24 February 2017

Alastair Macaulay, Chief Dance Critic of The New York Times, visits the school

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Alastair Macaulay, Chief Dance Critic of The New York Times gave a thought-provoking talk on Wednesday about ballet which, in his view, is not just a sexist art, but the sexist art. From the moment in the 19th century when women first started to go en pointe, he argued, ballet became the one and only art form based on the dichotomy between male and female. Demonstrating the iconic moment from the Rose Adagio in The Sleeping Beauty when the ballerina holds an arabesque en pointe, Alastair explained that the woman becomes a work of ideal geometry, no longer just a woman, but an ethereal projection of male desire. The man, meanwhile – who never goes en pointe except occasionally for comic effect – becomes her chivalrous supporter. Alastair’s love of ballet was clear, but he challenged his audience to consider why there are so few female choreographers in ballet (as opposed to modern dance) and why, despite some honourable exceptions, so little has changed in the way it portrays gender relationships.

It was also fascinating to hear how his life was transformed when, as a Cambridge undergraduate, he saw a 56-year-old Margot Fonteyn perform Juliet, putting him on the path to becoming a dance critic although he had never trained as a dancer himself. He also talked about his time as Chief Theatre Critic of The Financial Times and answered questions about the power and responsibility of the critic, recalling how Stephen Fry walked out of the play Cell Mates after reading Alastair’s review.

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