In the short span of a week, the New York Times has published two more diatribes maligning the retired head of New York City Ballet, Peter Martins. This, of course, is, always has been, and will be eternally at the urging of Alastair Macaulay, the Times’ dance critic whose career includes being arrested and jailed for stalking and photographing children on a beach in England. The police were so disturbed by his stalking behavior that after his arrest they searched his hotel room, confiscated his computer, and alerted the London police to search his home there. Macaulay's sensual description of children in his reviews in which he focuses on their bodies have caused outrage among readers who recognize Macaulay’s paedophilic tendency even though The New York Times has ignored them and has decided that Macaulay’s run-in with the law over taking liberties with children wasn’t flagrant enough to avoid keeping him for an unimportant post like dance writer. At the top of today’s news is another instance in which the New York Times failed to perform simple due diligence before hiring an opinion writer who very publicly slurred gays and supported neo-Nazis. But Quinn Norton and Alastair Macaulay are not wholly unalike. Both have no shame for their sordid behavior. Both publicly push it to the forefront in an effort to normalize it and make it look innocent.
This past week, NYT tried to manipulate a stage moment in Romeo + Juliet during which Juliet's father fake-slaps her into Exhibit A of its prosecution against Martins. When Alastair Macaulay reviewed the premiere of this ballet in 2007, he uttered a single sentence about it in his long, windy, overly-detailed review. But a stage incident that was barely important enough to mention some 15 years after the Martins/Kistler Page Six coverage of their domestic dispute, has after an additional 10 years become fodder for the NYT in its screeching hyperbolic coverage of anyone it can find who will claim they are a victim of abuse. It's all about getting the clicks.
Macaulay has never complained about how Juliet’s father roughly pushes her to the floor in MacMillan’s version of the ballet. He also seems at peace with ABT allowing a male dancer to rough up Misty Copeland’s tits on stage in front of 2,000 people as was done in choreography by MacMillan-wannabe Liam Scarlett. That last particular tolerance is racially-based and has to do with the NYT’s presumption that crime and violence against women of color is so deeply ingrained in the culture by way of the current much loved hip-hop music genre, that it apparently should be given a pass by critics. Even though the NYT condemns Martins as unacceptably abusive in response to wholly unproven charges and allowed its dance writer to call for his resignation, the paper characterizes rape, murder, witness tampering, and assault of a pregnant woman by black hip-hop celebrities as simply “troubling back stories” that haven’t prevented the public from adoring these entertainers. Where’s the outrage? From anyone? Certainly there is enough dance in hip-hop acts and videos to justify a dance critic weighing in on the violence.
In his latest piece of hollow complaining, Macaulay tries to magnify that over the years former NYCB stars such as Patricia McBride haven’t been invited by Peter Martins to come in to set Balanchine ballets as they remember dancing them — as opposed to how Martins’ remembered them, which he wants everyone to think is inferior. All the critic's screeching and whining makes it sound like McBride, Farrell and others are the last vials of flu vaccine left on earth. Get a grip on it! Did anyone at NYT ever complain that Baryshnikov wasn’t invited back to ABT to share his genius in Other Dances or Push Comes to Shove or any of the other Balanchine ballets which the choreographer personally taught him such as Prodigal Son? No. Did anyone ever complain that ABT didn’t invite Sallie Wilson to set the important works that she danced? No. Did anyone ever complain that ABT didn’t invite Gelsey Kirkland to help with Leaves Are Fading or Theme and Variations - both of which were her star vehicles? No. Did anyone ever complain that ABT could only muster up a former muse to set Apollo even though plenty of Balanchine-made Apollos were still alive? No. Did anyone ever complain about ABT having its Allegro Brilliante set on the company by a former NYCB corps dancer who never danced the leading role? No.
Macaulay doth protest too much, me thinks — when it comes to Martins, when it comes to fake violence on stage in this R+J, and especially when it comes to his own troubling back story. But his hypocritical self-righteous fervor will likely blaze anew in his next review of NYCB’s winter season presentation of Martins’ Romeo + Juliet. The production is, as we have known since its premiere in 2007, not up to NYCB standards and takes the company in a theatrical direction unsupported by its tradition or training of its artists.
After seeing R+J in its premiere year, Haglund vowed never to go back. But this year, he got sucked in by the debut casting of Harrison Coll as Romeo. No matter how bad the ballet, this was not to be missed. Coll is one of several NYCB artists in whom the audience has invested since the kids’ elementary age days at SAB — which really wasn’t so long ago. Coll is still a corps member in his early 20s, and his youthfulness served him well in his debut as Romeo last night. All went smoothly, if a bit studied. He and his Juliet, Sterling Hyltin, experienced no major glitches in the overly-complex partnering. He was at times puppy-ish toward Juliet who – ahem – was ready to get a puppy. Her coltish energy and dramatic details painted a picture of a strong-willed girl who was not going to acquiesce to the strong will of her father.
Coll’s path has similarities to the much missed and adored principal Robert Fairchild's. Fairchild’s first principal role was Romeo. For Coll, who has a 10-minute Nutcracker Cavalier (and little Prince a decade earlier) under his belt already, this was the first major principal role of his career. Like Fairchild, he excels in the more Broadway type choreography, particularly Robbins’ works, and like Fairchild at his debut, Coll has some work to do in the area of acquiring technical virtuosity. He made no blunders last night, but it was apparent that he was a little under-powered when dancing along side principal Daniel Ulbricht’s Mercutio and soloist Joseph Gordon’s Benvolio. We’re confident that he’ll work hard. Already his leg lines are more stretched and turned out, and his whole physique more lifted and regal. His theatrical chops were significant in both his romantic encounters with Juliet and his fighting with Joaquin De Luz’s fierce Tybalt. With the latter, he truly looked like the scared kid taking on the notorious bully. It was a good job. Let’s see where it leads.
There were problems last night with the orchestra: irregular tempi, squeaks, and an odd balance of instrument sections. The costumes and scenery have not improved since 2007 and remain today some of the most unfortunate designs on any ballet stage.
We’re going to keep the H.H. Pump Bump Award in its box all safely wrapped up and ready to bestow on Harrison Coll at a future date — perhaps in the spring when we enjoy Fancy Free.