Friday, 12 May 2017

Exeunt's Ballet Reviews - Mayerling and Casanova

The Mayerling Hunting Lodge near Vienna
Source Wikioedia

I have recently discovered Exeunt Magazine as a result of a twitter spat that has arisen from its review of a performance of the Royal Ballet's Mayerling (see Anna Winter's Review: Mayerling at the Royal Ballet 3 May 2017). I read the review to see what the fuss was about.

The review starts with the observation
"The Royal Ballet is on mighty form in Kenneth MacMillan’s Mayerling, delineating the late choreographer’s dark vision of lust, morphine and mental instability with exquisite panache."
Had I not had other commitments tomorrow evening those words might have tempted me down to London. The reviewer then discusses the plot which deals with the death of the heir apparent to the Austro-Hungarian empire in very suspicious circumstances at Mayerling, the imperial hunting lodge just outside Vienna, in 1889. There is quite a good synopsis in Wikipedia (see Mayerling (ballet)) as well as a discussion of the incident (see Mayerling Incident).

This was a scandal that had many repercussions, though perhaps not as many as some would say as the First World War would probably have taken place even without the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand and the dual-monarchy would probably have collapsed even without a war. Nevertheless, Anna Winter was shocked by this story and wrote:
"You leave the theatre not only having experienced incredible dancing, Liszt’s luscious score and Nicholas Georgiadis’s murkily opulent designs, but also with the distinct feeling that the royal family should really be doing something else apart from narrowing their DNA selection and having parties."
She then took a swipe at the person sitting next to her who had "remarked that in several years’ time he hoped to see an all-British roster of principal dancers."  It was that remark that appears to have got Winter's goat for she linked it with the incident and her critique of monarchy generally:
"Yes, that’s right, you tweedy prick – let’s narrow the balletic gene pool. Let’s have British dancers for British people! Let’s ignore the fact that it’s such a fucking immense privilege that dancers – stupendously talented foreign dancers – like Marianela Nunez and Sarah Lamb and Vadim Muntagirov choose to make London their home and in doing so help to make the Royal a beacon not just of artistic excellence but relative diversity."
After that peroration, Winter returned to the performance of the principal dancers which included Marianela Núñez. Edward Watson, Natalia Osipova, Sarah Lamb and Franceska Hayward.  A very strong cast from whom one would expect an "astounding artistic achievement" which is exactly how the reviewer described the ballet.

On balance, a perfectly reasonable review, one might think, but that is not how it was viewed by everybody. Exeunt's editor, Alice Saville, reported "an unprecedented number of emails and tweets directed at Exeunt in response to Anna Winter’s review of Mayerling at the Royal Ballet" in her feature In Defence of Exeunt’s Mayerling Review 8 May 2017. The passage that seems to have prompted all those emails is Winter's reaction to the remark about an all-British roster of principal dancers in a few years time. That may have been an expression of post-Brexit chauvinism (in which case my thoughts would have been similar to Winter's), or it may simp,y have been an expression of hope that enough young British dancers would eventually make it to the top so that it would be possible one day to stage a performance of Mayerling from their number.  As context is everything I took the view that the reviewer's reaction to the remark was a little over the top and detracted from an otherwise good review.

But that was nowhere near as far over the top as sending "blisteringly unpleasant" emails. Saville complained of
"a forum thread devoted to picking apart both Exeunt’s response, and the credentials of our writer. One poster hunted down her educational background, and proposed confronting her at a future performance!"
She also said that
"Several members of are calling on the Royal Opera House press office to revoke our press tickets, in a hugely illiberal response to a single review that offended them."
Now that really is going a bit too far. As Saville observes, "a threat of harassment is much more serious than reporting on the speech of an anonymous stranger."

Now that spat troubled me because I have been a subscriber to BalletcoForum for several years. I have enjoyed reading its discussions and have met a number of very interesting people who share my passion for ballet. When I learned that one of them had been blocked on twitter my reaction was to take up the cudgels against the blocking. However, even though I am still against blocking I can see why it was done in this case.

Some pretty horrible things were said about the Exeunt website.  I had never heard of it before but I read some of the reviews including Winter's and found that they are actually quite good. Winter has just written a particularly good review of Kenneth Tindall's Casanova (see Review: Casanova at Sadler’s Wells 11 May 2017 Exeunt) which is a ballet that I know quite well having attended the opening night in Leeds (see Casanova - "it has been a long time since I enjoyed a show by Northern Ballet as much as I enjoyed Casanova last night" 12 March 2017), last Saturday's performance at The Lowry (see Casanova Second Time Round 7 May 2017) as well as a preview in Leeds (see Casanova Unmasked 16 Feb 2017) and having been given an exclusive interview by Tindall (see "A Many Sided Genius" - Tindall on Casanova 4 March 2017).  As I said in my original article on Winter's review (which I have removed at the request of one of the moderators of BalletcoForum) it is thoughtful and well researched and one of the best reviews of the ballet that I have seen so far.

Exeunt was founded in 2010 by Natasha Tripney who is now the Reviews Editor of The Stage and Daniel B. Yates. It claims to believe in "making beautifully written, experimental, fierce and longform writing about theatre available for free" and I think it succeeds.  I shall certainly visit it again.  The irony is that I might never have learned of its existence had it not been for BalletcoForum.

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