Don't Listen to Alastair Macaulay! Or, Rather, Do Listen to Him, But Listen To Everyone Else As Well!!!

I got so upset and angry when I read his review of Cinderella in the Times yesterday, which is rather funny for me since not too long ago, I screamed at everyone at Oberon’s Grove (a very New York City Ballet fan-centric blog) for not letting a critic be critical and obsessing over those who harp on NYCB’s artistic director, Peter Martins 🙂 And now that Macaulay’s ripping on my beloved American Ballet Theater, I know how they feel! Seriously though, obviously I stick to my guns that in a democratic system a critic can and should be critical, should never be silenced, and should offer opinions based in knowledge, education, insight, and love and passion for his/her chosen field. So, I value Macaulay’s opinions, and I respectfully disagree with him. The problem with dance criticism I feel, and the reason why fans get so upset, is that (unlike, say, film criticism or theater criticism), there aren’t enough critical voices out there offering different perspectives, leaving one person’s opinion to have HUGE repercussions, especially when that one person writes for the New York Times.

Anyway, I’ll return to my thoughts on dance criticism in a minute, but first I just want to say how much I LOVE the version of Cinderella that ABT is doing right now. (That’s dreamy David Hallberg, as Prince Charming, and fabulous Gillian Murphy, as Cinderella in that pic above, by the way). This version, a recent one by Canadian choreographer James Kudelka, sets the action in the Roaring Twenties, the women donning wavy bobs, the men suits (that means no tights, for straight men who freak out over such things — more on that subject in a later post…), replete with Art Deco sets and very fun, colorful costumes. The dance style is not classical, but rather modernist, ballet, and, set in the Jazz Age, the movements have a swingy, jazzy, hip-jutting, flirty component that’s rather fun and sexy if you ask me. In the Ball scenes, the women slink around on point, walking like they’re on a catwalk. It looks ten times cooler than it would in high heels, and makes me wanna go out and buy a pair of toe shoes, just to walk like that! No, it’s not “classical” ballet, but it’s a lot of mad crazy fun — can ballet please be fun for once? Is there a rule that says it always has to be serious and that everything ABT does has to be “classical”?? Almost everything ABT does during its Met season is classical. I’m so happy they gave us Kudelka’s Cinderella, and Lar Lubovitch’s Othello for a change. Classical ballet is sublime and it must be preserved and its beauty shown to younger audiences, but there must also be a good amount of the new for ballet to maintain a fresh focus and have a future. ABT is “America’s National Ballet Company” and it should have something for everyone, younger and older. We don’t need more (classical) Frederick Ashton, as Macaulay wants; we need more James Kudelka for the younger generation!!! Okay, enough of that rampage, back to Cinderella.

Everyone knows the basic Cinderella story, so I don’t need to repeat it, but here, Kudelka has gone all out on the humor and kept the wickedness to a minimum. Cindy’s stepmom is a nutty, silly drunk; her stepsisters consist of a bespectacled dork who nevertheless seems to smack into everything in (her poor) sight and confuse the prince with his assistants, and a would-be vixen who’s far too much of a sweetly geeky screwball to actually be seductive. Since this is a ballet, the stepmom hires a dance instructor (danced gorgeously by my wonderful — and tall — Vitali!) to teach the stepdaughters and their equally looney paid escorts to the Ball, how to dance. Of course the sisters hilariously fall all over each other and their paid men. Macaulay finds these characters all unfunny. I couldn’t disagree more. The audience was laughing hysterically and the ballerinas who danced the sisters, who took curtain call bows in character, all got tremendous rounds of applause, so I think the audience was largely with me on this.

I love the way the pointe shoes are used: in contrast to the sisters who don the shoes throughout, in the beginning Cinderella dances barefoot, echoing her life of poverty. Part of her Ball costume, as bestowed by the Fairy Godmother, consists of the beautiful toe slippers, one of which comes off during the mad midnight rush to get her back to her stepmom via her theatrical Pumpkin-mobile. (By the way, regarding all these fun props, etc., Apollinaire Scherr in her Newsday review likens Kudelka to film director Tim Burton. I LOVE that comparison! Please, Mr. McKenzie, spice things up more often at ABT; more ‘Tim Burton’!!!) Anyway, once Cindy gets home, she dances, one foot on pointe, the other flat — one foot in the land of fairy-tale, the other in that of her drab sad life. To me, it’s a perfect poetic illustration of the power of ballet to transport you to another world.

