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Alexandra

NYCB's casting crisis

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Michael and Alexandra, thanks for the background info on The Observer and the glimpse into the "underworld" of conspiracy theories ;).

I suppose I just need to put aside my Emily Post when I'm reading these things. :)

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The writer's proper relationship is with the reader. (All kinds of things come into play in the seduction required to hold the reader. Wait! Don't scroll down. I'l be witty, I'll engage in conversational asides that will seem as if I am whispering in your ear...)(And what I am whispering is that the writer's first reader, the one who's really enchanted and charmed by every word, is the writer himself. Or herself, as the case might be.) As Bob Gottlieb's reader--and I get the Observer to read Mr. Gottlieb--I get to, in essence, have a little relationship with him whenever he publishes. I find it extremely satisfactory. If he has to break a few hearts on his way to my door, so be it. Faint heart never won fair reader.

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The Observer has never been my "end all" newspaper, after all they were the ones that carried "Sex & The City" for years, but aside from my relationship with the paper, the writer, the ballet company, Gottlieb's article struck a chord with me and obviously most others here and to me, that is sometimes the role of the critic. To bring attention to things you might not be aware of and then it's up to you the viewer to decide.

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Originally posted by Calliope

that is sometimes the role of the critic.  To bring attention to things you might not be aware of and then it's up to you the viewer to decide.

Thank you for that, Calliope. I hadn't thought of it that way, but I agree. If there's any point to criticism (besides the main one, to me, which is of recording an event for history, acknowledging that it happened, and giving some flavor of what you thought of it) it is that.

This thread has gotten more into criticism than any "casting crisis" at NYCB, but I'd like one more slightly OT word on that. BW, I don't think you're at all alone in disliking harsh criticism. I think this, like all things, is a matter of sensibilities. Some people ONLY like "mean reviews" and some would prefer that only, or mostly, pleasant things be said.

There's a piece (with permission!) on the main site by Joan Acocella called "What's Good About Bad Reviews" which gives one critic's view of things and which might be interesting to readers. Here's the link to that --

http://www.balletalert.com/reviews/acocella1.htm

There's a companion piece "What Critics Do" that also may be of interest.

Sorry for the diversion :)

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Two very interesting and well written articles - many thanks for the link.:) It would be interesting to read people's reactions to them, but perhaps this is not the place. She makes some great points, and explains her perspective well.

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When I read Robert Gottlieb's article, the two comments to which BW took great umbrage -- about Tracey ("Teach what?") and Borree ("Why is she there?") -- are the very ones about which I said to myself, "Yes, yes." Maybe the comments were indeed terse. However, if you agree with the comments, I think the right word is "succinct" (i.e., they just pinpointed with total accuracy one's view of those dancers). BW uses the word "cruel" (perhaps he likes those dancers?), but I would use the word "realistic" (because I don't care for those dancers). It's like preferring chocolate or vanilla: individual tastes. But I'm sorry that BW was offended (as I enjoy his many interesting posts).

Just my two cents. . . .

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Bobbi - I did enjoy Margaret Tracey at times but my husband is the one who is truly enamored of her!:) And as for Ms. Borree, I have seen her perform and truly did enjoy watching her. I appreciate your compliments :)...and suppose that I just need to toughen up my psyche a bit on behalf of whichever dancer who is falling under the mighty pen at the moment I'm reading!;)

I understand we all have our tastes in things whether they be ice cream, men, women, pets, vacations, literature, etc. One of the worst thing for me it to absolutely love something - say a book like Helprin's A Winter's Tale and then to lend it to someone I'm really fond of, and find they hate it! :)

At this stage of the game, I should know better! Guess I'm the sensitive type, however, again, I did find the link to Joan Acocella's pieces to be quite quite helpful in my "recovery". :)

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BW, how very sexist of me to use only the male pronoun in referring to you. My profound apologies. As a woman, I should know better!!

I'm very glad that your husband (and you too) enjoyed Tracey's performances; I really can understand why she had many, many fans, just not me. What upset me about her dancing -- and why I so agree with Robert Gottlieb's comment -- was that, although Tracey was a beautiful woman and was a good technician, her dancing -- to my ears -- had absolutely no relationship to the music. So when Gottlieb said "Teach what," I understood him to mean that Tracey has nothing to offer about the art of phrasing. After more than thirty years of going to NYCB, I have absorbed Balanchine's dictum (hear the dance, see the music). With Tracey, I felt deprived indeed.

