Jump to content
This Site Uses Cookies. If You Want to Disable Cookies, Please See Your Browser Documentation. ×

Who's your favorite dance critic?

Recommended Posts

Seeing that many of us are somewhat concern about John Rockwell new post as chief dance critic at NY Times, and I for one would be happy if it turns out our concern was unfounded, I just was wondering of all the dance critics, present and past, the world over who is your favorite or the one you most respect.

For me it's Joan Acocella. While there are many others I totally respect and certainly love reading their opinions, Ms. Acocella is a reviewer I simply enjoy the most. Her writing is vivid, knowledgable (I always feel I'm getting a mini history lesson - which I love), and highly intelligent. Even when I find myself disagreeing with her opinions, I clearly see her point of view. She's great.

Link to comment

I agree about Joan Acocella. Her latest New Yorker article -- an appreciation of Ballets Trockadero -- is a good example. Like Denby and Croce, she has the ability to describe movement (or, the effect of movement on the viewer) in a manner that breathes and stays in the mind's eye almost as much as the actual performance. This is a rare, vivid and memorable gift.

She is not afraid to use technical language, but is in no way dependent upon it. For example: "Have you ever wondered, while watching Michel Fokine's 'Les Sylphides,' what those dainty, fingery, seeing-to-listen or seeming-to-whisper hand gestures are about?" Or, about the poet in the same ballet: ""At one point, with great eloquence, he simply stood there and rotated his wrists so that his palms faced us. 'Why am I here?' he seemed to say. 'Why are all these fairies running around, hurling themselves at me?'"

The New York Times has been a kind of paper of record for dance reviews and occasional dramatic stories about the ups and downs of companies and administrators. It has, for decades, published interesting general pieces on dancers, choreographers, etc. But memorable criticism? I wonder. Much sadder, for me, than the NY Times's declining respect for ballet is the down-sizing of serious dance writing at The New Yorker.

Link to comment

For me Arlene Croce is the alpha and the omega of dance critics. I've learned more about dance from her, how to view it, what to look for, what musicality is, than anyone else. She never talks down to her reader. She always assumes that you know as much about dance as she does. And while this isn't true in my case, just the fact that she writes that way has opened mental doors for me. I might not always get what she writes about the first time, it sometimes takes repeated readings, but when the light bulb finally goes on over my head, the feeling of enlightenment and discovery about dance I feel is priceless.

I haven't read as much Denby as I should have, but he should definately be addressed as Critic Emeritus. :D

I love to read Mary Cargill from DanceView. She writes about dance exactly the way I think about dance. Although she expresses herself much more eloquently and intelligently than I ever could.

A critic I would like to read more of is Ismene Brown from across the pond. I haven't read a lot of her stuff but what I have read has fueled my curiosity.

And I might say that I love to read dance critics in general. One of my favorite things to do is read DanceView while soaking in hot bubble bath. It's a little slice of heaven. :D

Link to comment

Now that I have moved away from, and have less physical access to, the areas where the greatest companies perform, I find that I rely more than ever on dance criticism to create and re-recreate visual memories of dances, choreography, company style, etc. And, probably even more important, to evoke the emotions which these dances -- as well as specific moments, frozen in time -- can make me feel.

A critic who has a real talent for translating visual images into words is Alastair Macaulay, drama critic for the Financial Times. Macaulay writes regularly on dance for the (London) Times Literary Supplement. This week he "reviews" 5 Ashton ballets at Covent Garden: Devil's Holiday, Wedding Bouquet, Voices of Spring, Sylvia, and Daphnis and Chloe.

Macaulay begins his piece with three exceptional paragraphs setting the historical context, going back to 1936, for the creation of Devil's Holiday. We are introduced to, and told something significant about, the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, Alexandra Danilova, Frederick Franklin -- even Henri Matisse -- as well as the strange performance history of the work, including the circumstances that brought the world premiere to New York instead of London, at the start of World War II. In just three paragraphs! With not a word wasted.

