NYC critics, then and now

In a brief interview published yesterday, the Australian Ballet’s artistic director, David McAllister said the company had been warned to expect tough reviews in New York this month.

“It was an amazing trip and the dancers loved every minute of it”, he said. “It’s a shame we got very plain critics”, he told The Herald Sun in Melbourne. (I’m not sure if ‘plain’ was a misquoted word by the reporter or not).

“What was incredible was the audience response. We had people coming up and saying, ‘this is not the usual response from New York. It’s amazing. Be really proud’.”

I’ve been trawling through archives to check on the company’s previous tours to the United States.

Among them, I discovered a piece of nostalgia that reveals how much times have changed in 13 years – a list of dance writers and editors invited to a performance on 12 October, 1999, at City Centre. This was the opening night of the New York season.

Top of the list was Anna Kisselgoff of The New York Times, followed by Clive Barnes of The New York Post, and Robert Greskovic of the Wall Street Journal. Next came Annette Grant, also at The New York Times, and Richard Philp from Dance Magazine.

Following on: Joan Acocella, New Yorker/Observer, Gia Koulas, Time Out New York, Sylviane Gold, Newsday, Deborah Jowitt and Elizabeth Zimmer, both Village Voice, Francis Mason, WQXR, Markland Taylor, Variety, Robert Johnson, Star Ledger (he’s still there), Michael Fresola, Staten Island Advance, Susan Reiter and Jennifer Krauss, both Newsday, Gwin Chin, The New York Times, Doris Hering, Dance Magazine, myself, Judith Kinberg, WNET, William Harris, freelancer, Nora Burns, Paper/Gay Cable Network, the photographer, Martha Swope and Paul Ben-Itzak from Dance Insider.

Dance Insider appears to be the only online magazine and is still edited by Ben-Itzak.

Taking into account that not all of the 20-plus names on the list were critics, it’s still a more sizable media contingent than now.

From the Australian Ballet tour of this month, I’ve counted so far only eight reviews – from The New York Times, The New York Post, The Star Ledger, the UK’s Financial Times, The Observer, The Huffington Post, a UK website, DanceTabs and a US website, Haglund’s Heel (the last one a half review as “Haglund would report on AB’s re-telling of Swan Lake except for the fact that he left at the first intermission on Sunday”.)

Apart from the few lines in the Herald Sun and a short piece in The Australian Financial Review, the Australian press has so far not reported the response. And now it’s history.

But one thing is still puzzling – the contrast between the reaction now and that of the two previous US tours, in 1999 and 1994. It can’t all be put down to new critics and a very different repertoire as in both years, Stanton Welch’s Divergence was performed and in 1999, a Bangarra Dance Company/Australian Ballet collaboration choreographed by Stephen Page was performed. Then it was Rites and this time, Warumuk.

In 1999, Anna Kisselgoff began her review in The New York Times: “Virtually a company reborn, the Australian Ballet under Ross Stretton’s leadership has come back to New York with terrific dancing, creativity and a new ensemble spirit. The troupe from Melbourne has also returned with works by Stanton Welch and Stephen Baynes, two young choreographers developed from the ranks by Maina Gielgud, the previous artistic director…

“Mr Welch’s Divergence’ proved a witty showcase on Tuesday at City Center…

“The program included a repeat of Stephen Page’s Rites, whose ritual aspect came out even more strongly than in Tuesday’s performance: a man was smeared with red (initiation or sacrifice?), and couples coupled. The allusion to Aboriginal rituals in the modern dance choreography gave a sense of authenticity”.

In 1994, Alan Kriegsman of The Washington Post put the company in “the front ranks of the global ballet scene”.

That same year, Clive Barnes said that “the company is in very good shape, the ensemble is exceptionally good. The company as a whole is obviously very well-trained in the classical discipline, and their work is aligned to the obvious great traditions of dance”.

In an interview, Barnes said of Welch’s Divergence, “choreographically, it was very interesting indeed. I suppose you could say there were too many ideas in it. But it’s better to have too many ideas than too few these days, don’t you think?”


  1. Posted June 24, 2012 at 11:01 am | Permalink

    Off the top of my head, here’s the trail.

    Anna Kisselgoff of The New York Times: Retired, followed by John Rockwell in about ’05, followed by the present critic Alastair Macaulay about two years later.

    Clive Barnes of The New York Post, RIP 2008, followed by me about 5 months later.

    Robert Greskovic of the Wall Street Journal. Still there. He did not review AB this time.

    Richard Philp from Dance Magazine – former publisher. I believe the magazine no longer publishes reviews in print; they are online.

    Joan Acocella, New Yorker – still there.

    Gia Kourlas, Time Out New York – keeps that position for feature work, reviews for the NY Times.

    Sylviane Gold, Newsday – I *think* Newsday no longer has a dance reviewer.

    Deborah Jowitt and Elizabeth Zimmer, both Village Voice – alas, both out of that position. Jowitt had a deserved reputation as the “voice of the dancer.”

    Francis Mason, WQXR – RIP. Also the publisher of Ballet Review, which was one of the first places I began. I do not think WQXR (the radio station of the NY Times) replaced him.

    Robert Johnson, Star Ledger – still there.

    Susan Reiter is still active, but no longer at Newsday.

    Doris Hering has passed away.

    I’m uncertain of the other names.

    Some of the gap has been filled by online journals, and some major print writers, Jowitt, Tobi Tobias and Mindy Aloff, have migrated online.

    I edit another online journal, Danceview TImes; someone was scheduled to cover Swan Lake and had to cancel for personal reasons.

    Timing harmed the company. As you’ve noted, there’s less space available for reviews and on that Monday at ABT, Alexei Ratmansky’s new Firebird gave its NY premiere and the company began its run of Romeo and Juliet later in the week. Larry Keigwin was also at The Joyce.

    At the Post, we ran a preview of AB by an Australian writer, I attended “Infinity” but did not intend to review, and was slated to review Swan Lake. My succession into a portion of his job (he was replaced by three writers, one theater, one opera, one dance) may account for some of the largest swings you’ve mentioned – Clive and I overlap on some things, and are way off in others.

  2. valerie
    Posted June 26, 2012 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

    Many thanks for the update Leigh

Post a Comment

Your email is never shared. Required fields are marked *


Graeme Murphy's Swan Lake, with Kevin Jackson and Madeleine Eastoe, photo © Lisa Tomasetti

Graeme Murphy’s Swan Lake, with Kevin Jackson and Madeleine Eastoe, photo © Lisa Tomasetti