And, yes, I too have very much enjoyed Yvonne Borree in Duo Concertant. However, as Ms. Borree herself said in a profile appearing in one of NYCB's recent progams, she admits to not being a technician. So Gottlieb's comment (why is she there), just hit home for me. One gets a little upset at "white knuckle" (will she get through it?) performances from a NYCB principal dancer.

But, BW, I'm going to get a copy from the library of the book you liked!!

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No problem, Bobbi re the use of the pronoun "he"! :) ;) How would you know, unless your frequented the Mom's and Dad's section on here?

However, I do want to say that your explanations about your views of Ms. Tracey and Ms. Borree mean a great deal more to me than those of Mr. Gottliebs - perhaps, this is because I am not an afficianado of ballet technique - though I am learning! I think I'm going to ask Leigh Witchel to arrange a 4th ring society seminar and those of us who don't have the technical background can then be given a crash course by fire!;) But, seriously, I do appreciate your taking the time to expound upon the "why's" of your feelings about the specific dancers mentioned in Gottlieb's piece.

I know that this has now really derailed this thread from it's initial "casting crisis" theme, and I apologize, but :) I do think that understanding "criticism" and being able to express oneself when one takes exception only furthers the understanding and appreciation of the dance.

Now, back to the "crisis"....which I hope is not as bad as most people seem to think it is.

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Another fusillade from Robert Gottlieb in the Observer:

http://www.observer.com/pages/dance.asp

I don't have much to say about this piece, which is more of the same (although Gottlieb does sound increasingly hot under the collar), except to say that I doubt that the Times was "undercutting" Kisselgoff by printing the piece by Homans in the Sunday edition. The Times goes out of its way to use writers other than the regular daily critics on Sunday, precisely in order to avoid the "amen chorus" effect.

Has Gottlieb read Homans' other pieces? Doesn't sound like it. I'm not so sure he'd be quite as eager to enlist her in the Cause if he had.

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in agreement with kaydenmark, i too wonder if we will have to wait until martins' retirment to see some of the elder (if thats the proper word) of the dancers leaving. darci is what, mid-late 30s now? and from what ive read, heard, nd seen the past few years she is not exactly a spring chicken. in reference to the young corps- having grown up with most of them, there were few that really stood out as exeptional talents. of course there are the bouders in there... but it upsets me to see such lovely girls standing in the back and starving themselves. case in point- a young girl, about 2 years older than myself... who ive known since i was 10, joined city ballet like 2 years ago, and has now disapeared... left the company and apparently has quit. its such a shame to see such a waste of talent. now that im away from the whole SAB aura, i realize life does not revolve around being in city ballet. and i wish it was that wasy for some of the girls in the corps. LEAVE!!! go to san francisco, pnb, miami, and be a soloist!! and another thing i may be biased but margaret tracey is one of few with personality thankyouverymuch

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From the vantage point of someone in his mid-to-late 30s ;) I think that one of Martins' administrative strengths is that he has treated older dancers fairly. New dancers do need to be groomed, but I don't think we need to hand Kistler, Nichols, Boal, Soto and Woetzel pink slips to do it. I doubt Kistler's infrequent appearances are depriving a younger dancer of her rightful place in the spotlight, and the performances of these dancers might even help teach about stagecraft by example.

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Just read the new Gottlieb piece - it's like being seated at a dinner party next to a boring, rancorous drunk.

He's got some good points, particularly about the handing down of parts, but by the end it's hard to listen to anything he's saying in that monotonous whine.

Having worked as a critic myself, I know that complaints have a lot more impact when you mix them up with a few compliments here and there. This piece is just unpleasant.

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On this business of Borree's not being a technician, if she's not a technician, how is it that she is one of the few people who can actually do Square Dance which, I am reliably informed, is one of Balanchines's toughest ballets?

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I'd debate Borree's being able to "do" Square Dance. One of my pet peeves with Borree is she doesn't seem to have an ability to emote, if you were to only look at her face, it looks the same in every ballet.

One of the things I love about Square Dance is the confectious joy, for me Borree doesn't show that.

She's not a bad dancer, she does the steps, but that's about all, a perfect example of a dancer badly in need of coaching.

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Well, I'd even debate Borree's ability to do the steps of Square Dance... The first two times I saw her do the ballet, she didn't make it through some of the turning sequences. After that, I sat out the ballet...

Anyway, after re-reading the pieces, all I can think is that it's a shame his tone has to be so extreme. I agree with many things he says, but am totally turned off b/c of his way of presenting his ideas. I agree with KayDenmark-- it would be harder for some to dismiss his piece if his ideas were presented in a more reasonable manner. But, in all, I still think this piece is no where near the travesty (sp?) that the Homans NY Times piece was. I wrote my one and only letter to editors after reading that piece.

