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Alexandra

NYCB's casting crisis

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[Ari has already posted this in today's Links, but I thought it might draw a coment or two.]

A pulls-no-punches piece in The NY Observer by Robert Gottlieb -- a long time observer of the company -- on the New York City Ballet's current roster.

City Ballet's Casting Crisis A Key to the Company's Values

The biggest story at City Ballet this season wasn't the Diamond Project'that was the saddest story; the biggest story was casting. An entire generation of dancers is fading or phasing out: Margaret Tracey into retirement (there's a rumor that she may teach; teach what?); Miranda Weese still out with a serious injury; Kyra Nichols only slowly coming back after an extended maternity leave; Yvonne Borree gone for the first weeks (but then why is she there in the first place?); Darci Kistler less and less like her former wonderful self. And halfway through the season, Heléne Alexopoulos followed Tracey into retirement?but with what a difference! Tracey long ago not only undermined her talent but betrayed it, while Alexopoulos is a textbook example of a dancer who understood her talent, never overextended herself, and made a singular contribution in the dramatic roles that were right for her. On her final night, she danced both an icy Siren in Prodigal Son, radiating antiseptic viciousness, and a ravishing "Gold and Silver" waltz in Vienna Waltzes . Alexopoulos, with the company 24 years, is one of its last dancers to have worked under Balanchine, who died in 1983. Seeing them vanish one by one is like watching Agatha Christie's Ten Little Indians.

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Ok...I'll step into the arena :))

Well, I tend to think that Gottlieb, like some critics is somewhat stuck in the past and far too negative. We can't stop time-Balachine has been dead for nearly two decades, and his hand-picked dancers are retiring. Face it-things are going to change (as they always have) and we can't just constantly compare today to the past.

Dancers have changed-careers, especially for those who never make it out of the corps are shorter and not nearly so focused on just ballet. Dancers are getting married, having kids, taking college classs, dancing with other companies etc. It's a different world, and the newer dancers are a different generation.

I've disagreed with many of Martins' choices in dancers, casting and programs, but he's really in a no-win situation. No-one will ever live up to Balanchine.

Also, I tend to think this season's problem was the choice of ballets, not the dancers.

The women-

Borree has her issues, but she's a good dancer. Over the years she's been excellent in ballet such as "La Sonnambula". I really liked her Helena (or Hermia?) in Midsummer's.

I very much disagree with Gottlieb about Ringer. Has she been dancing with NYCB for 13 years?-she's only just 30, I think. While T&V is not an idealrole for her, she did a elegant job. I would have liked to see Somogyi in the role, but for all we know, with all the injuries, Martins may not have been able to work the schedule out to have her do T&V enough times to make it worth the rehearsal time. Better to wait rather than risk exhasuting her to the point of an injury or illness.

(I think in many cases it's not completely fair for us to negatively comment on casting when we are unaware of a lot of the issues-minor & major injuried, partner incompatibilties, attitude issues, dedication or lack there of etc.)

Ringer was born to do "Who Cares"-with both Neal and Hubbe, she was spectacular.

Her first Midsummer's PdD was a tad tentative (I doubt she got very much rehearsal), but it was beautiful. I think it will be spectacular by the end of the run next Spring Season.

The men..

I agree that NYCB has some issues in its upper male ranks, but am less worried now that I was a year ago.

Woetzel has actually been on stage nearly twenty years-he joined the Los Angeles Ballet when he was 16. He's been with NYCB for 17 years. Obviously, Woetzel has lost some power with age, but he's still pretty darn good. Yes, he was not at his best in Midsummer's, but anyone who is familiar with Woetzel knows that he doesn't give 100% in every performance or every role. He looked a little off on Wednesday, but his Saturday matinee performance of Oberon was excellent.

Boal and Soto are not young chickens, but still are great assets on the stage and over at SAB. Soto may not be ideally built, but he and Whelan were so breathtaking in the Midsummer's PdD that I didn't even think about his physique.

I think Millepied and Marcovici have great promise, and Fayette has carved his own niche as a solid, elegant partner. After all, Balachine's male choreography, in general, is much more about supporting the women thant individual dancing. Angle and Hofmans (of the exquisite feet!) are also ones to watch.

ABT obviously has an excess of fabulous male talent. Yet, NYCB does not need a roster full of explosive technicians. The NYCB rep demands partnering skills, solid technique and somtimes bravura skill. I'd love to see Corella in the NYCB rep, but I don't think some of the other ABT men would be so comfortable at NYCB. And I don't think Martins lost Stiefel-Stiefel's always been a wanderer and still is off dancing around the globe at every chance.

