Wednesday, December 22, 2010

NY TIMES Response: 'Seems a bit harsh'

The NY Times responded to our call to FIRE ALASTAIR MACAULAY by stating Macaulay wrote already wrote a column in response to his critics. The Public Editor further elaborated, "I can appreciate why, as a critic of dance, he identifies physical appearance as an intrinsic factor in his assessment of performance. That said, and as someone who does not follow ballet, I share a concern that the criticism seems a bit harsh."
We responded with:
"Thank you for the nice response. Our first concern is that his follow-up made matters much worse. I would appreciate it if you send my previous note to his editors. Our second concern is that ballet students are REALLY being affected by his nastiness. For the past decade, NYCB and other ballets have tried to recruit and cast more physically "robust" dancers, often choosing "athleticism" over "delicacy." i am friends with several parents at the School of American Ballet and they report to me that children as young as eight are overhearing this story and are afraid of becoming "fat," lest the critics "hate me." This is a real problem, particularly with children who are too young to process the more nuanced elements of Mr. Macaulay's attempt to re-articulate the aesthetics of ballet from behind his keyboard.

Indeed, Mr. Macaulay's logic is intrinsically flawed. If one looks at the VAST majority of the top dancers from 19th century through the 1960s, the originators of nearly all the great classical and neoclassical ballets, they will find a wide variety of shapes, but few thinner than Ms. Ringer or Mr. Angle today (see the links below).

If the New York City Ballet deemed both Ms. Ringer and Mr. Angle fit to be cast in leading roles, then Mr. Macaulay's critique should have been leveled at the producers of the ballet for their artistic choice, rather than the dancers for the shape of their frames. When Peter Martins makes a casting decision, it is an artistic choice. If Mr. Martin's, as heir to the Balanchine legacy, deems his dancers to be fit to perform in the most financially important show of NYCB's year, his decision must either be respected or called into question. When a film director improperly casts an overweight or unattractive actor in a leading role, the director will take the critical heat. Only rarely, will such critiques be leveled against an actor.

Finally, Mr. Macaulay has lost tremendous legitimacy as a critic over these remarks. If you will take a few moments to view the pictures below, you will see that Mr. Macaulay's history is wrong. His defense is flawed. And, his view of the ideal ballet body is likely mired in the late 1960's,1970s, 80s, and early 90s, when the waifish or gamine figures of Suzanne Farrell, Gelsey Kirkland, Allegra Kent, Kyra Nichols, Sylvie Guillem, Julie Kent, and the like, were viewed as the ideal. This view negates not only the present day, but some three centuries of ballet.

Ballets will be afraid of casting anyone whose weight is above what is commonly regarded as anorexic. Dancers, students, and their families will feel greater pressure to avoid becoming "athletic" in their appearance. And the New York Times risks losing the good will of its readers.

Please see the below photographs of some of the seminal women in dance. Even the untrained eye will be able to call into question Mr. Macaulay's truly warped view of ballet history.

(Others can be found here

We beg you to take stronger action. The legitimacy of the Times, and the future mental and physical health of thousands of dancers is, to a certain extent, in your hands


ariana sexton-hughes

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