Okay, as for the dancers: Marcelo as P. Charming 🙂 🙂 🙂 Marcelo’s like a movie star who somehow ended up on a ballet stage. He’s such a great actor, and he just has this face that says it all without even trying. When the dorky myopic stepsister puts on her glasses to see she has just been flirting with the wrong man and turns around to lay all her “charms” on Marcelo’s poor Prince, all he has to do is shift his facial muscles ever so slightly to widen his eyes and it’s the perfect understated reaction. You just can’t stop laughing. He’s like a Rupert Everett or a Hugh Grant or something; he doesn’t need to do much onstage; he’s a natural. I love the fact that he dances in NY, where I can see him up close several weeks per year, and would never ever want him to leave, but I do wonder if he could make that Baryshnikovian transition from stage to screen… And Julie Kent was beautiful. She dances so well with him; they’re such a perfect match. The pas de deux, which Apollinaire’s more advanced dance vocabulary can far better describe than I, were so sweet I wanted to cry.

(Above Marcelo headshot, as with all headshots, from ABT website)

(Marcelo and Julie on ABT Cinderella poster outside the Met)

David, on the other hand, is the quintessential ballet dancer. Just one look at him and you can tell he was born to dance ballet. He’s like a throwback to the great ballet men of yore. Marcelo is the consummate ‘leading man’; David the ‘danseur noble.’

(Above pic from The Winger. Just look at David with that shoe!!!)

And Gillian is such a spectacular ballerina, and, with her warmth and glow, so perfect as the fairy-tale heroine. Julie is a perfect partner — when I think of her I think of a beautiful, dreamy pas de deux; when I think of Gillian I think of crazy fast fouettes and pirouettes — she definitely brings to life the solo bravura parts of any choreography. People say Gillian is shy in real life — I can’t believe that! She seems so outgoing onstage!

The others: Carmen Corella!

I absolutely LOVE her would-be-a sexpot-if-she-wasn’t-such-a-klutz stepsister. (She danced in the first, Marcelo / Julie cast.) I know a lot of people long to play the principal roles, but the ‘sidekick’ parts are crucial, the main roles in contrast can often be a bore. She really brings those parts to life and often makes the ballet with her crafty, unique, often hilarious interpretations of them. Kristi Boone, who played that character in the second cast, was good, but I just really think Carmen owns that role — she should dance it every night. Marian Butler was expectedly cute as the bespectacled dork sister, but Maria Riccetto surprised me with her raucous rendition as well. (I still miss Erica Cornejo, who owned that role last year before she left ABT for Boston!).

Craig Salstein!

He did this absolutely scream-out-loud pelvic gyration while Carmen’s stepsister was trying to fit her fat foot into the tiny toe shoe. It went along perfectly with the beats of the music and it was so funny I’m sorry to say I giggled all throughout the beautiful (and very serious) ending pas de deux between Cindy and the Prince, just remembering Craig.

Adrienne Schulte made my night Tuesday as the hilariously drunken stepmom. She completely commanded my attention everytime she was onstage. She is a Carmen-to-be 🙂

Above is Adrienne taking her drunken bow. Below, a couple more pics of the Tuesday night’s (David and Gillian) cast during curtain call:

Above, is Maria Riccetto as dorky bespectacled sister.

I left out a bunch of fun stuff, like the wildly bouncing pumpkin men, the ever-amusing Twenties-style world-wide search for the girl who fits the shoe, including the bumpy “car ride,” the independent-woman Amelia Earhart who could give a crap about some prince and his toe shoe, and the photographer with his blindingly flashy camera and the vanity of the new media with all its ‘poseurs.’ It’s so much fun, and is playing now through Saturday night. Don’t listen to Macaulay! Go!

Okay, if you’re not a dance-industry person or just some crazy person like me who really really really cares about dance, please stop reading now (because this next section will bore the pants off of you). Just get a ticket and go see Cinderella. Hurry, you only have a couple of days left. Go here for tix.