Movement is briefly but very memorably described - and closely tied to the feeling that the movement evokes. For example: "To see the male solo is to feel that Ashton is still alive... The dancer is caught up in his own lyrical emotion. The rich legato ardor of his opening ports de bras and the long phrases that follow are immediately affecting; most poetic of all is the way the dancer falls repeated to his knees, even after a double tour en l'air and grade pirouette."

Or this brief evocation of a moment from Daphnis et Chloe: "One lift in particular, as performed by Alina Cojocaru and Federico Bonelli along a diagonal, was heart-stopping. It's a cabriole lift (the two legs come together to beat in the air): as Chloe beates the cabriole, she opens her arms like a pair of wings. The gesture coincides with a high, soft string note. The lovers rush forward, as if to the music of the spheres."

I have seen that moment -- even though I did not attend this performance and, in fact, live thousands of miles away. I have experienced it in another performance of the ballet, where I confess I did not really notice it. And I have seen versions of it even in other ballets, with other scores, and actually with other steps. Now that I have read the review, I will look for it again, more knowledgeably and more appreciatively.

Link to comment

I enjoy reading Sarah Kaufman's work in the Washington Post; her recent review of the Kirov's Cinderella is an example of how she usually balances great description with history and some insight as well. I also find her feature articles very well reported and in depth - pieces that particularly stand out in my mind were the NYCB article from last year, and a piece on the Ailey company. She took the standard "advance" pieces that normally acompany a company's visit to the area - e.g. dancer profiles, or "look how great this company is that is coming!" - and instead asked all the real questions, attacking the story from every angle.

Also agree about Acocella - her reviews are great to read when they are printed in the New Yorker.

Link to comment

I thought about this old thread while reading the latest issue of DanceView, which just arrived.

One of the things I look for in dance criticism, in addition to a considered and consistent point of view, is the well-made phrase opr pragraph which seem to capture in a few words something much larger, and which has the effect of making me look at things differently in the future. For me, it is also important that this writing remain constructive at heart, and that each point is made made for its own sake or to show off, but to suggest alternative and better ways to present the ballet.

The Summer 2006 issue DanceView has several of these.

Mary Cargill (discussing Daniel Sarabia's performance of the Gopak from Boston's production ofSpring Waters:

he jumped cleanly -- the piece is full of barrel turns -- but didn't quite have the ferocious weight of this 'my thighs are bigger than yours' attitude that the old-fashioned Bolshoi dancers used to bring to their folk-inspired dances.

Michael Popkin (comparing Diana Vishneva and Paloma Herrera in the ABT Giselle):

... ballet is more than dancing. You can come back from a Giselle saying, "Wow that Giselle can really jump," or in a totally difdferent frame of mind after having seen something transcendent.

[...] At the curtain, when Herrera came downstage front, there was nothing left, no manner whatsoever to her expression or posture, I have never seen a dancer look so perfectly empty and exhausted. Literally everything had been left upon the stage.

And Popkin, again, on Alessandra Ferri's ABT perfomrance as Manon:

The role consists of ... equal parts (1) soft pas de bourees; (2) extensions into lyrical yearning arabesques as the two lovers face each other in their bedside pas [de] deux; and (3) a great deal of being stretched, tossed, yanked and pased about by Bocca as well as by the large supoprting cast of other males. It is a tall order but Ferri was up to it. No one has a more liquid pas de bourree than she does, or a more luscious and sexy extension into arabesque, and her physical plasticity also shows to greatest effect when being lifted.

And Cargill, again (on the Boston Fille Mal Gardee):

... the two Lises I saw [ ... ] did fall into the trap of seeming to think "I am in a comedy, so I must be funny," rather than "I am in a story, so I must be real," at least in the beginning.
There are other fine examples of dance writing in this issue, and these were only a few of those I though were particularly impressive.

In your own reading of ballet criticism (recently or in the past) are there any examples of phrases or descriptions that impressed you deeply?

Link to comment

“Thus does the master choreographer aggrandize the gifts and presence of a ballerina. Thus does he reveal her, sovereign in her kingdom of ballet.”

That’s from memory and I could be slightly off. That’s Croce on Suzanne Farrell in Mozartiana, and I suppose it struck me because it was unusual for Croce to strike that note.

