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Alastair Macaulay article in the Sunday NYT


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I agreed with some of the criticism of ABT set forth in the NY Times article. However, some of it was unnecessarily harsh. In fairness to ABT, not every performance over an 8 week season will be a particularly memorable or great one. No company in the world could accomplish that. Every Beethoven symphony is not considered great (some are merely good); every Picasso is not considered a masterpiece. Similarly, it is unrealistic and unfair to expect every ABT performance to be a brilliant masterpiece for the ages. As a basis for comparison, I attend many performances at the Met Opera each year. Not every night is an "A" night of operatic superstars. In fact, there are lots of "B" nights, but I frequently go to those "B" nights because the quality is very good, if not spectacular. Sure, I would love to be able to see world class dancers like Cojocaru, Lopatkina, Sarafanov, ..... during the MET's ABT season. Even if ABT can't or doesn not wish to hire them, I'm still happy for the opportunity to see the great dancers they do have- Corella, Vishneva, Herman Cornejo, Nina.....

As a member of the audience (a "spectator," as Suzanne Farrell once put it), don't you go to the theater expecting or at least hoping each performance you're about to see will be great? Why go otherwise? The job of the critic is to call it as he or she sees it - not to make excuses (unless they serve a larger purpose) and not, on the other hand, simply to be witty at others' expense. The broader the critic's experience and understanding, the more we can learn from reading why a performance or a season was unsatisfactory.

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I find this summation rather patronizing and vague. What I guess he is driving at is that individual dancers are good but the productions of the classics are spotty and lacking a consistent style. Therefore, it is up to the individual dancers to bring distinction to the repertory. Okay, I'll buy that.

However the dismissive and patronizing tone: "don't set your expections too high" and "would you know that from it's performances? (that ABT is America's national ballet company)" and "The company keeps showing you that, though it could be great, it has deliberately chosen to fall short." Well is that true? You would know that it is a leading ballet company because of the level of the dancing. I don't think that the corps, if not on the POB or Kirov level, is anything to be ashamed of though they vary from production to production depending on the quality of the coaching and staging. Does any company "choose to fall short"? - well they may compromise or dumb down the classics (i.e. "Sleeping Beauty" last year) - but what are these self-destructive or reductive choices?

Also, if "Le Corsaire", "La Bayadere" and "Don Quixote" are all worthless trash with very little appreciable choreographic value, then other top-level international companies share this lack of taste with ABT: the Kirov, the Bolshoi, the Paris Opera Ballet and the Royal Ballet for starters. Now you can pick apart these productions individually. The ABT "Le Corsaire" is a musical and choreographic patchwork but it is fun and colorful and a great vehicle for dancers. The Makarova production of "La Bayadere" does attempt within what was available to her in the West to stylistically streamline and complete a work that until the Kirov's reconstruction of the 1900 version was performed incomplete in Russia and has character and exotic dancing that might not go over with Western audiences and many ballet companies aren't equipped to effectively restage. A better recension might be made from the complete 1900 version and the original orchestrations used instead of the Lanchbery reorchestration and ersatz Act IV but it is a good workable staging. I can't believe you can dismiss the "Kingdom of the Shades" with one flick of the wrist. Tobi Tobias was similarly dismissive of performing these ballets complete in her articles in New York magazine in the 90's basically saying that outside of the "Kingdom of the Shades" everything else in "La Bayadere" is worthless. I don't agree - I even love the kitsch elements and the classical purity of the "Shades" is like a beautiful oasis in a wild landscape of exoticism and yes, even camp and 19th century oriental kitsch. "Don Quixote" has its share of magnificent choreography.

However, the tendency to dismiss the ballets of Minkus, Glazunov, Pugni et al. as dispensable fluff while the Petipa/Ivanov/Tchaikovsky collaborations are sacrosanct doesn't begin with Macauley. Dame Ninette di Valois was interviewed during the BBC relay of the Kirov "Raymonda" with Kolpakova in the early 80's. She decried the revival of what she felt were minor and marginal works - "Raymonda" included - and stressed that the Tchaikovsky ballets were the real jewels and everything else was paste. Well, I love costume jewelry too as well as diamonds if they are put together with taste and style.