Now for a few stray thoughts on dance criticism: Apollinaire Scherr has a very interesting post today about her thoughts on Alastair Macaulay’s reign as the New York Times chief dance critic thus far (he replaced outgoing chief John Rockwell earlier this year; go here for Apollinaire’s earlier (and very controversial!) writings on that). As the chief dance critic of the New York Times, she believes he has the most important role of all press people in the dance world. I both agree and disagree with that. I think the Times speaks to the audience that is most likely to go to a ballet performance, and so, I think whoever has an article in that newspaper is going to have a lot of power. I think it’s we people in the dance world – the writers, the dance-makers, the administrators, the dancers, the fans — who pay attention to bylines; I think the average newspaper or magazine reader has no idea who wrote what article; they just remember the writing and opinion expressed within as “the Times article,” as in “The Times said, this,” or “The Times thought that,” about a performance.

That said, while I often disagree, yet sometimes agree, with Macaulay’s interpretation of or opinion on something, I appreciate that it’s there. BUT, I think it’s ESSENTIAL that other voices abound and are heard. Apollinaire (I’m sorry, I tend to call dancers and writers who I “know” –either personally or through their stage presence — by their first names! — it’s a sign of familiarity not disrespect, but I’ll try to remember to call people by last names!!) — anyway, Ms. Scherr made a reference to Macaulay not being that much of an “old fart” like some of his predecessors (ie: Rockwell, who I thought had some good ideas toward the end of his tenure which I’ll get to in a minute). I kind of disagree with her on that. I think some of the views he’s expressed have been that of an older generation, and, in particular, an older male generation, such as his piece on the retiring ballerinas, in which he made some kind of reference (sorry the permalink to the article has expired or I’d link to it) to ballerinas as being the most important part of ballet. As a younger woman, I, like several younger women I know, go to see the men, so that does not ring true with us. For example, it was lamented recently by one such younger woman that ABT’s 2007 calendar contained ballerinas. And, a look at some of the posts on the Winger message board, for example, replete with pics of Hallberg posing for a catalog in a dance belt, and you can see who is going to the ballet and for what reason. Anyway, I felt completely alienated from that review of Macaulay. BUT, I am also glad to have read a review with an alternate opinion from my own and, now I know why ballet is so important to an older generation, and particularly a male one. And I can use it to fight with my straight male friends who insist that no straight men ever go to the ballet unless they have homosexual tendencies (but more about that later…) Also, this Cinderella review, I felt, came from an older perspective — one that wanted all the classics back and was not open to the new.

I’m relatively new to dance, but I’ve noticed that there’s a lot of real anger and animosity and even rather crazy intense hatred in the dance world between writers / media and fans and media and administrators and dancers, sometimes even between media people. There seems to be more fighting in the dance world even than amongst lawyers 🙂

I don’t know if this is normal in the arts, but I recently attended two panel discussions that really floored me. The first was The Nothing Festival, which I blogged about earlier, and which was organized by choreographer Tere O’Connor and was supposed to deal with the creative process and the process of grant application writing. Instead, it very quickly devolved into a discussion, all choreographers both on the panel and in the audience in agreement, of how much the press basically sucks — how horrible the writers are, how they don’t know what to look for in a dance performance, how dance is totally devalued in the Times and on TV, how there are no good dance critics like (film critic) Pauline Kael, how dance criticism is awful compared to other arts criticism, etc. etc. etc. It was really actually very interesting for me as a newcomer to the dance scene, and I’m very glad I attended, and, toward the end of the four hours, we were actually beginning to get somewhere productive, but then it ended.

I then attended a panel discussion at NYCB with the main R+J dancers (Hyltin, deLuz, and R. Fairchild) right after the opening of Martins’ Romeo + Juliet. One of the first questions the moderator posed to the dancers was, “how did you deal with all of that criticism?” Mumbles of annoyance abounded in the audience. “Oh, it’s very hard; I don’t look at reviews anymore until after the run is over,” Hyltin said, a very upset tone in her voice. “One very nasty review really affected my performance one time,” she said, dejected. DeLuz, older and more experienced, was more cynical: “I gave up paying attention,” he laughed with a shrug. “They’re gonna say what they’re gonna say — they know beforehand, before they even see it.” A woman audience member then raised her hand: “Oh I just got so mad at that one critic; I just wanted to wring her neck… I just … well … I should have written in,” said, shaking her fist in the air. “Yes, you should have,” the audience practically said in unison. And just on my blog and on Philip’s blog, some of the comments we get, there’s so much anger at the dance writers.

