22 May 2007

Review the Reviewer

The New York Times, my paper of record, of choice, of metropolitan area, has a new dance critic, one Alastair Macaulay. He started in April, and has been ramping up to speed. It’s been fascinating to read his pieces, and watch as they reveal his likes, dislikes, knowledge, interests. His first review of the new City Ballet Romeo & Juliet was decidedly lukewarm, but he came round in a piece several days later in which he compared and contrasted the four principal casts. It was almost as though he’d been reached; that someone at City Ballet said “hey, that wasn’t nice, what about all these other folks?” and Macaulay responded with a much more favorable review.

Last week, American Ballet Theatre opened their spring season with a hodge-podge gala, which Macaulay started off by comparing to “pig slurry”. It went on, and in a thrill of schadenfreude I chortled on the train at phrases like: “soon trite”, “unpromising in more ways than one”, “almost, but not actually, interesting”, “a tempo so funereal that it would have put the watching Prince to sleep too”, “bland delivery”, “much labored intensity”. To his, and their, credit he did like more of what happened after intermission, and ABT’s marketing department will have some stuff to use in press kits and marketing materials: “exceptional freshness”, “a marvel”, “a heart-catching alternation of capriciousness and surrender”, “true ballerina decisiveness in her timing and phrasing”, “the corps de ballet proved poetic”, “stylishness and skill”. A lot of the review was pretty harsh, but it was balanced with some praise, and so my initial schadenfreude was tempered. [However, Macaulay’s comment about the guest appearance by star pianist Lang Lang was devastating – though he’s a dance critic, not a music critic, so you have to take it with a grain of salt: “The pianist, Lang Lang, then remained onstage to dispel whatever tender atmosphere the Chopin had established by playing an account of Liszt’s best-known Hungarian Rhapsody with a vulgarity to engender long-term Lisztophobia.” Ouch.]

The next day, Macaulay gave the single most eviscerating review that I think I have ever seen from a dance critic. Painful. Sad. Horrific. Not a single kind word in the piece. His concluding sentence?: “Not one moment here is fresh.” If I were Doug Varone, I’d want to cry. Hell, I wanted to cry and I’m not Doug Varone. If I were a choreographer, I might want to cancel my next season.

On the other hand, his reviews of both Sara Rudner (last week) and Mark Morris (today) had nothing but sheer praise - not a harsh word in either review.

It will be interesting to watch this continue to unfold. He’s certainly a more pointedly opinionated critic than the Times has had, dance-wise anyway, in quite some time. And he knows his dance history, so he can’t be written off as a know-nothing.


S said...

Ooh, he sounds like fun. Nothing like reading overwrought, almost Victorian-sounding prose.

Julie Pippert said...

cool...do you think he's a good reflection of the general perception?

niobe said...

When I read such a scathing review, I can't help wondering if the reviewer had a axe to grind. But that probably says more about me than about the reviewer.

Anonymous said...

I love reading your "New York" pieces.