Quote: "But this season, like every Ballet Theater season I've ever watched since I first saw the company in 1977, bequeathed another, larger but much vaguer impression: whenever Ballet Theater starts to be artistically of major value, something makes it fall short." unquote

Well, how is let's say the Royal Ballet or the Kirov or the NYCB doing better? How or why do they outperform ABT in serious artistic achievement? Why isn't ABT serious about ballet? - they present a wider repertory of classical, neoclassical and even some modern dance than almost any other company in the world. I admit that lacking a great, living choreographer creating important new works for the company as Ballet Theater did in the 1940's and 50's with Tudor and DeMille and NYCB with Balanchine and Robbins is a major demerit. But outside of let's say, Ratmansky and the Bolshoi (and not for long) or Eifman and his company (if you consider him great, I like some of his stuff) almost every other international company suffers from the same problem. Lots of great dancers, not many great choreographers and the art form in a kind of transitional, eclectic mode not knowing where to develop next.

So Macauley patronizes and dismisses these awfully ambitious but hopeless colonials for falling short of great art but manages to drop a few compliments to certain dancers. How nice of him.

BTW: Clive Barnes deeply loves ballet and has since his early youth when he might have been one of those poor students in the high balcony cheap seats in the movie "The Red Shoes". Anna Kisselgoff had a long and informed history with all the New York dance companies and the foreign ones as well. But she wasn't a partisan of one company over another, loved each company for its own qualities even as they changed over time and remained enthusiastic about "Don Quixote" or "Symphony in C" even after having seen it dozens of times. Macauley sounds terribly jaded and tired in comparison. He isn't afraid to drop his opinions and allude to a vague set of standards that he is sure aren't being met but no specific vision of what is missing.

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As a member of the audience (a "spectator," as Suzanne Farrell once put it), don't you go to the theater expecting or at least hoping each performance you're about to see will be great? Why go otherwise?

Of course I always hope that a performance will be "great", but I don't expect that every single night will be incredible. I recognize that many performances will merely be pretty good. Even if the performance is merely good, I usually feel that I have spent my time and money well to see something I enjoyed. There were only a few instances where I thought that the performance was so bad that I should have stayed home. Ballet is art, but it is also entertainment. When it achieves greatness, it is a transcendent experience. However, as a general rule I don't feel disappointed if the performance was merely "good" or merely entertaining. As nysusan said above, ABT is the only game in our town for the classics. Maybe if I could attend regular performances of the Royal, the Kirov, the Bolshoi and the Paris Opera Ballet here in NYC every year, I would view the situation differently. As things stand, though, I'm happy to have the opportunity to see ABT for 8 weeks at the MET every year- even if not every one of the performances I attend is a life altering, earth shattering performance. If Alistair McCauley thinks ABT is so mediocre, he should put his money where his mouth is by writing ABT a huge check so that Kevin can hire the top dancers from each one of the world's top companies. Let's appreciate the cultural riches we New Yorkers have in our backyard.

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Mr. Macauley is English. As I only attend a few performances (mostly at City Center) of ABT each year (as opposed to going to NYCB 2-4 times a week in season), I can't comment on his ABT piece.

I can say that he was a very well respected theatre and dance critic in London.

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Mr. Macauley is English. As I only attend a few performances (mostly at City Center) of ABT each year (as opposed to going to NYCB 2-4 times a week in season), I can't comment on his ABT piece.

I can say that he was a very well respected theatre and dance critic in London.

I love what Mr. B said about the British critics: "If you're awake it's already vulgar." :devil:

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I love what Mr. B said about the British critics: "If you're awake it's already vulgar." :huh:
Ironically, it's American dance critics now who are perceived as conservative and narrowly focused, at least by their European colleagues. Macaulay's lack of enthusiasm for some of ABT's biggest hits - Don Q and Corsaire -- is shared by an awful lot of serious European critics I've read.

On the other hand, his likes and dislikes as far as ballerinas are concered seems strangely personalized. In this article, at least, he tries to get away with stock phrases -- "efficient," "unvaryingly sweet," "a tendency to posiness", "her smile ... painfully locked in place" -- instead of thoughtful analysis.

(I realize that he was under the constraint of limited space.)