All of that anger upsets me because, after being forced to take a break from dancing myself and now turning to blog about these dance performances that I see, I can say, of all the things I’ve done: law school, heinous bar exam, writing a novel and actually getting an agent to represent me, learning to dance as an adult — writing meaningfully, forget beautifully just meaningfully (!) about dance, about something so visual and so amazingly beautiful and so compelling, is just about the most challenging thing I’ve ever done. So, it greatly bothers me that dance people have so little respect for the incredibly difficult (and often very underpaid) work that dance writers do.

But what really confused me was why, why all the anger. I regularly attend book readings (where authors read from their work), independent film festivals (where the filmmakers are on hand to discuss their film), art openings (ditto for the artist), and I’ve never heard anyone ask, “how on earth do you deal with all the criticism?” And it’s not like criticism doesn’t abound in those fields — particularly film and book reviews. I think it’s at least partly due to the fact that there are so few writers, so few voices, which make those few existing voices incredibly important to the success of the production, or the reputation of the dancer. Scherr also criticised Macaulay for his sometimes sarcastic tone, in particular with respect to Irina Dvorovenko, and how damaging it can be to a dancer. I agree. Sarcasm in reviews is nothing new though — Gia Kourlas and Robert Gottlieb have done the same, as have Pauline Kael and, one of my overall favorite critics, Anthony Lane, whose reviews I often find to be works of art in themselves. And sarcasm is oftentimes very funny and it works well to make a point. But, I think that kind of thing just operates differently in film criticism — there must be tens of thousands of film critics all over the country. If a dance critic does the same thing, it could have a profound effect, since that one voice is often the only one that’s heard on a certain production or dancer. Tuesday night in the ladies room I overheard one woman to another: “How are you liking it?”

“Oh, I really like it?! I do!”

“I know, so do I?!”

“I can’t believe it, it got bad reviews, but it’s really actually good!”

People take these reviews very seriously.

I honestly got so upset over Macaulay’s Cinderella review, I’m embarrassed to say I nearly cried! I always get weird though at the end of the season; after all I’m not going to be able to see my favorites again for several months, and then only for a tiny three-week run at City Center. I guess I just worry that audiences aren’t going to see Cinderella because “The Times” didn’t like it, and then Kevin McKenzie’s not going to put it on again, and I really really really think that if ballet audiences are going to grow there needs to be more contemporary work performed, a combination of the classical with the modern, like McKenzie kind of did this season. I personally want to see them do more of it: more Mark Morris, and some Matthew Bourne and William Forsythe and Neuemier’s “Death in Venice,” etc., etc., but I well know I’m not going to get all that! Just some, though, would be nice, and the Kudelka is a huge start 🙂

I’m glad Macaulay’s given Gia Kourlas some good assignments (she got to write the Othello review and the Alessandra Ferri farewell review), and she kind of represents a different, younger-generation voice, so that’s good. But there’s still only one review of each thing, and so little space is given… And of course there are other papers and magazines but they often get overlooked by the general public, and then their review space is so limited too. And half the time, the reviews come at the END of the run (what was that Joan Acocella article on the two Romeo and Juliets doing in last week’s New Yorker; it’s been like 10 years since Martins’ R+J premiered now??) Dance critics and writers are hugely important, as they bring dance to the public with their insight, their vast knowledge, their poetic descriptions, their expressions of passion for their art, they create excitement for dance, they create dancer personalities with interviews and profiles. There needs to be more!

I also think sometimes dance critics are SO knowledgeable that they get bogged down in their own ken and forget who their audience is. As Scherr pointed out, in his review of Sleeping Beauty, Macaulay went on and on about the differences between McKenzie’s version of the ballet and the others, for example, the one the Royal Ballet puts on. I know it’s hard not to do this when there’s a brand new version that’s being shown and you have all these prior productions that you feel are superior, but what is the average ballet-goer supposed to do with a review like that? So, he thinks the Royal’s version is better; the Royal’s not performing in New York right now, so what am I supposed to do, buy a plane ticket and head to London, petition McKenzie to change versions for next year? Should I go see ABT or not — that’s all I want to know as a Times reader. Maybe this is completely contraditory, but I did like, however, his first couple of reviews, of the beginning of NYCB’s season and their Balanchine programs, particularly of Kyra Nichols’s performance compared to the others’. I’d blogged about it here. I thought those early reviews hinted at (and only hinted unfortunately, presumably because of space limitations) what made Kyra so great, what made Balanchine great, what perhaps could be missing from NYCB, from the other dancers, in terms of presenting Balanchine. Not that such reviews told the average reader whether or not to go to NYCB, but I guess it gave me a small sense of what to look for in Kyra, what to look for in Balanchine, how to look more closely at a Balanchine ballet and what to appreciate about it. And it got some people, for a short while, talking. So I guess good dance writing should also make people think, or compel them to look more closely, or give them a sense of what to look for, or just get people talking. His Beauty review didn’t do this, unless I don’t know the Times audience at all and everyone really does want to know which version is the best. How do you know who your audience is anyway?

