When George Balanchine's full-length Don Quixote premiered in 1965, critics and audiences alike viewed the ballet as a failure. Elaborate scenery and costumes framed mawkish mime passages, like one in which the ballerina washed the Don's feet and dried them with her hair. Its revival in 2005 by Suzanne Farrell, the ballerina on whom it was made and to whom Balanchine left the work, did little to alter its reputation.
Yet at New York City Center's Balanchine festival last fall, some regretted its absence.
"I'd want to see Balanchine's Don Quixote," says Apollinaire Scherr, dance critic for the Financial Times. "It was a labor of love on his part, and a love letter as well. And you want to know what that looks like in his work."
Even great choreographers make mistakes. Sometimes they fail on a grand scale, like Don Quixote; other times it may be a minor misstep. Experiment and risk help choreographers grow, but what happens when a choreographer of stature misfires? Should the work remain in the repertory? And what about a work that fails on some levels but not others?
Michael Novak, here with Eran Bugge in Paul Taylor's Promethean Fire, was named artistic director designate by Taylor in May. Photo by Paul B. Goode, Courtesy PTAMD
A quiet power has marked Michael Novak's dancing since he joined the Paul Taylor Dance Company in 2010. Long a critics' favorite, he has gracefully shared the spotlight with higher-profile performers, contributing steady excellence to works from Gossamer Gallants to the iconic Esplanade. But no one was more surprised than Novak when Taylor tapped him to be artistic director designate. Novak, 35, will oversee every component of the Paul Taylor enterprise, from the Paul Taylor American Modern Dance initiative to the school. But most critically, he will direct the Paul Taylor Dance Company, which may be his toughest role yet—one he has already begun training for.
We spoke to Novak earlier this summer, before the announcement of Novak's new role turned out to be portentous: Taylor passed away this week.
Erica Lall credits her tap dancing for the musical sensitivity of her American Ballet Theatre performances. From a wili in Giselle ("I love petit allégro," she says) to a soloist in Marcelo Gomes' contemporary AfterEffect, Lall deftly accents a striking range of choreography. Precise and expressive, she floats on the music, never overstressing the beat. As a Porcelain Princess in Alexei Ratmansky's staging of Aurora's Wedding last spring, she mastered the variation's minute, detailed movements and relentless pointework with a delicate, doll-like charm.
If you had a dollar for every cup of coffee spilt over an Alastair Macaulay review, you could put a down payment on a Brooklyn studio. The British-born Macaulay became The New York Times' chief dance critic in 2007. Since then his reviews, often personal in tone, filled with reminiscences as well as dance history, have generated their share of controversy—and buzz. Even his favorite dancers, like David Hallberg, are not immune from criticism. And few current dancemakers are deemed worthy of his choreographic pantheon, where Balanchine, Ashton and Cunningham reign supreme.
But despite his quirks, Macaulay has drawn fresh attention—and many would argue fresh audiences—to dance. Some companies have found that a positive review feeds ticket sales on tour; others that a negative one chills box-office sales overnight. His passionate critiques, pro or con, appeal to readers who have come of age in the unvarnished world of social media.