Opinion: Oh, Alastair…

Most of you have read about New York Times dance critic Alastair MacAulay’s inappropriate comments concerning New York City Ballet principal Jenifer Ringer in the annual “Nutcracker,” where he said Jenifer “looked as if she’d eaten one sugarplum too many.” And maybe you’ve heard about Jennifer’s delayed response on the Today Show where she said that she didn’t want an apology.

Having written about dance for over 40 years, I have learned to judge a dancer by the quality of his or her dancing and not by the body type, overweight or underweight. Bill T. Jones taught me that a long time ago when he hired Larry Goldhuber at 200 pounds plus.

So you say that is modern dance — ballet is a whole other animal. Alastair’s commentary, however, was nothing less than smarmy. Yet it wasn’t a question of Jenifer’s open admission of weight problems in the past.

I believe that  it isn’t a critic’s place to write about the limitations of a dancer’s body. Egad — no dancer is perfect and most principals have a physical fault, from stubby feet (Dame Margot Fonteyn) to broad shoulders (Darcy Kistler) that they can still turn into pure gold. If the performance is indeed affected by a perceived weight gain, it is much better for the writer to talk about the quality of the dance. The point will still be well taken.

Once you get into the topic of physical proportions, you open up a whole can of worms. I’ve even reviewed dancers, both modern and ballet, who were pregnant and sometimes I knew before they told me. I still stuck to the quality of the dance and whether they could execute the choreography. It invariably turned out that they actually had a definable glow (and sometimes even their partners — I’m thinking of Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre principal Ying Li, who performed through her fifth month with husband Jiabin Pan a few years back).

The decision of timing — when to take a leave — at Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre came from the ballerina and her doctor (and I give artistic director Terrence Orr a gold star for that).

Similarly, a ballet dancer knows when she (or he — I also disagree with the comment about Jared Angle) is at optimum dancing weight. I, for one, will still occasionally note the beauty of a dancer’s feet or a lovely arch of the back. But, on the whole, I will keep my eyes on the real prize — the ultimate impact of a performance.


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