Oh, and the thing I was going to say about Rockwell: I thought, “fuddy duddy” though he may have been, that he made a great suggestion toward the end of his tenure, and that was to rotate the productions during ABT’s Met season, as the opera does. I know one reason why newspapers and mags don’t give a lot of space to dance is because the runs of a certain performance are so short and a paper gets the review out and readers have about five minutes to get a ticket before the thing closes. I think getting rid of the block programming would give the media a chance to create buzz about something (through either positive or negative reviews) well before it closes. I realize this does nothing for the smaller companies who can only afford to have very short runs… It’s like dance isn’t that popular because there’s so little press and there’s so little press because dance is not popular… Ugh. Sorry for all the random, haphazardly expressed thoughts. Apollinaire just got me thinking!


  1. I saw Cinderella last year (with Murphy and Hallberg) and I was not blown away by it. I think the costumes had a lot to do with me not loving it, I’m not a fan of art deco and the dresses took away my appreciation of the dancing which was, of course, superb. I’ll chalk that up to me being a bit of a fashion snob.

    Your points on women loving the male dancers is interesting to me. My mother is always saying that she prefers the male dancers to the point that she gets bored when the women are dancing! I love both the men and the women but I get a huge thrill out of knowing that ballet is an art form that reveres women, to me, it’s a lot like the fashion industry where the female models become the big names and make the most money. Of course, there is a nasty flip side when all of the expectations are placed on one sex, especially when it is placed on women and all of the ancillary body image problems that go with it. I think ballerinas are the absolute pinnacle of female beauty and even as a straight woman, I think they are most beautiful creatures on earth with male dancers right behind them of course.

    Dance companies do have it hard when it comes to reviews. A movie or tv show is going to garner tons of reviews, so you are pretty much assured that someone will find something nice to say whereas dancing has the New York Times and not much else. I wonder if the reviews actually impact the box office or if ballet is critc proof, sort of like Michael Bay movies!

  2. Tonya, I will say…I did agree with the major gist of what Macaulay said in his review of Cinderella. Julie Kent, while the quintessential classical dancer, did not impress as Cinderella. Especially when you compare her portrayal of Cinderella to her Juliet, for example…and Macaulay clearly iterated that it was the choerography that limited her performance, not her abilities.

    Cinderalla was fun, with a modern…but I wondered, when you take away the glitter and the glitz, what is really left? I wasn’t so sure there was much substance behind the ballet. The choreography was not very smooth (imo), and the phrases seemed incomplete much of the time. The ballet dancers didn’t get much of a chance to dance that much, except for the prince…he seemed to get really great steps to dance in that ballet.

    Marcelo, on the other hand, was a fabulous prince…what a hottie in his white suit! Perhaps we should all petition that tights be rid of (I don’t really like the tights anyways; and I’m not even a homophobic straight guy) and be replaced by debaonair suits?

  3. Hi Tonya! I really enjoyed this post, especially the end thoughts about criticism. A few years back, I read a quote: “Critics and artists can never be friends,” and I have always believed that. And from seeing how my sister reacts to reviews, and other dancers, I see and understand where a lot of the hatred comes from.

    No matter how much critics claim to have nothing personal against the performers, whenever someone says something about a performers craft, its definitely going to hurt them. People who are insulted in such a public venue sometimes feel like they have to defend themselves, explain their reasons for a bad performance, reprove their abilities to their audiences. On that side, I DO see where they’re coming from. You work so hard forever and only to have one person dislike it and perhaps ruin your future performances. No one likes having that much of their future in the hands of someone they’ve never met.