It does seem that Macaulay is expressing an ill-defined (though never explained) vision of of what constitutes "authority" in dancing and what taking ballet "seriously" actually involves.

:devil: Boy, what did poor Etudes ever do to deserve "tackily sensationalist and musically repellent"? Or what did ABT do to it?

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:thumbsup: Boy, what did poor Etudes ever do to deserve "tackily sensationalist and musically repellent"? Or what did ABT do to it?

nothing ABT did to it.

If you read his review of it, he detests the ballet. I don't think it would have mattered how well anyone danced it, he thinks the piece itself is a piece of s__t.

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I can say that he was a very well respected theatre and dance critic in London.

Speaking as a Londoner I can assure you that as a ballet critic he was actually considerd by many to be a bit of a joke, we're well rid of him.

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I have business in London so I'm there frequently. In my circles (publishing/media) Mr. Macauley was indeed very well respected as both a theatre and dance critic. That said, we all have reviewers we like, and reviewers we don't like.

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:thumbsup: Boy, what did poor Etudes ever do to deserve "tackily sensationalist and musically repellent"? Or what did ABT do to it?

Macaulay on Etudes (from NYT 6/5/08): "It’s much more enjoyable when it’s danced atrociously, the way I used to see it 30 years ago with the London Festival Ballet."

Excuse me, what? I understand that he loathes the ballet, but how could a work that is pretty much about the progression of ballet technique, a technical exercise of sorts, be more enjoyable when dance atrociously? Or perhaps I take ballet more seriously than Mr. Macaulay :blush:

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Macaulay on Etudes (from NYT 6/5/08): "It’s much more enjoyable when it’s danced atrociously, the way I used to see it 30 years ago with the London Festival Ballet."

That is an appalling slur on Festival Ballet and typical of Macaulay's twisting of the truth to sound clever. Over the years Festival Ballet made this ballet their signature work with dancers such as Galina Samsova, Andrei Prokovsky, Patrice Bart, Margot Miklosy (the fastest chaîné turns I've ever witnessed) and the incomparable John Gilpin among very many others giving superb performances in this gem of a ballet.

I'm sorry but I consider the opinions of this critic to be totally worthless.

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>>Doesn't most of this come down to liking critics who say nice things about dancers,

>>ballets and companies we like, and trashing those who ignore or write mean things

>>about the dancers, ballets and companies dear to us?

I don't mean to be arrogant by quoting my own earlier post, but I think it's still valid - especially after this last trashing of A. Macaulay. I disqualify myself from defending him personally, since I've known him for close to 30 years. I never would have guessed, though, that anyone could hold Etudes in such tender regard and so fiercely attack someone for slighting it.

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But even the divine Arlene Croce has some reservations about Lander Etudes. The following is from a danceview review by Alexander Meinertz, "Etudes & Danish Modernism."

Educated, enlightened, and spoiled by the works of George Balanchine, Americans have become accustomed to appreciate and value choreography and, indeed, the art of ballet by the standards dictated by the Balanchine repertory...Arlene Croce [notes that]:

"The ballet Etudes should have proved once and for all that classical forms have a structural coherence but are no more intrinsically dramatic than the harmonic series in music. The choreographer, Harald Lander, justly equates classroom combinations with Czerny keyboard exercises; the result is a smashing non-ballet."

Anyway, Alastair Macaulay seems to have done a great deal for updance dance in New York in the last two years, giving it an awful lot of thoughtful front page coverage. (Thankfully displacing the inevitable equestrian metaphors of his predecessor, about fillies and dancers feeling their oats and finally getting their spurs.)

Also we seem to live in a very conservative period in dance--there are few new choreographies that possess the stage on fresh ground--and AM's not a conservative.

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But even the divine Arlene Croce has some reservations about Lander Etudes. The following is from a danceview review by Alexander Meinertz, "Etudes & Danish Modernism."
Educated, enlightened, and spoiled by the works of George Balanchine, Americans have become accustomed to appreciate and value choreography and, indeed, the art of ballet by the standards dictated by the Balanchine repertory...Arlene Croce [notes that]:

"The ballet Etudes should have proved once and for all that classical forms have a structural coherence but are no more intrinsically dramatic than the harmonic series in music. The choreographer, Harald Lander, justly equates classroom combinations with Czerny keyboard exercises; the result is a smashing non-ballet."