I prefer to look at the positive-and there's plenty to look foward to in coming seasons. Antonio Carmena has grown physically and technically this season, and Martins is giving Dan Ulbricht every opportunity to show off his talent(he's debuting in Tarantella next week). Ansanelli is great, and there are many appealing young women in the corps.

If I were to constant think of the negatives, it wouldn't be worth the effort to go to the ballet. Each performance to me is a chance to see the positives-more some nights than others. So, Mr. Gottlieb, lighten up and look for the good in life. NYCB will never be the NYCB of 10 or 20 years ago, and that's good in many ways. My generation is different from yours, and thus so is the ballets.

And things aren't so hunky-dory over at ABT.

Cheers!

Looking foward to NYCB this winter!

Kate

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Thanks for stepping into the fray, sneds!

I didn't think Gottlieb was wanting things to be exactly like they were once upon a time; just insisting on the same quality. He was quite willing and able to recognize that when he saw it (the comments on Kowroski in Midsummer, for example).

I also think it's more than just a generational difference. I know people in their late 20s and early 30s who are just as exacting about dancers, and the way ballets are "supposed" to look as Gottlieb and other like-minded souls. I think it's more how long one has been watching, when one started, who one's seen, etc. (including on video and films). I know in my first few years -- well, decade! -- of ballet watching, I was constantly being told by someone with a good eye who'd been watching longer than I had, when I said I liked this or that dancer, or made a comment about a ballet, "Well, you never saw X in the role." It was frustrating, but I learned from it, and there are very few times that I'd now disagree.

Gottlieb has been watching NYCB since at least the early '50s, and perhaps since the Ballet Society days, and knows it very well, having once served on its board. I don't mean to suggest that one has to agree with every assessment he makes, but I don't think he can be dismissed, either.

I think sneds' point that if one constantly looks at the negatives, there's no point in going to the ballet is an interesting one, and one I'm very sympathetic too. I think one's attitude to that question may depend on whether one goes primarily to see the dancers, or the ballets. If you're addicted to ballets, you have to go, unless the standard sinks to such a level that it becomes totally unbearable, but you want to see the ballets well lit, and cleaned and dusted and loved. If you go primarily to see dancers, you'll probably always be happy and see the positive, because there is something admirable and enjoyable to watch about nearly everyone who dances at that level.

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Gottlieb's article and observations are extraordinarily accurate. He bats about 90% in my view and that's a damn high average.

There is some history of bad blood personally between him and Martins. Gottlieb's departure from the NYCB Board was triggered by a defensive Peter Martins reaction to Arlene Croce's criticisms in the New Yorker of the Martins' regime (and of Heather Watts and Margaret Tracey in particular, if I remember correctly) when Gottlieb was an editor there or was editing Croce's books at his publishing house -- as Mr. Gottlieb himself recounted in his Vanity Fair piece on the company two or three years ago. "It's not the Croce article, Bob, but the fact that you agree with it," (my paraphrase, if I've got it straight). But even putting that into the scales, I still find him the most acute, the frankest, and the least bound by New York Artistic Politics/Sycophancy of the New York critics on the subject of this particularl company. Given the history, though, I do imagine I detect a particular Glee (an implicit "I told you so") on his part in delivering the verdict. And his language, his way of putting things, can be a little harsh and even unkind, as truth of all things can be most brutal.

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I agreed with him for the most part. The article goes a bit hand in hand with Joan Acella's piece from the New Yorker and the WSJ article as well.

I think there's a crash and burn mentality at City Ballet. Dancers are taken up through the ranks far too early and occasionally they get lucky with a Somogyi or a Weese, but the rest look underdeveloped.

As for the individual dancers, IMO, Borree isn't principal material. I've never seen someone with stage fright like her, you can visibly see her shaking from the back of the orchestra. And while that in itself doesn't make her a bad dancer, it sets a tone for the audience, who are just pulling for her to get through it.

Taylor, he hit the nail on the head, who is she. She's the steps and not much more, but she's also so young.

Same with Stafford.

I had to laugh at the Mr. & Mrs. Spratt comment regarding Soto and Whelan, but again agreed with him about Whelan's versatility and just how indespensable she's become. There was a time when I though she couldn't do Aurora and she changed my mind, that growth is tangible and you appreciate it.