    On the flip side, having written reviews, I can see the other view. The average person would never want to say potentially mean things for all the world to see and sign their names to it like they do. It’s not all easy, and it’s not done with malicious intent (though most people think that it is). I feel sorry for some of the critics, only because there’s never one that everyone likes–I mean, everyone might like them in the beginning until they read a review that they don’t agree with, which is almost inevitable. As Anne Midgette says, hate mail is an “occupational hazard” and unavoidable.

    On the critics side again (I know this is super long) performers, dancers, musicians, whatever, are not bullet proof and should not expect to be. Every performer should enter that field with the understanding that people are not going to like them, that they may fail, or have bad nights, etc.

  4. Tonya, when the Cinderella was premiered by ABT last season, it got a very favorable review from John Rockwell. I saw it and enjoyed it greatly too; don’t know if I’ll see it again, but I certainly liked it.

  5. Thanks, you guys. Thanks Larry, that makes me feel better 🙂 I’ll have to look up that Rockwell review; I think I missed it.

    Ariel, they actually get hate mail?! Wow. Yeah, I can understand both sides. As someone who dreams of someday getting her novel published, I can only imagine getting slammed by reviewers! I know I’d be so sensitive. But I also know if I want that, if I want to be a public person like that, I’ll have to toughen up. (and Sascha Radetsky and Lar Lubovitch could be the first to review me 🙂 — I’m still feeling bad about that Othello review; I now cannot say enough good things about Sascha 🙂 … ) It’s an interesting debate though, what the purpose of criticism even is, like Benita says how much effect it actually has, and who actually reads the reviews (is it only people like us, fans, and the dancers and dance-makers, or do people who don’t really know that much about ballet but are interested in finding out more actually read those reviews and take them into consideration in deciding whether or not to go and try something?)

  6. “On the flip side, having written reviews, I can see the other view. The average person would never want to say potentially mean things for all the world to see and sign their names to it like they do. ”

    Actually, I’ve found that average people are just as likely to. I’ve come across at least one blog review of one of my performances that was *cruel*. Dismissing my dancing, and implying the only consolation for having to sit through my performance was my chest. And it wasn’t anonomous, the guy signed his name to it without a care.

    But, of course, that was just a small, local non-artsy performance. But I’m sure there are people all over the place saying very harsh things about dance performances on their blogs, in emails to their friends, in person to their friends, etc. The only difference is they don’t have a newspaper to publish them. Even so, they have no qualms about making their opinions heard, even when those opinions are nasty and mean-spirited.

  7. Ugh, Natalia, that’s awful. I know, I guess it’s more that people who think and have morals and are not mean-spirited (like Ariel!) care about what they say about others. Definitely not all people — critics and regular dance-goers alike — are like that. And you know how I feel about those dance TV show message boards! (I won’t even look at what people are saying about Pasha). I also think though that critics are not taken seriously if they just say nice things all the time and that they have to be critical. I try to be critical without being mean. I guess sometimes it’s a fine line.

    Also, Jennifer, I meant to say — I know Macaulay was critical of Julie too, and I know I can’t get upset when some critic rants on a dancer I like, but I was more upset that his general attitude seemed to be “out with the new in with the old.” Men in tights is classical, and while I like men in tights, I also like them in other things as well 🙂 I just think ballet needs to attract young audiences and I was so happy that ABT took a chance and did something new out of the ordinary for them, so I was really upset that a critic — and a big one — was kind of aligning himself with an older school of thought and harping on them for it.

  8. i guess the trick is to keep what we like about the “classical” style and update it to make it appeal more to modern audiences. I feel that James Kudelka did not quite make that balance successful; it seemed more into the modern glitz than about dance, which is a big no-no in my book :). Which is the major beef I have with Peter Gelb and at the Met Opera; Gelb is discontinuing contracts with a few amazing opera singers who aren’t skinny/young/sexy.

    I’m not sure whether Cinderella really attracted the “younger” crowd though…if you mean, children, then yes… there were lots of children at Cinderella. But there were lots of children at Sleeping Beauty, and Swan Lake (I saw a mother run out because her child was crying during Julie Kent’s fouettes!).

    It’s just difficult balancing what the balletomanes love about ballet (dance, choreography), with attracting new audiences who love flashy, glittery, “modern” stuff.

