how much does it tell someone who's never seen a sunrise before?

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Macaulay has a right not to care for Forsythe. But I've heard enough from him on the subject myself, and possibly the Boston Ballet dancers and the Times' readership would have benefited had the paper sent another reviewer. In any case, he seems to have tried to address the issue in his latest:

The company opened its season last week at the Koch Theater with a triple bill of works in which it was hard to care who was dancing, since each ballet made its performers look insincere, horrid or foolish. With the four highly dissimilar ballets of program B, on Friday, things became far more complex.

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Macaulay has a right not to care for Forsythe. But I've heard enough from him on the subject myself, and possibly the Boston Ballet dancers and the Times' readership would have benefited had the paper sent another reviewer.

I have to agree that Macaulay was a poor choice of reviewers given his already professed dislike for these choreographers, but Gottlieb isin't much better. Macaulay finally gets down to brass tacks with his closing statement -

"The works by William Forsythe, José Martinez, Alexander Ekman, Mr. Elo and Mr. Kylian show unpleasing taste in choreography on the part of the artistic director Mikko Nissinen. The casting of central roles in the Balanchine and Nijinsky works added further problems. It’s to be regretted that some of the company’s finest dancers were not shown in better vehicles, and that, this time, New Yorkers saw so few of its best productions."

So it's the director's fault, and not Macaulay's inability to appreciate any of the choreography. Got it. To each his own, right?

The review by Robert Gottlieb (for me, a must-read critic) is also pretty brutal. The link just appeared in today's "links":

http://observer.com/2014/07/a-disheartening-week-for-dance/

To his credit, Gottlieb comes right out and states his various issues - it just happens to be over-the-top, imo:

"The disappointment comes from the unwelcome revelation that although its dancers are devoted and agreeable, it’s a gigantic artistic mess. The pain comes because the company is clearly so proud of its awful aesthetic. They’re up there in Beantown isolated from the realities: Sorry, guys, but William Forsythe is old hat (and was a pernicious phenomenon when he was new hat); Jorma Elo—the Finnish resident choreographer—churns out frantic and empty pieces every 10 minutes; and most of the rest of the repertory on display here is what we used to call Eurotrash—although Europe’s in enough trouble already without having to shoulder the blame for a tsunami of bad art."

Nothing worse for an American company than to be associated with "Eurotrash". LOL

I may have to change my mind and say that Gottlieb is now doing the best impression of John Martin, not Macaulay. Anyway, to cut to the chase - if all this trashy, loathsome choreography (from Europe) were removed, what would BB be left with to dance? Are they seriously supposed to mimic NYCB and ABT? "Little NYCB"? Why, oh why does anyone need that?

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So it's the director's fault, and not Macaulay's inability to appreciate any of the choreography. Got it.

I may have to change my mind and say that Gottlieb is now doing the best impression of John Martin, not Macaulay. Anyway, to cut to the chase - if all this trashy, loathsome choreography (from Europe) were removed, what would BB be left with to dance? Are they seriously supposed to mimic NYCB and ABT? "Little NYCB"? Why, oh why does anyone need that?

Perhaps Macaulay is unable to appreciate bad choreography. ;-) I haven't seen the works, and these descriptions from Boston Magazine may unfairly sensationalize it since they come without context, but they do seem to merit the Eurotrash label:
Recent scenes from the Boston Ballet include a pianist plinking a horror score on a baby grand with 9-foot-tall legs as a dancer pirouettes beneath; orangutan-esque arm-swinging by performers in front of a white sign reading, simply, “The”; dancers crawling on bubble wrap; choreography set to the Rolling Stones, an orchestral remolding of the White Stripes, and the barking of a demonic dog; pas de deux beginning in the fetal position on the stage floor, suggesting oral sex; a pair of nude mannequins in transparent caskets hanging from the stage’s ceiling; and, notoriously, topless ballerinas.
As for Gottlieb, as you say he's pretty specific about what he doesn’t like. I think the John Martin analogy depends upon the judgment of history – will history really rank Elo and Forsythe with Balanchine?