Most of the dancers just seem cold to me and the ones with any fire (Rutherford, Edge, Walker, Jessy Hendrickson, Natanya) are fighting for roles and left on the back burner.

For me, I see the Diamond Project as one of the reasons. I think they're pushing new choreography styles on dancers that once they leave the school (SAB) seem to lose focus on any particular type of style. The fact that so many feel the need to go and take outside class or back at SAB is a fact often overlooked or dismissed.

I admit to not being a fan of Martins. I think he does things to appease as opposed to structuring. The exodus of male dancers is evident of that (and I won't even touch the nepotism subject).

For the first time in years, I found myself heading over to the other house to watch ABT this season far more. And it was fun!

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Not to discourage others who agree with Mr. Gottlieb, but since Kate was so brave as to disagree -- and I'm sure there are others who are quite happy with the current generation of NYCB dancers -- please feel free to weigh in :P

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I don't agree with everyone of Mr. Gottlieb's judgements, but I think it is obvious that there is something unusual going on in casting, and by extention, I expect, in coaching. Contanstly shoving young corps girls on in important roles and then putting them back in the corps, not developing soloists, leaving people in roles (Somogyi is by far the best person in Hypolita, but she is a principal for heaven's sake and has been dancing it for years), working a dancer until injury takes them out for a long period (as has happened to a number of dancers over the years). I know people, even some in the company, have said that the company does too many ballets, and I think that is part of the problem. If a ballet is danced 4 times a season, and two people dance the leads, that isn't much time to develop an interpretation or any depth.

I don't think pointing this out means someone should just stay home and not watch the ballet--for many people NYCB and Balanchine were so much more than just a pleasant hobby, and something that meant so much cannot just be shrugged off.

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It can be hard to let go of fixed concepts of what a ballet **should** be like - even though time, technique, and dancers have moved on.

But it can also be hard to let go of dancers we once loved. One of the strongest points in Gottlieb's piece, I believe, is his frank appraisal of the company's ageing icons.

Darci Kistler, unfortunately, lost much of her magic long ago. Kyra is lovely, but as Gottlieb points out, she relies more on her aura than her technique at this point. Jock Soto is such a wonderful dancer, and a wonderful person, that it is hard to see him like this. And besides "Circus Polka", what in the world is Robert LaFosse still doing in the company? (And how do I arrange for an equivalent paycheck for an equivalent amount of work?)

Very few dancers have the character strength to go out on top. Others will probably beg to differ, but my memories of Merrill Ashley involve her barely being able to keep up with the corps while dancing "Ballo della Regina" during her last season.

One of the first things Peter Martins had to do when taking over the company was fire one of Balanchine's ageing icons, Allegra Kent. I hope we do not have to wait for Martins' successor to clear out some of **his** the tenured toe shoes and give the younger dancers the onstage time they need to make roles their own.

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I think the most glaring problem,is as cargill points out, the coaching or lack of it.

By no means am I looking for the same type of dancers of the past, in fact I usually just shrug when the comparisons are made b/c I didn't see those dancers, but the fact that there really is no coaching being done, just steps being taught is quite evident. Sometimes I wonder if the "growth" I see from one performance to the next is just lucky (i.e. the dancer had a bad night Friday and was just better on Monday) And the rep is really too big. Few dancers have signature roles anymore.

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I agree about the lack of coaching-- although, I too, didn't see the originals. Raw talent can only get you so far. There are few, like Whelan, who can work to develop themselves beyond the early roles types in which they are pigeon-holed. ... unless they have some guidance. The roles themselves can only do so much *teaching*. Seeing Janie Taylor in Who Cares? was a revelation for me, as I finally saw her enjoy herself and do more than rush through the steps. Doing more Balanchine ballets will only get her so far, if she isn't coached.

As someone who has been watching the company for 10+ years-- a corps generation's worth-- I am amazed at how LITTLE development I have seen in most dancers, other than in their technique. When I have seen changes, it seems more like they have gone from girls to women. That makes a difference, but not enough.

But, I take great exception to Gottlieb's comments about Ringer (oh, and sneds, she was in the same cohort as Meunier and Stiefel, the 1989 SAB year, although she was injured workshop time). I was at those same Who Cares? performances, and, as I have noted elsewhere, her perfs were among the highlights of the year for me. It's times like these that remind me that you can agree with a person on a whole lot, but you don't always *see* the same performance. I think when Ringer first returned to the company, as I think Leigh wrote or just said to me, RInger was in danger of being to cutesy, relying to much on her smile and sweetness. But, in the last year, I haven't seen that.