Denby deserves pride of place, but I don’t think the body of work of any other dance critic will match the in depth reviewing and reporting that Croce did for The New Yorker in her heyday - at least not any time soon.

Thanks for reviving this thread, bart, nice idea.

Link to comment

Edwin Denby, without comparison. Joan Acocella, Leigh Witchel, and sometimes Robert Gottlieb (Observer) or Eric Taub (Ballet.co), depending on what sort of review I'm in the mood for. While I enjoy reading many other reviewers too, I do hope someday soon Leigh Witchel will be writing for the NYTimes instead of Rockwell.....

Link to comment
Apollinaire Scherr is often a fun read in Newsday... and I've been reading Robert Johnson of the Newark Star Ledger since his comment about ABT's hamster cage.
I agree about these two. There's a lot of quite decent performance reviewing in the daily papers.

But I imagine that the pressures of a deadline (what time DOES this edition go to bed tonight?) impose severe limits on the daily reviewer. Some -- John Percival lin Britain comes to mind -- seem to have direct and immediate access to thoughts, feelings, memories of every performance they've ever seen. Reading such daily reviewers is awe-inspiring.

But for most people, digesting a performance or production -- thinking about it, making connections with one's previous viewing experience and one's aesthetic preferences -- takes time.

A number of superb dance writers read Ballet Talk. I was wondering whether any of them has ever tried to cope with really short deadlines -- and how it affects their preparation for the performance and the way they respond as they watch.

Link to comment

My favorite dance critic is Laura Jacobs, who as far as I know writes only for the New Criterion, and who deserves a much larger audience. Francis Mason, no less, in his blurb for her new collection of her dance essays, "Landscape with Moving Figures: A Decade of Dance," calls her "our best dance critic."

Here she is in TNC this month on one of her favorite subjects, Veronika Part (in Ashton's "Sylvia").

Twice she danced Act Three’s Terpsichore, and twice she lifted the ballet to a higher altitude, her sissonnes so lofted, so cumulous calm, they seemed to push off from a cloud. Yes she’s tall, but so is Wiles (and so is Darcey Bussell, who danced the Royal Ballet premiere in 2004). And Part does tell the story through line. Her Swan Lake this season was symphonic—plangent lines in radial space—completely different from her fantasy Odettes of last year, more technically meticulous, architectonic, and even bigger than before, as if her wingspan arabesques were catching air and drawing her off the ground. And she does conceive a role completely. Her Terpsichore in Balanchine’s Apollo was an almost bel canto display, musically huge but tonally sensitive, full of rises and waves and rippling finishes (“Balanchine would have loved her,” said the writer Holly Brubach after Part’s brilliant Saturday matinee). Part has pull, and the most sculptural beauty of any woman dancing today. As Myrtha she was so glamorous, so aristocratic just standing there, glowing darkly of memory and regret, you could hardly look at Giselle. “She’s Empress Eugénie,” said the actor and dancer Vadim Strukov, “creating a world. Not decreeing by law but simply by her presence. She’s so much there she shuts everything and everybody out.”
Link to comment

Jacobs certainly has expanded the realm of words used to convey visual images of dance style. Very allusive. I like the extended play with cloud imagery.

Empress Eugenie -- a woman famous for glamourous surfaces but not much depth -- might not be the best analogy for the point Jacobs wants to make.

Link to comment

I'm going to state an unpopular opinion: I don't really like Laura Jacobs' articles. I always read them because they have interesting, provocative opinions, but I find her awfully long-winded, and her literary metaphors can sound very pretentious. She has fixations on certain dancers to the point where sometimes I feel like she could write a 500 page novel on the way they bourree across the stage.

Link to comment

It's interesting to note that when this thread was new and most of us were Viewing With Alarm the arrival of John Rockwell as chief dance critic of the Times, Bart was already alerting us to the sterling qualities of Alistair Macauley. Now that the Times has caught up with Bart, congratulations are in order for him and all the other prescient posters who keep Ballet Talk ahead of its time.

Link to comment
  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    • No registered users viewing this page.
  • Create New...