    Perhaps we should ask Kevin MacKenzie for the use of dance belts for male dancers as part of the costume wardrobe for ABT? Talk about attracting a younger audience…

  9. I meant new audiences generally (who don’t seem to understand the beauty of Swan Lake, etc.) and young as in, I guess late teens through mid forties — the crowd that, according to general stats, ballet does not seem to be attracting. I didn’t mean to say I only liked the glitz and flashiness of Cinderella; I meant to say I was really drawn to the choreography as well. Sorry, I just don’t know how to talk about dance very well yet (one reason I keep focusing on everyone’s acting!) — I know what I like visually in the movement but am not good at describing it; I’m trying to learn though! I liked the style of walking on pointe in sexy, hip-jutting, swingy, jazzy ways, the combo of swing-y and waltzy dance steps in the Ball scenes with more traditional ballet, the sisters’ silly fast kicks while they’re taunting Cinderella and their “bad” but funny partnering mishaps. One writer I really admire emailed me saying she thought some of the ballerinas looked like they were on stilts, which I thought was an interesting and apt way to describe it, and which I actually liked! (but she didn’t). I just like the uniqueness of the movement (unique to me anyway). And also how he chose to set it in a certain period and really went all out on that down to the last detail.

    Young children going to ballet is another interesting issue. I saw a lot of parents with their very little kids, and I love the fact that people are introducing their little ones to ballet (because I think, maybe, subconsciously, that might be one thing that brought me back to ballet later in adulthood), but most of them seemed to get very restless during most of the ballets. From the matinees I attended, I thought Gillian’s Sleeping Beauty seemed to hold their attention spans the longest of all the ballets, but still there was still a lot of seat-kicking and “mommy, when can we go?’s” going on! I’m sure I did the same thing when I was younger (and totally embarrassed my mom!), and yet now, I’m so thankful for her “forcing” me to go back then 🙂

  10. Hi Tonya!

    I’ve been a lurker here for about a month now. I think I was sitting a few rows behind you at the Irina/Max (Veronika/Marcelo cancellation) Swan Lake but didn’t have the gumption to say hi to you in person! Maybe next time.

    I admit, the reviews that I’ve read about Cinderella have kept me from seeing it. Even though I disagree with Macauley’s opinion on certain dancers and his style of writing irks me now and then, I am somewhat of the same school of thought as he is. I am also a “classicist” or “purist,” and the idea of Kudelka’s Cinderella makes my head spin. I’ve seen Othello and despise it. Just because the dancers are in point shoes doesn’t make it ballet.

    I don’t see why ballet companies need works that are essentially modern to attract younger generations. Isn’t that basically the antithesis of what ballet is trying to accomplish? Younger audience members won’t be capable of recognizing what ballet is anymore. I’m not even sure they do now.

    Sometimes I wish the classics would just be left alone. There’s nothing wrong with a stager of a classic to create a personal touch on the work, but to completely redo and update the classic to fit modern sensibilities is desecrating the integrity of the work. I lament that there doesn’t seem to be a single unadulterated version of Swan Lake currently being performed by a major company. For new ballets, I wish more choreographers would choose to explore the ballet vocabulary more often (without it being merely “classroom steps”) rather than ballet companies turning to modern choreographers for works.

    I would love to see ABT perform Ashton’s Cinderella, which is my favorite version. Older works don’t have to be considered more boring or stodgy by younger audiences (I might be an anomaly in my taste, but I’m only 20 years old). Why can’t we be programmed to love and appreciate ballet as it is?

  11. I have to say that while I think I probably agree with at least 90% of what Macaulay’s written since becoming chief dance critic for the Times, I really dislike the mean, sarcastic tone that’s been creeping into his reviews. I think his position does automatically confer a greater importance to his reviews than those of other critics. He brings a wealth of experience, a wonderful aptitude for personalizing what he sees and making it sound interesting. I’m always very interested in what he has to say but I think the way he is choosing to say it is very unfortunate.

    I’m sorry Tonya, but Cinderella bored me to tears. I’m all for new productions of ballets (which I prefer to “modernizing” classical ballets) but there was so little dancing that I found interesting here. I think this production is good for kids & family type entertainment – I’d love to see them take it on the road around Christmas or present it on a string of Sunday matinees, but for grown up dance fans – no thanks. I do agree that it was nice to see the men dancing in suits and, in fact I really liked the sets and costumes but I can only think of 10 -15 minutes of dancing that I enjoyed, or that drew me into the story.