I do worry about the development of the newer girls. Korbes, as he wrote, is a real find, and she should have been cast as Titania this year, as she had last year. Bouder was not used so much this year. As amazing as I know she'll be in Tarantella, I worry that, Firebird aside, she'll be pigeon-holed in the jumping roles. Somogyi, thankfully, has not been, though it's about time she did T&V and Square Dance.

I can say a lot more, but it won't go anywhere. The thing i wonder about... is there anything any of us can do about it? Doesn't even seem like being on the Board makes a difference. Dropping ticket sales can be blamed on the economy. Critics can be dismissed as being stuck in the past or hell bent on hating Martins. Their audience research doesn't focus on such things.

So, what about us? Are we *doomed* to accepting things as they are. Savoring the great performances when they come and watching great potential often squandered?

-amanda

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Amanda, I think you are spot on correct about Ringer in Who Cares -- it was a Great Performance -- and Taylor was wonderful in Who Cares also (as was Somogyi). And I think you're further correct that Gottlieb was most off the mark when it comes to his assessment of Jenny Ringer on the whole -- That's where his bias led him to exagerate.

And I also agree with you (and the article) that Carla Korbes should have been cast in Midsummer. In the final Dream I saw, Korbes had the part of Helena and Nichols was Titania -- and it was Korbes, with her big, sweeping, musical, impulsive, even hungry movement, who was the Ballerina on stage all night long. It was just so obvious.

And I think that the expression of opinions, even consensus, that emeges on this Board and in the hallways of the theater about critical issues does matter in the long run. It almost becomes metaphysical but not only that. I think that people read it (including some in the company) and notice. Look at what happened at ABT, for an example -- after the deluge of criticism re Pied Piper, etc., we got Dream and Fille this year.

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Originally posted by Michael

....Arlene Croce's criticisms in the New Yorker of the Martins' regime (and of Heather Watts and Margaret Tracey in particular, if I remember correctly) when Gottlieb was an editor there or was editing Croce's books at his publishing house

Bob Gottlieb was actually editor-in-chief of the New Yorker.

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And after leaving the New Yorker, wasn't he then CEO or Editor in Chief of one of the major publshing houses (Knopf perhaps)?

Further question, did his leaving the New Yorker coincide with Conde Nast's purchase of the magazine?

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Mr. Gottlieb did not leave The New Yorker upon its purchase by Conde Nast. He arrived there from another outfit also owned at the time by the Newhouse family--Knopf, a division of Random House (the uber-publisher, not "little Random House," a subsidiary of big Random House, as is Knopf), at the behest of Sy Newhouse, head of Conde Nast. As for my admiring Mr. Gottlieb, it's true. I do. As far as I'm concerned, he could have edited Joe Heller's "Catch-22" and gone straight to heaven....

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Originally posted by sneds

Ok...I'll step into the arena :))

Well, I tend to think that Gottlieb, like some critics is somewhat stuck in the past and far too negative. We can't stop time-Balachine has been dead for nearly two decades, and his hand-picked dancers are retiring. Face it-things are going to change (as they always have) and we can't just constantly compare today to the past. ...

So, Mr. Gottlieb, lighten up and look for the good in life. NYCB will never be the NYCB of 10 or 20 years ago, and that's good in many ways. My generation is different from yours, and thus so is the ballets. {END QUOTE}

Every young generation feels its differentness in the same way, and one can only be delighted you are having such a good time at the ballet. Nonetheless, context is always helpful, and there is no better contextualizer --in particular vis a vis NYCB--writing today than Bob Gottlieb, is there? Now excuse me, dear, but why may we not compare today with the past? Particularly Robert Gottlieb, who was there? (As far as I am concerned, he is in a kind of continual aesthetic present. ) And why must we "lighten up?" Is it not the nature of criticism to be critical? We all start out as tabula rasa, and indeed seeing freshly each night is a fine accomplishment, hard as it becomes. Yet old correspondences assert themselves. How else can it be?

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Interesting that you think that Gottlieb's article is so historically-minded, Nanatchka. I think the opposite—that he criticized current casting policy without considering that of earlier days.

I can’t comment on Gottlieb’s evaluations of particular dancers, since I haven’t seen the company enough this past season. But I do have a problem with his tone and his arguments.

