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Alastair Macaulay to Retire from NYT

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I realize that Macaulay was not universally admired on this forum but, nonetheless, I will miss his reviews, which always conveyed his passion for the art of ballet, particularly his love of the Ashton heritage.

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1 hour ago, Dale said:

He just posted a multi-part post on IG:

https://www.instagram.com/alastair.macaulay/?hl=en

I'm happy for him as it sounds like he's got some things he wants to do but I fear they won't replace him and the coverage of dance will be diminished. 

He says in his post that he will be replaced.

"The “New York Times” will announce my successor before long. I don’t know when or who that will be - but it’s certainly my understanding that a new chief dance critic will be appointed."

I hope that doesn't change.

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There's no danger in the foreseeable future, none at all, of the Times not covering dance. It is possible that Macaulay's successor doesn't get the same title, or has to share it with someone, however.

The ongoing concern for me is the shift away from reviews toward chatty Q&As and fluffier pieces in the NYT arts pages because they get more clicks than reviews do. Not to mention more space given to giant photographs, because everyone knows that people who actually read a hard copy paper read it because they hate words and only like to look at pictures. But I digress.

 

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I nominate Marina Harss as the next Chief Dance Critic of the NYT.  She's knowledgeable about many forms of dance  as well as opera and music.  I think [but don't know] that she has also had real live experienced at the ballet barre.  Hers is a fresh voice with a slightly different perspective.

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17 hours ago, Marta said:

I nominate Marina Harss as the next Chief Dance Critic of the NYT.  She's knowledgeable about many forms of dance  as well as opera and music.  I think [but don't know] that she has also had real live experienced at the ballet barre.  Hers is a fresh voice with a slightly different perspective.

I second this! 

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On 9/21/2018 at 9:57 AM, dirac said:

The ongoing concern for me is the shift away from reviews toward chatty Q&As and fluffier pieces in the NYT arts pages because they get more clicks than reviews do.

In his latest Conversations on Dance interview, Macaulay mentioned that he didn't "like the idea of a critic being a teacher" [00:45:21]. But for me, the most memorable reviews, and writings on dance, have been the ones that did teach me about choreography or dance techniques. Obviously, the author had better have the necessary experiences and skills to be be believable, but it makes for a much more interesting article. Ferraro and Breeden know to keep their "lightning round" of fluff questions short (and they place them at the end of the conversation).

Edited by pherank

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The best critics also tell a story, sometimes a great story, sometimes a car wreck story, but at their best, they inform us of what they saw in a story telling format.  

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I enjoyed reading Macaulay's latest" "We, the Dancers". Now that he's announced his upcoming career change, he seems particularly engaged with events at NYCB:

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/28/arts/review-new-york-city-ballet-fashion-gala.html

'On Thursday night at the David H. Koch Theater, the curtain rose to show the dancers of New York City Ballet, assembled to face the audience. Then Teresa Reichlen, standing center front, delivered a speech — written by her and Adrian Danchig-Waring, another principal — that began with the words, “We the dancers of New York City Ballet.” The unlikely occasion was the company’s fall fashion gala.'

'...Ms. Reichlen’s speech made the connections between morals, beauty, technique, schooling, company, and the work of George Balanchine, City Ballet’s founding choreographer, explicit and moving. Here was the most important moral statement about this company (and perhaps any ballet troupe) since Lincoln Kirstein’s 1983 superb essay about Balanchine, “Beliefs of a Ballet Master.” It should at once take an honored place in company history and policy.'

Edited by pherank

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On 9/24/2018 at 4:29 PM, Pique Arabesque said:

I second this! 

“ This” being Marina Harss for NYTimes Chief Dance Critic. 

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Alastair Macaulay has written his farewell column as head dance critic at the NYTimes and talks about the changes he's seen during his tenure. The choreographers who bode well for the art form:

Quote

... every year of my tenure brought new marvels, many by younger choreographers. Justin Peck hadn’t even begun to choreograph in 2007; Pam Tanowitz had, but I hadn’t heard of her; Liz Gerring was likewise unknown to me until once, during a quiet week in 2010, I chose to check out her latest at the Baryshnikov Arts Center. True, Alexei Ratmansky was already a name that was spoken; but whatever we meant by it has had to be serially revised and expanded.

 

What he doesn't like and thinks holds dance back rather than informing the future:

Quote

Against that [that being regularly danced Balanchine works by national & international companies], please observe the ghastly and ever-increasing popularity of such formulaic 19th-century ballets as “Le Corsaire” and “Don Quixote.” These war horses — trashily circusy, composed to minor-league music — abound in clichés. When I discovered dance in the 1970s, they were the specialties of Soviet companies alone: They exemplified the tosh that Diaghilev had banished to the past, and which all sophisticated Western companies rightly chose to avoid. Today, however, they’re frequently danced in New York (alas, here too Ballet Theater leads the way), London and many other cities. They demean ballet.