And, I agree with Leigh about Martins' treatment of the older dancers and the benefits of keeping them around. It is the use of less adequate dancers in major roles that is keeping some younger dancers from their places in the spotlight....

-amanda

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Amanda, I agree completely about Borree's inability to manage the steps in Square Dance. not only the turns... the petit allegro in general is either anemic or simply absent. You probably all know that Patricia Wilde, on whom the role was made, was one of the spectacular dancers of her period; there is a Bell Telephone Hour or some such thing from 1963 which has her performance of this role. to say it is revelatory is an understatement. of NYCB ballerinas I have seen in the role, only Ashley and Nichols (both dazzling technicians themselves) came close to doing all of Wilde's original steps. The role is unfortunately one of those which is usually dumbed down and simplified out of existence, alas-- Wilde's footwork is of a caliber rare even at NYCB, and not appearing in this ballet currently. Why don't they cast Bouder, Somogyi, or Taylor in it? :-)

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Welcome, tempusfugit -- and thank you for jumping right in :) We love "fanatics" here -- hope to be reading more of you :)

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Rereading this thread, I've given some thought to why I might agree with many of Gottlieb's observations and so few of his conclusions. For instance, although I love Jenny Ringer, I agree that she is somewhat underpowered in some Balanchine ballets. Do I think she was poorly cast in Who Cares, or would I prefer to see someone else in that role? Absolutely not! However, I did think Somogyi was the star the night I saw that performance.

I think the difference is simply I want to see Martins succeed and Gottlieb doesn't. And by that, I don't mean that Gottlieb wants to see the company fail. I don't know either of these men, but I would assume that anyone who had such a close association with the company would want to see it succeed as an institution. But I think anyone with such personal enmity toward Martins would want to see him have his comeuppance. (I'd certainly feel that way in his position.) And that colors all of his conclusions. Thus, you can "see" what he sees but still violently disagree with him.

Where I see Martin's long-term support of Whelan -- despite criticism that she was unsuited to certain roles -- as a triumph for both of them, he sees a fluke driven solely by Whelan's personal dedication. (Her dedication is unquestioned.) When I see a fabulous but young ballerina like Kowroski still growing and adjusting to the repertory, he sees an enigma that isn't being mentored properly.

If you don't see NYCB regularly but read these reviews and comments, you might think of NYCB as a company in trouble. That is so sad. Indeed, it is simply a company held to standard like no other. Those of us in the New York area, of course, are used to this from local critics. We see it all the time -- particularly toward our sports teams. (Half the time, even the Yankees are treated like bums.)

The only comments by Gottlieb that truly got my goat -- other than the over-the-top asides such as "teach what?" -- was his suggestion that Darci Kistler owes her position in the company to nepotism. I've often shuddered to think what the Martins' bashers would have done to Darci if she was not the supreme dancer that she is and has been for the past 20 years. Well, now we know.

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I think his point with Kowroski is that she's being given a rep that she hasn't grown into, simply because she's a principal. She gets new things that she can do, but doing it doesn't necessarily mean it's being done correctly. I like Kowroski, she's one of my favorites, but she goes out and does Swan Lake and it looks the same as her Nutcracker, Agon, etc.... Teaching steps isn't enough anymore.

As for Kistler, I liked her up until about 5 years ago. She has moments for me that are nice, but the rest of the time I wonder why she's out there. She's the last Balanchine ballerina though and b/c of that (and it doesn't hurt she's married to Martins) she's still out there, I get the feeling people are applauding her career.

On Borree, I was trying to be nice! jeez, you guys have no mercy, that's why I love you all :)

And as for Martins succeeding, I don't think of it in terms of who the director is, I could care less about Martins, I care more for the company and the rep than I even do about the dancers to an extent. They'll all come and go, but the legacy that's handed off to them is what scares me. Even in the past 20 years the amount of stuff that's been "lost" is frightening. I don't want to go see NYCB in another 20 and only see the 20 Balanchine works, 20 Robbins works and a bunch of other "stuff".

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I'm a subscriber to The New York Observer and can report that the second Robert Gottlieb piece is accompanied by a photograph of Peter Martins which makes him look like a serial killer in a dinner jacket.

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A reader sent a letter to the editor, which basically agreed with Gottlieb and compared watching NYCB to "watching paint dry and crack off the walls". No link that I could find for the page.

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