The most distressing thing about his article, to me, is its prevailing tone of hysteria. I don’t think this helps anyone and may do a good deal of harm. The hostility he evinces towards Peter Martins will surprise nobody who has followed his writing in recent years; in practical effect, however, all it’s likely to do will be to alienate those in power at NYCB, the very same people whose interest might have been piqued by reasonable, thoughtful criticism. If I were professionally associated with the company, I would glance at the article and think, “Oh, Gottlieb’s raving again,” and not even read it—thereby scotching whatever hopes the author may have had of influencing company policy.

The trouble with Gottlieb’s arguments is that they treat Martins’s casting decisions as though they occur in a vacuum, and are unrelated to other considerations an artistic director has to make. Any consideration of how dancers are cast at NYCB these days would have to take the company’s history into account—that is, to compare it to the casting situation that Martins inherited from Balanchine.

Now, nobody revers Balanchine more than me. But I’m also the first to say that the decisions he made could be very, very strange, and sometimes just plain wrong. In terms of casting, the reason for some of his decisions became clear years later, but others didn’t, and some are still indefensible 19 years after his death.

For instance, the issue of older dancers. Gottlieb complains that there are too many dancers past their prime who are hogging parts that should be given to talented youngsters. This is a problem in every ballet company, and there’s no easy solution to it. Balanchine was loyal to dancers who had served him well, and never fired anyone. He let them decide when to retire. He encouraged them to do so by seldom casting them, but did make sure to cast them at least once a season so they could receive regular paychecks, and he left them their dressing rooms. It was kindly meant—I think he wanted to give them time to work out a career transition plan—but it meant that talented young dancers who were dancing much more often as soloists than as corps members were denied the promotions they deserved. When Martins took over, one of the first things he did was to promote these de facto soloists and principals and give the older dancers their walking papers. In fact, it wasn’t so long ago that Martins was being harshly criticized for pushing out older dancers in favor of younger ones. I guess you can’t win.

Favoritism/nepotism. This, too, is a problem everywhere. In NYCB history, there was the prolonged principal career of Karin von Aroldingen, a dancer whose talents were completely unsuited to Balanchines’s ballets but who was a close personal friend of his. Conversely, Balanchine was not overly fond of Violette Verdy, and did not cast her a great deal. He also had a very annoying (to me, at least) tendency to favor a few corps members at a time and give them demi-solo roles in EVERYTHING, year after year, when there were eager, talented youngsters who would have given their eyeteeth for a chance at one of their roles. Martins has abolished this practice and doles out those prized demisolo roles much more equitably. Then there was the case of Chris d’Amboise, who was pushed forward (he danced Apollo!!!) with absolutely nothing to recommend him besides his filial relationship with Jacques. He was, IMO, a much worse dancer than Nilas Martins. The NYCB followers of the time loathed him, and many of the company’s male dancers were outraged at the favoritism he received. And if Gottlieb mentions Darci Kistler as receiving special treatment by her husband, what about Tallchief, Le Clerq, Kent, and Farrell? He also complains that Carla Korbes wasn’t cast as Titania this year. I remember when I yearned to see Stephanie Saland dance her magnificent Swanilda, but Balanchine kept giving every performance of every season to Patricia McBride. The moral is: casting peculiarities will always occur in every company. As Arlene Croce once wrote, “All ballet companies are crazy, but each is crazy in its own way.”

Gottlieb compains that Charles Askegard is “hardly a danseur noble.” Wake up, Bob: he’s tall, and the company has always needed tall men. Askegard is more watchable a classicist than many of his predecessors. ABT may be “where the boys are,” but that’s because many of their male stars are primarily interested in displaying their virtuosity, a chance that NYCB’s repertory and ethos wouldn’t offer them. Not all of these paragons perform with ABT outside of the Met; they’re more interested in being international stars. As Michael says, Stiefel “got away” from City Ballet because he was one of those men. Gottlieb’s “Mr. & Mrs. Jack Spratt” crack is simply cruel, as is his attack on Margaret Tracey. According to him, she “not only undermined her talent but betrayed it” when all she seems to have done is to have given birth and been unable to return to form. Like most of what he says here, these remarks are cheap attempts to attack without a reason other than hostility towards Martins.