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You'd think Mr. Gottlieb, if he claims to be knowledgeable about dance, would know that "somebody called Jose Martinez" was a brilliant etoile at the Paris Opera Ballet until he became the CND's artistic director a couple of years ago.

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Kids these days! Liking stuff that I don't like! ;)

Arguing about the aesthetics is all part of the game, or art, of course. There are definitely ballets that don't work well, but these particular critics would have us believe that there is nothing of worth in, say, any Forsythe, or Elo choreography. Not likely. I'm more concerned with what the dancers think of the choreography, since they are integral to this art form. I'm not going to say that I'm a huge fan of either choreographer, but I tend to side with the artists: it is difficult to produce a work of 'art'. And it's still more difficult to produce a work of art that people find 'entertaining' (necessary to the stage arts in particularl). And it's incredibly difficult (or just a matter of luck?) to produce art that many people find to be significant somehow to the human race (and for humans to continue feeling that way over the centuries? Don't even think about it). It's the artist's job to try things: explore and take chances, and that means lots of failures, lots of criticism.

If Macaulay and Gottlieb want to see something different, all they have to do is create better ballets - and failing that, I suppose they will just have to keep nurturing Justin Peck (he's not Eurotrash!). I just hope Mr. Peck spends exactly no time with either one of them.

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If Macaulay and Gottlieb want to see something different, all they have to do is create better ballets

After writing these reviews, they just may see something besides Elo, Kylian and Forsythe being brought to town. Companies don’t lack for good work to choose from, whether it’s work new to them as a company, or just new to the dancers in the lead roles. Or new because it’s being revived and most of the audience hasn’t seen it. Sarasota Ballet is mining a particularly rich vein of work that is different in that way.

I do feel bad for the Boston Ballet dancers (just as I felt bad for PNB and its hometown audience when Roméo et Juliette was poorly received in New York). Macaulay at least praised them in his second review, although the scarcity of specifics suggests his heart was hardly in it.

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John Martin has somehow gotten a bad rap here for his reviewing, which in actuality was fluent and witty and pleasurable to read – although it sometimes bore the marks of being quickly tossed off for early deadlines (1 am or so then). He reviewed everything in those days and kept a close eye on the changes to individual Balanchine works from year to year and is a valuable resource for that. Robert Garis says his Balanchine reviews were often “beautifully perceptive” though on occasion his judgements could be off.

I don’t mind Macaulay’s piques and bad manners, and anyway maybe he’s onto something. Perhaps many of the postmodernist ballet were just holding places, and haven’t aged well and seem thin compared to the new ballets coming down. Right now Macaulay seems to be reevaluating Ratmansky’s Tempest and trying to figure out why it doesn’t all balance out. He does have something of a historical sense of ballet and where everything fits in which I do find helpful.

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I sometimes wonder who Macaulay is writing for. When he spoke of Symph in 3 movements he said something about Boston Ballet doing it better than the NYCB 7 years ago, but since then the NYCB had recaptured something. What?? Is he writing for the avid ballet goer, the occasional ballet goer or a reader who whats to get a sense of what's going on in the arts? I'm an avid ballet goer and a casual concert goer, and I feel much more enlightened by Tommasini's music reviews than by anything Macaulay writes. Who is his audience?

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I do feel bad for the Boston Ballet dancers (just as I felt bad for PNB and its hometown audience when Roméo et Juliette was poorly received in New York). Macaulay at least praised them in his second review, although the scarcity of specifics suggests his heart was hardly in it.

I'm going to go out on a limb here, and say that it is unlikely Macaulay is going to see PNB's The Vertiginous Thrill of Forsythe program. ;)

Quiggin's suggestion that "perhaps many of the postmodernist ballet were just holding places, and haven’t aged well and seem thin compared to the new ballets coming down" is almost certain to hold true for the majority of works, simply because this happens with each trend in the arts. It's not possible for every work of say, Arts and Crafts, or Post-Impressionism to be a masterwork - most are not even close. It's the artists that move on though - they don't actually require a critic to announce that it's "Last call for Post-Modernism! Train is leaving the station!