And it is very true that those ballets are what Diaghilev was moving away from (the exception being Sleeping Princess for the well-heeled British audience).

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/28/arts/dance/alastair-macaulay-dance-farewell.html

Edited by Quiggin

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I don't think Macaulay would equate Tchaiiovsky's ballets--or all nineteenth-century classics--with Corsaire and Don Quixote. Though from what he has written elsewhere, he probably would like to see less of the full length Bayadere, as he only sees value in the Shades scene.   I happen to enjoy a great Don Quixote or even Corsaire, but can't help but agree that they have become waaay too frequently performed the world over.

But I kind of doubt anyone who takes ballet seriously--even someone who disliked all nineteenth-century classics and thought they were a waste of resources for modern companies--would describe the Sleeping Princess as "trashily circusy, composed to minor league music." And it did rather inspire Diaghilev and some of his collaborators. I guess people who find ballet itself silly -- and Tchaikovsky middle-brow -- might. 

(When Wendy Perron objected to resources ABT spent on the Ratmansky Sleeping Beauty, she did so on different grounds--something along the lines of its lack of relevance to contemporary life.)

I thought the article's plug for more ballets that eschew pointe work--invoking Justin Peck and made in the name of changing gender roles--was the most disconcerting thing in it.

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Drew:

Quote

I thought the article's plug for more ballets that eschew pointe work--invoking Justin Peck and made in the name of changing gender roles--was the most disconcerting thing in it.

It'd be awful to lose it as a choreographer's tool, as a contrasting device. Wasn't it originally invented to distinguish the quick from the dead in Giselle?

Regarding Diaghilev, Don Q, etc I find it fascinating that when Balanchine first came to the US, Kirstein promoted him as a revolutionary choreographer who would break with all the conventions, break down the procenium, apply Brechtian techniques (: his "Seven Deadly Sins").  That Balanchine's main influence was not Marius Petipa but Kaisan Goleizovsky, and that, disturbed by “the atrophy of the leftovers of the Imperial Theatre, “ Balanchine “risked expulsion” to produce his own experimetntal choreography. And that in Paris, "the choreographer struggled against the bourgeois decadence of Diaghilev's last period and still managed to create notable works."  (Making Ballet American: Modernism Before and Beyond Balanchine, Andrea Harris.)

After WWII needing State Department funds earmarked for anti-communitist groups, Kirstein re-presented Balanchine no longer as a student of Goleizovsky and the Soviet avant garde, but instead claimed that it was Petipa and Lev Ivanov who were “in this blood.” (Harris). 

But Kirstein was twice right – compare Symphony in C with the Goleizovsky/New Ballet-like Four Temperaments in 1947. So Balanchine and maybe all modern ballet dance is founded over the precipitous schism, and dialogue, between pre- and post- Russian Revolution art.

*

Has a new lead critic been announced? Roslyn Sulcas has been writting about "other cultural matters," most recently a long article on a long, quarter mile piece by Robert Rauschenberg at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/24/arts/design/rauschenberg-quarter-mile-mural-lacma.html

 

Edited by Quiggin

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Thanks for posting, Quiggin. I've enjoyed Macaulay's last few postings, including The Ambiguous Sexism of Marius Petipa, Ballet’s Towering Master
https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/21/arts/dance/marius-petipa-bicentennial.html

"The feminist Germaine Greer once argued that Shakespeare, in his comedy “The Taming of the Shrew,” gave to its tamed heroine Kate a final speech that’s “the greatest defense of Christian monogamy ever written.” We may claim the same for the heroines of Petipa’s wordless ballets. They live only for marriage and (even beyond their mate’s adultery and the grave) true love; yet they rule space, time, music and drama like monarchs. They’re the objects and the justification of Romantic chivalry at its most precariously sublime."

We may agree or disagree with Macaulay's remarks and assessments, but I give him credit for keeping the conversation lively and engaged. I never doubted that he cared about his subject. May the next "chief critic" do the same.

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Another worthwhile "class" with Macaulay. I'm glad they mentioned his Nutcracker flower dance column article:

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/23/arts/dance/the-breakdown-nutcracker-balanchine-waltz-of-the-flowers.html

I wish there were more writers doing this sort of analysis. But so far, only Macaulay seems brave enough to attempt it with any regularity. Sort of a mini version of a Nancy Goldner's Balanchine Variations essay.

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I hope he does a few more before his 6 month retainer is up...    I imagine, though, that with the Cunningham Centennial, he's going to want to weigh in on that... ?

I'd like to hear more about how Petipa & Tchaikovsky worked together... He said that it was difficult for Petipa working with Tchaikovsky, something about the complexity, but I haven't caught the details...  

 

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Posted (edited)

Amy Reusch:

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I'd like to hear more about how Petipa & Tchaikovsky worked together...

