Posted 31 December 2010 - 12:18 AM
I may not agree with myself tomorrow morning, but right now I feel it's necessary to say, as a "published critic" myself, that the audience is always being asked to forgive something that is less than ideal, and we'll go along, up to a point. But if the dancer looks wrong for the part, for WHATEVER reason, that dancer is going to have an uphill fight.
Let's turn this away from the feminine mystique for a moment, just for the sake of the argument.
Who of us can imagine Vladimir Malakhov making a success as Spartacus? Yes he's a beautiful dancer, with a fantastic technique, a poetic soul -- but HE LOOKS WRONG FOR THE PART. Nothing about the way his body looks or functions suggests the grit and stamina and heroic strength that are pre-requisites. Carlos Acosta is equipped for that role -- it does not matter that he is -- shall we say African American? His skin-color and racial features in no way disqualify him for the role, given the OTHER qualities he brings to the part.
Baryshnikov famously had to fight to get the role of Albrecht, but the poetic sensitivity and profound gifts he has and always had as an actor made the case, and even in relatively hide-bound Leningrad he made a huge success in the role.
Danilova once said that it took her several performances after a lay-off to regain her stage-presence; and we see it all the time with performers, that when they return from vacation they look out of shape and unfocussed. It would be best for a critic to skip opening night and wait till the previews were over -- but the ballet companies don't have previews, and opening night is NEWSWORTHY. DO they still have it? Is the company headed for the cellar this year? BASEBALL players have to put up with honest criticism -- and baseball players also benefit from an audience that is not so sentimental and is willing to analyze what they saw. [I have no problem with Robert johnosn's saying what he thinks about a choreographer. Frankly, I'm grateful that he cares enough to put it bluntly.]
The term "emploi" is used in ballet to define the "kind" of dancer who belongs in what kind of role. No less an artist than Carlo Blasis made it a cardinal point, that a strong, bandy-legged dancer might have great success in character roles but should NEVER be given a role in the "noble" emploi; by contrast, an astute director would never cast Audrey Hepburn as the Wicked Witch of the West, nor Margaret Hamilton as Holly Golightly -- there'd be NO CHANCE of popular success. This is not just obvious -- it is THE LAW. Kirstie Alley will never play Juliet, except maybe off-off Broadway, in a Charles Ludlum-style production.
Speaking of Margaret Hamilton, I'm surprised that no-one has mentioned that David Hallberg has the same profile that she does. He is a noble dancer of the first water, and we all forgive him his nose and his chin -- but who of us has failed to notice this flaw? It doesn't incapacitate him, since he is able -- like Lynn Seymour (whom Macaulay mentioned) by the power of his imagination to project an image so idealized, and with such power, that we only see the aspects of his performance that matters. The clips Hookham has posted on YouTube of his Albrecht with the Bolshoi are transcendently noble and beautiful, in their musicality, style, and deployment of the technique. Beautiful, beyond anything I've myself ever seen in this role, whether live or on screen. If I were writing about him for any of the papers I write for, I would criticize nothing and praise everything.... for his odd face does not matter enough to detract from the glorious rhythmic design he's created in this portrayal.
What matters is what he makes you see.
If with a dancer what you can't help seeing is how much worse they danced than last year, you have to say so -- as gently as possible, unless there's something about the performance that is flat-out offensive. In my case, I can sometimes simply bite my tongue and say nothing -- that is to say, not review the performance at all. No artist likes to be ignored, and you can sometimes express your displeasure by saying nothing. Your editor may let you do that -- but not often. You DO have to say what you think.