Style & Beauty

Alastair Macaulay Responds To Ballerina Weight Comments, Says Body In Ballet Is Relevant

Last week, we wrote about New York Times critic Alastair Macaulay's review of "George Balanchine's The Nutcracker" and his sentence that could be construed as a jab at one ballerina's weight. Of the performance, Macaulay wrote:

This didn't feel, however, like an opening night. Jenifer Ringer, as the Sugar Plum Fairy, looked as if she'd eaten one sugar plum too many; and Jared Angle, as the Cavalier, seems to have been sampling half the Sweet realm.

And what's worse is that Ringer previously left the ballet due to struggles with her weight and body image.

On Friday, Macaulay responded to the Internet outcry about his comment. Some excerpts from his article:

Notably, the fuss has been about Ms. Ringer's appearance. No one took issue with what might be considered a much more severe criticism, that the two danced "without adult depth or complexity." And though I was much harder on Mr. Angle's appearance, scarcely a reader objected. When I described Nilas Martins as "portly" in The New York Times and Mark Morris as "obese" in the Times Literary Supplement, those remarks were also greeted with silence. Fat, apparently, is not so much a feminist issue as a sexist one. Sauce for the goose? Scandal. Sauce for the gander? No problem.


Ms. Ringer has spoken in the past about coping with eating disorders. Some of my correspondents feel I should know this history of hers, just as others have on occasion written to explain which ballerinas have histories of scoliosis. I think otherwise. Dancers do not ask to be considered victims. When I've praised Ms. Ringer, I've applied the standards I've applied to Suzanne Farrell, Natalia Makarova and Kyra Nichols.


When a dancer has surplus weight, there can be no more ruthless way to demonstrate it than to dance in a tutu with shoulders bare. Some steps (notably, traveling across the stage on point with arms outstretched) open the upper body to maximum legibility, others the lower. If Ms. Ringer performed flamenco or Bharatanatyam or most forms of contemporary dance, she would look extremely slim. In most of her recent ballet roles, she has actually looked slender.


Some correspondents have argued that the body in ballet is "irrelevant." Sorry, but the opposite is true. If you want to make your appearance irrelevant to criticism, do not choose ballet as a career. The body in ballet becomes a subject of the keenest observation and the most intense discussion. I am severe -- but ballet, as dancers know, is more so.

What do you think?