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?”