Fedor Lopukhov, whose ballets Balanchine appeared in and was influenced by, was critical of the way Petipa treated Tchaikovsky and may have been Macaulay's source. Lopukhov thought that Petipa didn't understand the full complexity and color of Tchaikovsky's music as it was played in violin/piano reductions. Lopukhov (cited out of sequence):

Quote

Petipa, like his predecessors, was of the firm opinion that the music that accompanies ballet should be dependent upon the wishes of the ballet master and that it could be endlessly chopped up. Ballet masters did not imagine that one day a composer would appear [that is, Tchaikovsky] who was not subordinate to them but would work in conjunction with them nor were they aware that the outrageous cuts they made, which deprived music of all its meaning, were quite unacceptable. In short, in the opinion of ballet masters of Petipa’s time and before, the function of music was to accompany the performance of a ballet, not to work together with it...

It was utterly improper to ask Tchaikovsky to write a new variation for Aurora in Act II, but he agreed even to that. Only when one looks at the original version does it become obvious that the first variation is far more consistent with the spirit of the act as a whole. How it mach have pained Tchaikovsky  to relinquish it! ...

I do not share the view that Petipa’s ballets to the music of Tchaikovsky are his greatest achievement. On the contrary, I find they are full of errors not to be found in his ballet to the music of Tchaikovsky's predecessors. it was only thanks to his genuine talent, by which he was intuitively guided, that he was able to stage Tchaikovsky’s ballet in ignorance of the score with completely ruining them.
 

more here in Lopukhov's writings:

https://books.google.com/books?id=50voOBEhZCsC&printsec=frontcover&dq=fyodor+lopukhov+petipa&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwi-mprog9_fAhUOlKwKHddnBFsQ6AEIKDAA#v=onepage&q=tchaikovsky&f=false

Edited by Quiggin

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And yet it was the rearranging of Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake by Drigo that made it a success... was Drigo following his own instincts, or Petipa's requests?  Tchaikovsky blamed the original ballet's failure on the music.  I wonder what he would have thought of what Swan Lake became after his death?  (I have a hunch he would have enjoyed Ivanov's work)

Thanks for the Lopukhov info...   

 Macaulay spoke at Harvard about how the music would change and yet Petipa would continue repeating the same step... and that this placed the step in a new light so to speak (my words, certainly not his)...  I was struck by this because I had always wondered if repeating a step despite a big change in the music were due to someone not remembering the original choreography... yet instances of this were recorded in the Stepanov notations, so it was not a failing in the handing down...

It feels as if so much of what we were taught as dance history in my youth has now been truned upside down...  if Petipa dictated so much of the structure of Sleeping Beauty, how could he be struggling with what he was given?  Were the leitmotifs dictating which characters could move so much so that Petipa was frustrated?

In Balanchine, Lopukhov got what he was asking for: a ballet master who studied music...  Did he ever get to see what Balanchine created in the West?

 

Edited by Amy Reusch

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On ‎1‎/‎5‎/‎2019 at 9:32 AM, pherank said:

Another worthwhile "class" with Macaulay.

Within quotes I would put rather the word "worthwile". In the matters of ballet history Macaulay remains a dilettante, he confuses his own writings with historical realities. In his recent sociological essay he tells us, for example, about Marius Petipa's images of women the following: 

Quote

You can see them in the dances he made for “Don Quixote,” …

The dances one can see in "Don Quixote" are entirely by Gorsky, not by Petipa. Ballet history basics, a telling blunder revealing how much or, rather, how little, Macaulay knows about the history of ballet.

Edited by Laurent
typo correction

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5 hours ago, Laurent said:

The dances one can see in "Don Quixote" are entirely by Gorsky, not by Petipa. Ballet history basics, a telling blunder revealing how much or, rather, how little, Macaulay knows about the history of ballet.

Forgetting about Macaulay for a moment...

It's not quite clear, but you seem to be suggesting that nothing remains of Petipa's original choreography because Gorsky replaced all the dances with his own creations.
But there's no proof of that 'fact', nor agreement, by ballet researchers as you have asserted.

I've certainly read that Gorsky inserted additional choreography and mimetic sequences (that were controversial in 1900, not now), but left Petipa's divertissements alone. Kitri’s final-act solo came entirely from Gorsky, as I understand it.

Proof of origin is very hard to come by for choreographic works created before the 20th century. It all ends up being a case of "to the extent of our knowledge", such and such probably happen this way. But as in the legal world, the introduction of new evidence reshapes our understanding. There are older threads on Ballet Alert dealing with this very issue:
https://balletalert.invisionzone.com/topic/21739-petipas-choreography-for-don-quixote/

Edited by pherank

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We cannot be certain that in the Don Quichotte we see today there is anything left of Petipa. The dances that Macaulay meant are entirely by Gorsky. 

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I imagine the Dryad scene is mainly Petipa, as for the rest I think Laurent has a point.

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