Yes, but having reservations about a work is not the same as calling the work "ghastly," "appalling," "inane", and "twaddle."

And all that in a review only 1 paragraph long, and mentioning only a single dancer.

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[. . .] having reservations about a work is not the same as calling the work "ghastly," "appalling," "inane", and "twaddle."

And all that in a review only 1 paragraph long, and mentioning only a single dancer.

What's wrong in principle with finding a ballet, even an often programmed ballet that has lasted for decades, "ghastly," "appalling," "inane", and "twaddle"? Macaulay specifies what he dislikes about it: what he considers its

tacky, trite and often thumping orchestral arrangement of Karl Czerny’s original piano studies

as well as the fact that it

[pieces] together dissimilar chunks of the ballet lexicon into one sensationalist collage after another.

There is also what he considers perhaps its

silliest episode the one in which members of the corps de ballet, male and female, lie immobile, faces on the floor in apparent humiliation, while the three “star” dancers sail through virtuoso steps
.

And then there is the

ultra-circusy sequence when the stage blacks out except for two narrow diagonal paths of light (an X) so that dancers can come hurtling along in run-run-jump!-run-run-jump! sequences? (Will one smash into another?)
.

Agree or disagree (the ballet leaves me cold), but he's shown us the basis for his judgment, and in so doing invited readers who feel differently to examine and perhaps sharpen their own judgment. That's what I want from a critic.

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[. . .] having reservations about a work is not the same as calling the work "ghastly," "appalling," "inane", and "twaddle."

And all that in a review only 1 paragraph long, and mentioning only a single dancer.

What's wrong in principle with finding a ballet, even an often programmed ballet that has lasted for decades, "ghastly," "appalling," "inane", and "twaddle"? Macaulay specifies what he dislikes about it: what he considers its

tacky, trite and often thumping orchestral arrangement of Karl Czerny’s original piano studies

as well as the fact that it

[pieces] together dissimilar chunks of the ballet lexicon into one sensationalist collage after another.

There is also what he considers perhaps its

silliest episode the one in which members of the corps de ballet, male and female, lie immobile, faces on the floor in apparent humiliation, while the three “star” dancers sail through virtuoso steps
.

And then there is the

ultra-circusy sequence when the stage blacks out except for two narrow diagonal paths of light (an X) so that dancers can come hurtling along in run-run-jump!-run-run-jump! sequences? (Will one smash into another?)
.

Agree or disagree (the ballet leaves me cold), but he's shown us the basis for his judgment, and in so doing invited readers who feel differently to examine and perhaps sharpen their own judgment. That's what I want from a critic.

He may have said all those things, explaining his hatred of the ballet, but NOT in the review I cited. Is the reader meant to recall an earlier (?) review of the ballet by a different company (I assume, since this was his only review of ABT in the piece) to put his comments in a proper context?

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Thanks, kfw. Macaulay's a pet critic of mine because he shares my opinion (although mine's a bit more moderate) of Etudes. :)

How long can his reviews be? Unlike us, he has limited space to give his overall take on the season and single out one or two highlights and/or duds for special attention. If he went into such detail for every presentation over the eight weeks, those of us who had not yet lost interest would still be reading his season wrap-up.

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>>How long can his reviews be? Unlike us, he has limited space to give his overall take on the season and

>>single out one or two highlights and/or duds for special attention.

Exactly what a wrap-up ought to be: a *limited* review of the *entire* season (or most of it). If Alastair had spent less than 2/3 of his wrap-up talking about Sleeping Beauty which he has already reviewed in much detail a couple of times....then he could have given readers a better overall review. It's certainly unrealistic to expect every ballet and every debut, and every returning star, would be written about, in one article, but I expected better than a "so-what."

p.s. I apologize if I'm repeating myself.... I'm restless, not sleeping, after reading about Japan's earthquake. Fortunately, it was a good distance from where ABT is touring in Tokyo.