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Whether Macaulay has a point, or points, is somewhat beside the point, I think, although it’s good for a critic to be “right” (as John Martin could tell us, a critic can get a lot of things right, but if he gets a big thing wrong, it’s gonna hurt). I think it’s possible to take Macaulay's points (which he's made before) and still have a problem with his initial review of the Boston troupe. I do respect him as a critic.

Quiggin, I confess I find his quirks more annoying than you do; in that same review of ABT where he discusses The Tempest, Macaulay coyly refers to his “heretical” views on Ashton’s Dream, as if a storm was about to break over his head because he praises Ashton’s musical sensitivity over Balanchine’s. Oh, please. I doubt if the Mr. B Inquisition will bother with an auto-da-fe. (Of course, I'm sure there are those fans who might remind him that “contrarian” sometimes means only that.:))

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The Ashton vs. Balanchine takes on "A Midsummer Night's Dream" is an old, old argument. For me it hinges on central Pas de Deux, for Ashton between Oberon and Titania in the single act and for Balanchine between Titania and Bottom in Act I and the dancers in the Divertissement in Act II. Ashton's PDD is beautiful and sublime and everything else Macaulay describes physically, but I don't buy it from those characters, and think there's more psychological truth to the enchanted Titania/Bottom pairing. But his is hardly a heretical view, especially with ABT in town to counter the Balanchine juggernaut, to prefer the Ashton.

I do feel bad for the Boston Ballet dancers (just as I felt bad for PNB and its hometown audience when Roméo et Juliette was poorly received in New York). Macaulay at least praised them in his second review, although the scarcity of specifics suggests his heart was hardly in it.

There's no reason to feel bad for PNB or its hometown audience. Peter Boal knows what NY critics like, and he knows that, for the most part, what he wants audiences to see/what he likes is something different. He knows that it's one thing to present under Peter Boal & Co. and another under PNB. (If he didn't, bringing "Jardi Tancat" to Ballet Across America would have been a wake-up call.) He's said that he wants to expand the Seattle audience's notion of ballet.

Boal had his own experiment with European dance when he left NYCB to go to Ballet du Nord. He fell for Maillot's work because he sought out performances of more than the usual suspects. He likes a type of dance that generally gets slayed by NY critics. I don't remember that many times the NY audience has embraced it regardless of critical response, except for the huge ovations NDT got in the '80's tours to the Met.

It's unlikely that Macaulay would travel to Seattle to see the Forsythe program -- I don't think he'd travel across the country to see something he dislikes so strongly. I'm looking forward to it because it takes works from 1987 ("in the middle"), 1998 ("Vertiginous"), and the almost new "New Suite." I'm interested in comparing the works, especially since the only Forsythe I've seen that isn't to Thom Willems music is "Vertiginous" from the last Mariinsky tour to City Center. I don't think his response to the Schubert was particularly musical or that the structure of the music was especially conducive to the movement, but I loved the tutus, and Tereshkina was in it, and the music is why I really want to see "New Suite." The composers of "New Suite" were listed as Georg Friedrich Haendel, Luciano Berio, Gavin Bryars, Thom Willems, Johann Sebastian Bach on the Festival d'automne a Paris website and on the Berlin Semperoper website the music "consists of 'Haendel,' "Bach,' 'Berio,' 'Slingerland Pas de deux,' and 'New Sleep.'" I've never seen a work of his to smaller pieces by many composers. The PNB website lists only Handel and Berio, which I hope is either a placeholder or incomplete. One the one hand, I'm not sure how coherently the music will tie together, but, on the other hand, it's not like taking on the structure of a symphony.

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Quiggin's suggestion that "perhaps many of the postmodernist ballet were just holding places, and haven’t aged well and seem thin compared to the new ballets coming down" is almost certain to hold true for the majority of works, simply because this happens with each trend in the arts. It's not possible for every work of say, Arts and Crafts, or Post-Impressionism to be a masterwork - most are not even close. It's the artists that move on though - they don't actually require a critic to announce that it's "Last call for Post-Modernism! Train is leaving the station!

True, except that in Forsythe’s case Macaulay seems to be knocking not so much individual ballets but an entire aesthetic, and it's "influence" "on the other two works" on the program.

dirac, I felt the same annoyance at Macaulay's self-dramatizing they're-going-to-kill-me-for-saying-this comments.

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