For those who may not have read the interview by Alan Helms with dance critic Alastair Macaulay, published recently in the summer issue of the ballet.co magazine, I recommend it. It is quite long but a totally fascinating read.
One of the highlights of my tenure as curator of the Jerome Robbins Dance Division in New York was the launch of the restored film of George Balanchine’s Don Quixote featuring that amazing ballerina Suzanne Farrell as Dulcinea and Balanchine himself as the Don. Macaulay was invited to speak at the launch. I was familiar with Macaulay’s writing but not with his public speaking style. However, shortly before the launch I heard him honour dance scholar David Vaughan at a forum presented by the Dance Critics’ Association. As one might expect, Macaulay gave an incredibly knowledgeable account of Vaughan’s vast contribution to dance. But it was not simply knowledgeable, it was brilliantly entertaining as well. So he seemed the ideal choice for the Don Q launch. Luckily he accepted.
What he gave us at the launch was an overview of Farrell’s career complete with demonstrations of her technical prowess! It too was brilliantly entertaining and my clearest memory is of Macaulay constantly moving away from the lectern so we could see him quite clearly as he demonstrated this or that step. Of course the words were there too and the combination of his erudition and his willingness to engage with the physicality of dance — despite not being a dancer by training himself — was dazzling. So I was more than interested to read his thoughts in the Alan Helms interview on why he likes to demonstrate in this way, and to notice the emphasis he places throughout the interview on the concept of physicality.
Another aspect of the interview that I personally found inspiring was Macaulay’s brief discussion of finding that what he was writing as a young critic was controversial, and of being on one occasion struck off a press list. Having myself been ‘counselled’ against writing on a certain subject for this (my own) website, and having once been the source of a defamation case as a result of a review I wrote for a newspaper (the claim was unsuccessful), it is always helpful to be reminded, even as an ‘old’ critic as I am, that one needs to be resolute in one’s beliefs.
There are so many other moments in this interview that sparkle with Macaulay’s particular brand of perceptive thought. Definitely worth a read and a bouquet to Bruce Marriott of ballet.co for publishing it.
[Update 30 November 2017: Sadly, the link to Alan Helms’ interview is no longer available]
Michelle Potter, 6 September 2010