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May I second Quiggin's point about how much Alastair Macaulay has done for dance coverage (not just ballet. He's in charge of the entire section)

since his arrival? That said, it's his editor that makes the decision about front page coverage (or how much coverage), but he (the editor is a man) thinks highly enough of Mr. Macaulay (and his

staff)

to allow an abundance of dance coverage in the NYT (finally!).

Like EAW, I too disqualify myself from defending him personally (although I don't know him well at all), but I do sit right behind him at the NYCB, and we exchange pleasantries (mostly about London theatre). I can tell you that he is always totally engrossed in each in every performance. I guess that is defending him a bit, but I often disagree with parts of his reviews too. However, I always look forward to reading his pieces -- that is a compliment in my book.

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It sounds as if some members of this board would prefer a critic who, to paraphrase Arlene Croce, hands out artificial flowers all around to someone who's not afraid to express bold and sometimes challenging views. For me, bland and timid reporting is not worth reading - I want writing that aims to evoke the vivid sensations and passions of the theater.

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It sounds as if some members of this board would prefer a critic who, to paraphrase Arlene Croce, hands out artificial flowers all around to someone who's not afraid to express bold and sometimes challenging views. For me, bland and timid reporting is not worth reading - I want writing that aims to evoke the vivid sensations and passions of the theater.

:):)

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I’m just grateful that the collective artistic direction of the Royal Danish Ballet, Paris Opera Ballet, London Festival Ballet-English National Ballet, Kirov, ABT and the other companies who take on the challenge of producing Etudes don’t share Macaulay’s views. There is no doubt that he employs vitriolic bullying to try to drive audiences away from the ballet and companies that perform it. He wants desperately to be an important voice in ballet, but he’s just a loud one.

As for prefering critics who hand out artificial flowers all around, let's not forget the decades that Anna Kisselgoff spent pandering to and writing press for NYCB. More often than not, when writing a review about another company's performance she would reach far for an opening to invoke a reference to Balanchine regardless of its complete lack of connection to the performance being reviewed. The New York Times has for years had a problem filling its chief dance critic position with someone with knowledge, experience, balance, and eloquence. Or perhaps it's been their choice not to do so. But the current slash, flash and dash of Macaulay makes me embarrassed to have ever worked at the Times.

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It sounds as if some members of this board would prefer a critic who, to paraphrase Arlene Croce, hands out artificial flowers all around to someone who's not afraid to express bold and sometimes challenging views

I understand this point, and I agree with it on the whole.

My problem with Macaulay's recent writing is not that he dislikes what so many Ballet Talk people like. His "Emepror Occasionally Has No Clothes" reminders are very useful and -- based on my one small viewing of ABT's Sleeping Beauty this past season -- somewhat deserved.

I think, however, that Macaulay has a higher standard of writing -- language, analysis, use of descriptive example -- when he likes something than when he dislikes it. This IS a problem, and one I assume he is capable of correcting.

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I’m just grateful that the collective artistic direction of the Royal Danish Ballet, Paris Opera Ballet, London Festival Ballet-English National Ballet, Kirov, ABT and the other companies who take on the challenge of producing Etudes don’t share Macaulay’s views. There is no doubt that he employs vitriolic bullying to try to drive audiences away from the ballet and companies that perform it. He wants desperately to be an important voice in ballet, but he’s just a loud one.

As for prefering critics who hand out artificial flowers all around, let's not forget the decades that Anna Kisselgoff spent pandering to and writing press for NYCB. More often than not, when writing a review about another company's performance she would reach far for an opening to invoke a reference to Balanchine regardless of its complete lack of connection to the performance being reviewed. The New York Times has for years had a problem filling its chief dance critic position with someone with knowledge, experience, balance, and eloquence. Or perhaps it's been their choice not to do so. But the current slash, flash and dash of Macaulay makes me embarrassed to have ever worked at the Times.

Talk about vitriolic .....What evidence do you have that there is "no doubt" Macaulay wants to drive audiences to or away from anything...he's writing about what he sees. And I must have read a different Anna Kisselgoff from the one you did...the one I read was constantly putting Balanchine and his dancers in a little "neoclassical" cubbyhole...and boy, was she not having Suzanne Farrell in anything but the rolse Balanchine made just for her. But why does it make you so angry for someone to call Etudes a lousy ballet?

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