  12. Thanks for commenting, Elizabeth — that’s funny you were sitting near me, you should’ve said hi! That’s very funny that you recognized me in the audience! 🙂

    I wasn’t saying to get rid of the old, just that I liked that they were presenting a combination of old and new, like in Europe, where ballet seems to enjoy a much bigger audience. Then again, in Europe there seems to be a greater appreciation for the arts in general, which is a whole other issue…

    Thanks again for commenting (it’s good to know who your readers are! — especially for me since I can’t always tell if they are ballroom people or ballet people are “crossovers”!) I personally think you should still see Kudelka, just to make your up your own mind and not rely on Macaulay’s 🙂 (And, as Larry said, last year’s critic, Rockwell, did like it). Though if you’re a purist, you probably won’t like it! Still, it might surprise you…

    Susan, I know how you feel about the Kudelka, hahaha 🙂

  13. Hi Tonya,

    I have not seen this production, but I did read the Times review. Without seeing the production, I don’t have a comment for how out of line Macaulay’s assessment was.

    Gottlieb recently wrote a scathing review of NYCB, which was both a compliment to some and a slap in the face to others, so this type of critique is not unusual:

    I would definately count myself as a critical person – especially when it comes to orchestral performances. I know how much certain performers make and I know how much my ticket cost – and if I attend a sub-par performance, I let it rip. I don’t even attend NY Phil performances when I know Principal Clarinetist Stanley Drucker will be playing the entire concert (or even a major concerto). Those are my standards as a patron. If I were a writer, and had the opportunity to publicly say, “Retire – you can no longer play in tune” I would. The sad fact is, I don’t believe most patrons have a clue what a sorry state of affairs NY Phil is in – between some need-the-boot-but-good orchestra members to the current music director (yawn city).

    And that is where the critic steps in – to educate, to illuminate, to give the reader a different point of reference to a performance, and to promote a thought process beyond an immediate gut reaction to a performance. However, it is my opinion that reading a review is only beneficial to the audience when they already have their own opinions of an art form. Otherwise, there is the strong possibility the reader will take on that critics point of view without developing their own.

    Are there some critics who have a chip on their shoulder? – definately. Then there are those critics who blow smoke up the performers ass or have no clue about art and essentially lie to the public. Finally, there are the critics who really care about art and use their talent to promote great art. As a reader, it is up to us to weed out who we respect, who we concur with and then understand that we will never 100% agree with those critics we like.

    I completely respect critics who are honest and want to warn the audience before we spend our hard earned money on crap. Now, what is crap to one person may not be crap to another – again, subjectivity plays a role and the reader must be educated enough to make up their own mind.

  14. grffin,

    A few of my favorite clarinetists are Ricardo Morales from Philadelphia or Jon Manasse, the principal clarinetist for the ABT orchestra and Mostly Mozart Orch…although Stanley Drucker is a legend, unfortunately, he may be past his prime…(I didn’t think he was even still there at NY Phil)

    ok! back to ballet 🙂

    you also have to think…to be a critic, you can’t review everything positively (to support the “arts” and attract audiences), their ultimate goal is not to be a marketing tool. If a dance critic reviewed everything favorably, the critic would not have credibility and no one would really take their recommendations seriously.

  15. I just got back from Saratoga Springs, where I saw two programs (Raymonda/Apollo/Stars & Stripes and a dress rehearsal of R & J – for my comments on them, check out Philip’s blog under Midsummer Magic at Saratoga) and so I have just discovered your Macauley/dance critics piece. I have to say first that I really enjoyed your comments – even if one does not agree 100% with everything you say, the points you make are stimulating, thought-provoking and from my perspective at least, generally valid. But I did have to smile at how upset you were by Macauley’s review of Cinderella, especially after (as you yourself admitted) you came down so hard on me (and others) for reacting so strongly to certain dance critics’ rather negative comments on Peter Martins and NYCB. But hey, that’s one of the things that makes your blog a must-read!

  16. Tonya: Congratulations. Thank you for sending this to me…it was great!!! I thoroughly enjoyed reading everyone’s comments. Great work.

  17. I miss Erica Cornejo too!

    And Craig is a STAR. He can DO NO WRONG. 🙂

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