Developing dancers. Gottlieb is sharply critical of the casting of Jenifer Ringer in T&V because, he says, she doesn’t have the technique for it, and having been with the company for 13 years, is probably uneducable. But at the same time he reminds Martins of the way Balanchine developed Merrill Ashley’s adagio by insisting on roles like Emeralds and Swan Lake. At the time Balanchine was doing this, Ashley had been in the company for the same period of time that Ringer has now. Casting Ringer in T&V meant that other dancers would lose out, but Gottlieb’s refusal to give his enemy the slightest credit for acting in other than a dastardly way leads him to interpret this situation as hostility to Jennie Somogyi. He accuses the company of “ghettoizing” her. As what? Gottlieb is so blinded by hatred of his former colleague that all his statements become suspect; his article is not analysis but battle. The one time he praises Martins—for pushing Kowroski early in her career—he can’t let it go without whomping him at the same time (he was right, but he was reckless). It gets tiresome after a while.

When reading this article, I couldn’t help but remember Arlene Croce’s review of Martins’s Sleeping Beauty. She was confirmedly anti-Martins by this time, but her review was thoughtful and fair—and very positive. She may have been bitterly disappointed by his stewardship of the Balanchine legacy, but she was a true critic, able to give credit where it was due. If only her admirers would emulate her in that.

Finally, lest I come across as a Martins zealot, let me say that I am far from being one. My opinion of his tenure as BMiC is very mixed. I like the way he’s handled some situations and dislike others. But I think that if we’re going to have a productive dialogue on how Balanchine’s company is to develop without him, we will need to bury personal hatchets, lower the temperature, and discuss issues in a level-headed way. Criticism like Gottlieb’s makes this impossible.

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Originally posted by Ari

thereby scotching whatever hopes the author may have had of influencing company policy.

How do we know this is his motive?

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I don't think critics, at least most critics, write in the hopes of influencing company policy, but to report and analyze what's going on.

Ari made a lot of interesting points (no surprise :) ) but I remember the history a bit differently. I don't remember a slew of aging ballerinas taking up dressing room space, nor do I remember Martins being a breath of fresh air. He fired Kent, and that's it, as far as I remember it. And as for the dancers who "deserved" to be promoted, I remember several people I thought were well placed as senior soloists getting promoted, while the fresh crop of demis died on the vine. (I'm sure dancers at the time would have different comments, but I've interviewed very few dancers who didn't think he or she should have had this or that role, or who didn't have a complaint about who got promoted when, or, if they're not a principal, a dozen reasons, all to do with company politics rather than talent, why they weren't leading dancers.) I think keeping dancers on because of loyalty -- well, that's the way the world worked in his day. You didn't toss people out like kleenex when you're tired of them, or when New Director 99 takes over, the way it's done now. I admire him for that -- and he used the older dancers.

I really don't think it's fair to charge Balanchine withi "nepotism" for Tallchief, LeClerq, Farrell, et al There's a difference between falling in love with your muse, and turning Talentless Wonderova into a muse, and he certainly wasn't sentimental about keeping his wives, or interests, dancing after they'd past their expiration date. (One of the charges I do remember being raised against Balanchine was that he got rid of dancers too soon, at the tender age of 35, instead of 40 or 45, as in other companies.) While I remember several discussions about "inappropriate casting" -- Linda Yourth and Nina Fedorova come to mind (I don't mean to imply there was any musing going on, just that they got a lot of principal roles that those outside the company found inappropriate) I don't think it was pervasive. Von Aroldingen was seen by some as a bad classical dancer, but she was a character ballerina, a rare species, and some of the roles Balanchine made for her were wonderful. They suited her admirably, and enriched the repertory.

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Well, I was trying to avoid mentioning names, but . . .

When I referred to aging dancers, I didn't mean exclusively ballerinas. When Balanchine died, there was a lot of deadwood in the corps and soloist ranks: Frank Ohman, Robert Maiorano, Teena McConnell (among the soloists), Hermes Conde, Tracy Bennett (among the corps). The soloists never danced; the corps men, unfortunately, did. All of them were long past their expiration date. Martins got rid of them, except for Bennett, who got himself together, improved his dancing, and earned a reprieve—credit due to both men there. In the corps, there was a group of hardworking dancers who had been de facto soloists for years, but had been denied recognition as such (although some, perhaps all, were receiving soloist pay): Elyse Borne, Victor Castelli, Joe Duell, Peter Frame, perhaps Jock Soto, hard to remember them all. Not all of them deserved promotion, but they had substantial repertories and the company depended on them. Indeed, Martins soon encouraged E Borne to depart, but he saw to it that she had a couple of seasons as a recognized soloist first. (For those who don't know the story: Elyse Borne was a good corps dancer, with no promise of a higher calling, who was shanghaied into ballerina duties when Baryshnikov joined the company simply because she was short enough to dance with him. She was desperately overstretched in her assignments, and often looked miserable onstage, but she gamely perservered in what Balanchine wanted her to do.) Martins also promoted Stephanie Saland, who danced mainly principal roles, to principal; she once mentioned in an interview in Dance View that Lincoln Kirstein had said to her at the time, "It's long overdue, isn't it?" He may also have promoted Maria Calegari, but I don't remember and can't find my programs from the relevant period.

