I'm certainly not the first blogger to write about the recent scandal surrounding Alastair Macaulay's review of NYCB's Nutcracker, and the subsequent follow-up. In the review, Jennifer Ringer and her dashing cavalier, Jared Angle, are acused of having "eaten one sugar plum too many; and Jared Angle, as the Cavalier, seems to have been sampling half the Sweet realm."
The outrage that ensued was followed up with not an apology, but a rebuttal in which Macaulay defends his view that ballet dancers should be thin. It took me a long time to publicly comment on this whole debocle – partly because my knee-jerk reaction came from a very personal place that I didn't want all over Facebook, and partly because I just didn't know what to think.
In a way, Macaulay is right. The body is key in dance, and for ballet dancers in particular the pressure to be thin is paramount. Historically, ballet was danced only by men, and later women in corsetts and full skirts. Extensions were lower, lines were softer, and popular culture was accustomed to more "womanly" women. As the technique (and the costumes) evolved, the dancers became thinner. To Macaulay's point, today's ballet lines look good on thin dancers, and Balanchine created a new style of ballet in which womanly is out and waif is in. But to say that ultra-thin dancers are a matter of preserving antiquity is, excuse me, bullshit. We are still dealing with the ramifications of the empire that George Balanchine created, and as a result have created an atmosphere where dancers are willing to compromise their health in an effort to be thin.
That's not to say that I believe dancers should be overweight or unfit – A dancer of any size needs to be fit in order to perform the choreography presented to them. Here's the thing: I have a hard time believing that the New York City Ballet would let ANYONE who is overweight (male or female) dance in their company, let alone give them the star roles. NYCB created the ultra-thin aesthetic and they own the rights to it. Right or wrong, they do not put fat people onstage.
Ultimately, I have my opinions on weight and NYCB has theirs, and we can agree to disagree. But to call these dancers out as gluttenous, overeating, jiggling plums is below the belt, rude and simply false. Time for a new approach, Mr. Macaulay.
Photo of Jennifer Ringer and Jared Angle, sans jiggle, courtesy of the NY Times.