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Exemplary Long Form Dance Writing - Alastair Macaulay's 'So Many 'Nutcrackers,' So Little Time'

by Robert Abrams
November 18, 2007
If there were an award for best long form dance writing of the year, I would nominate Alastair Macaulay's article So Many 'Nutcrackers,' So Little Time from the November 18, 2007 New York Times. His article takes a theme that is timely: 'Nutcracker' ballets, and breathes new life into the topic. Mr. Macaulay weaves in the history, not only of the ballet itself, but of the critical commentary on the ballet. He provides both description and analysis. He argues that the ballet is not just a series of cute scenes, but takes us "into a child's huge sense of wonder." As adults, such wonder is all too easily forgotten. He expands upon such highlighting of themes with a detailed analysis of how the music supports the presentation of such a child's view. He reenforces his thesis by contrasting traditional 'Nutcrackers' with more recent productions that abandoned the innocence of the original story. Mr. Macaulay has great turns of phrase, such as "a tune that tenderly rotates, as if he were showing us some dream carousel." He even makes suggestions for potential 'Nutcracker' choreographers, which in this case is to bring back the original ending: a hive surrounded by dancing bees. Some in the critical community feel that a critic should never make suggestions for the choreographer. I happen to think critics are obligated to make suggestions when appropriate. You never know, some up and coming choreographer might read Mr. Macaulay's article and stage an entirely new 'Nutcracker' from the bees' perspective. Mr. Macaulay also has an implied suggestion: he sets the 'Nutcracker' in the context of other 19th Century children's stories that were written at about the same time - the themes in Mr. Macaulay's analysis combined with this list of literature (which includes 'Alice's Adventures in Wonderland') has the potential to be a rich source of inspiration for choreographers.

I would be remiss if I did not offer a suggestion for improving Mr. Macaulay's article. He uses technical language in a general interest publication, such as "he holds a turned-out position (tendu side)". This isn't a problem in itself, because writers should challenge their readers' vocabularies, but there was a space 1.5 inches by 7 inches left blank on the page. This space could have been artfully laid out with an illustration of the position so that the readers would recognize it when they attend the ballet. This, of course, is a relatively minor criticism, and in any case probably isn't under Mr. Macaulay's control.

Read this excellent article by clicking here.

For more ExploreDance.com Nutcracker articles, click here.
The Snowflakes (New York City Ballet)

The Snowflakes (New York City Ballet)

Photo © & courtesy of Paul Kolnik

Nutcracker with Crown (New York City Ballet)

Nutcracker with Crown (New York City Ballet)

Photo © & courtesy of Paul Kolnik

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