Alexandra, I wasn't charging Balanchine with nepotism for favoring his wives. What I was saying is that if Gottlieb wants to complain about Martins favoring Kistler, he's got to acknowledge that Balanchine indulged in the same behavior. Same thing with the Nilas/Chris d'A situation. I'm not saying that nepotism shouldn't be frowned on, just that it's not fair to launch an attack on one person without noting that it's happened before with other people, including the great Balanchine. One of the points I was trying to make is that any consideration of NYCB's casting policies has to be looked at in the context of its own history (as well as the policies of other companies).

As for criticism affecting company policy, I think that is a part of what it's for. As Michael said in an earlier post,

And I think that the expression of opinions, even consensus, that emeges on this Board and in the hallways of the theater about critical issues does matter in the long run. It almost becomes metaphysical but not only that. I think that people read it (including some in the company) and notice. Look at what happened at ABT, for an example -- after the deluge of criticism re Pied Piper, etc., we got Dream and Fille this year.

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Gottlieb's not hysterical. He's to the point. Whether one agrees with him or not is another matter, but I hear nothing strident in his tone. Regarding Margaret Tracey, for one example: He's not "attacking" her for coming back from maternity leave in less than perfect form. From what I recall of his past comments on Tracey, he's always thought of her as someone who was in over her head -- Martins handed her the McBride repertory to carry, and it was too much.

Regarding the changing of the guard at The New Yorker: My recollection is that Condé Nast bought the magazine in 1985. Shawn retired, more or less unwillingly, a couple of years later, although I read he continued to do some top secret sub rosa editing of some writers' copy. Newhouse brought Gottlieb over from Knopf and he ran the magazine from '87 to '92, when Si, desiring something different, replaced him with Tina Brown.

Iagree with Ari that critics do try to exercise what influence they may have from time to time, and often that's a good thing.

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Having just reread Mr. Gottlieb's article, I have to say from my point of view his manner is, indeed, strident and often cruel. Why is it that criticism has to descend into personal attack? I don't see the purpose in his asides, nor do I agree with them.

I do, however, agree with Ari's remarks:

...that if we’re going to have a productive dialogue on how Balanchine’s company is to develop without him, we will need to bury personal hatchets, lower the temperature, and discuss issues in a level-headed way. Criticism like Gottlieb’s makes this impossible.

It is especially Gottlieb's asides that are unfortunate.:)

The world is becoming smaller and smaller, in part, due to the Internet and I expect that, as Michael pointed out, there are many more pairs of eyes reading these pages than most might think!

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Originally posted by dirac

Gottlieb's not hysterical.  He's to the point.  Whether one agrees with him or not is another matter, but I hear nothing strident in his tone.  

I don't hear anything strident either, dirac. Nor cruel -- and Gottlieb isn't writing for a mass market daily, but a relatively small publication with a sophisticated readership that's accustomed to reading passionate criticism.

I also think the piece is also not claiming to be a history of the company, but a view of what's happening now. I don't think Gottlieb is saying that, minute by minute, ballet by ballet, everything in this or that decade was perfect -- it never is. (I remember wondering why some of the dancers Ari mentioned were still around when I started watching, too, but, then, I never saw them younger; and at least two of those dancers were, I was told, Robbins dancers. Balanchine didn't act unilaterally on hires and fires. On the other hand, I never forgave him for promoting Heather Watts :) ) He's saying this is what he thinks is happening now.

I'm still pondering what seems to be a general feeling that critics write to give advice. I disagree -- to a point. I don't think if a critic writes, "What are they doing giving that role to Kickerina when Modestina is obviously suited to the role?" s/he expects Maestro to slap himself on the forehad and say, "Of course! What was I thinking?!!!" and make the change. On the other hand, when eight out of eight critics write, say, "That new guy is not going to get away with American marketing ideas in our town. Putting three too-alike ballets on the same bill and giving them a cute name is not goiing to fly," they could be said to be sending a message that there will be a stand against a particular policy.

A personal story: an early review of mine made me very wary of writing anything that could be taken as advice. I wrote of a young modern dancer, performing in a large, converted movie theater, that he and his partner seemed rather pale onstage. (This was intended to be an observation, not a prescription.) When next I sawhim -- in a church basement about the size of 16 pews -- he had more makeup than I've ever seen on a human being. I crawled out of there, imagining that he was explaining to all the friends that went backstage -- in a manner of speaking -- saying, "Why are you wearing three bottles of green gunk on your eyelids?" that he was just taking a critic's advice :)

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Well, I don't know Alexandra, I read a lot of reviews both of ballet and other performing arts and I still think Gottlieb makes some unnecessary asides as in "teach what?" in regard to Margaret Tracey; and his comment re Yvonne Borree, "but then why is she there in the first place?" to name only two.

Perhaps, it is a matter of style? In this article Gottlieb reminds me of Clement Crisp who, although he makes me laugh at times, is even more severe with his acerbic comments.

This aside, your story about the excess make up and "green gunk" is a good one! You critics had better watch yourselves! ;)

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Originally posted by Alexandra

and Gottlieb isn't writing for a mass market daily, but a Arelatively small publication with a sophisticated readership that's accustomed to reading passionate criticism.

The New York Observer is a weekly Newspaper sold on Newstands in New York, founded by Graydon Carter (now editor of Vanity Fair) which sets up as the Enfant Terrible of the New York scene -- It's "shtick" is the flaming exposees of anything -- It's readers expect and buy it for those flaming exposees. Everything must thus be presented very black and white and the unwritten supposition underlying everything is that all things in New York invariably stem from a corrupt conspiracy somewhere or someplace and that in the Observer you will see this all exposed. I remember when they almost single handedly trashed the career of a State politician who was firing a lot of competent long-term people to give jobs to his contributor's children, until the Observer and the NY times went too far and published some rumours which turned out to be untrue.

I suspect that many of the blunter, more extreme (but snappy and witty) statements in Gottlieb's article owe their tone directly to the publication's style. If he had been making the same points in, say, his old magazine, the New Yorker, he might easily have made them more urbanely.

Alll the same -- and this is important -- The Observer is a serious publication and it's articles are seriously researched and seriously presented. They have done some very important exposees. And in fact, the underlying assumption is itself fairly sound -- many things that happen in New York are unfortunately the result of a cabal of a small group of mediocre people clanning themselves together to divi up the good things of this world amongst themselves and their mediocre friends. By dint of its very size and the astronomical sums of money involved, I can think of nowhere I've ever been where who you know and who is pulling the strings will get you more mileage than it will here. Everything is political here (perhaps everywhere else too?) and the Observer plays a greatly constructive role as an antidote to this.

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I don't think critics are supposed to mince words and tiippytoe around and say, well, gosh, she must be such a nice person but her stage presence, well, it's a bit bland. One has to use clear language to get across points -- and even reviews that, to me, are very clear are often misinterpreted -- and the shorter the space, the stronger the language.

I also think that, at its base, criticism is WRITING. It's meant to be read, not as a judgment delivered from on high, or a report from a doctor ("Bad news. it's cancer. I give you about a week," which could perhaps be better phrased) but the reaction of an individual, who, one hopes and expects, has seen more ballet than the one night he or she is reviewing, although that's not always the case these days. One may pull punches when writing about a student workshop, but it's not necessary to do so when writing about a major company.

I liked the asides. I viewed them as a way to get across an opinion using very few words, and those opinions are very consistent with Gottlieb's past writings (and, on those two particular dancers, of many others.)

This is obviously a biased view from a critic, but I think critics have a right to get angry. If I were one of the British critics who'd watched the Royal Ballet grow from six girls in a church basement to the powerhouse it was in what Croce called "the high sixties" and had to watch what has been allowed to happen to it over the past two decades, I'd be foaming at the mouth more often than Crisp, I think. When you love something, it's very painful to see it destroyed. And it doesn't help a bit that those who didn't see the company during those high periods think that everything is just fine.

Michael, I can think of at least one other place where "who you know and who is pulling the strings will get you more mileage than it will here. Everything is political here." I think it can be worse in small places, where there's no alternative and no escape -- and no Observer, because all of the newspapers have been corrupted, too. :)

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