Last week, a dance critic noted that a ballerina looked as if she had "eaten one sugar plum too many." This made quite a few people upset, and now he's come forward to explain himself.
The critic, Alastair Macaulay of the New York Times says that in the wake of publishing his review of the NYC Ballet's Nutcracker, in which he criticized the weight of ballerina Jenifer Ringer, he received a "minor deluge" of responses, including many "obscene and abusive" emails (welcome to the internet, friend).
In the wake of the justifiable outrage sparked by the review's original publication, any rational person could say that yes, the body does matter in ballet — it is the tool with which the art is created. The sort of tool generally needed for ballet is a light and lithe body. And judging from pictures (above) of Ringer's performance, her tool seemed to fit the bill: her body was what it needed to be in order to perform. And I highly doubt that the matter of a "few too many sugar plums" going to affect her abilities or make things more difficult for her partner.
Macaulay notes something that has been generally overlooked: in a separate review, he criticized Nilas Martins' weight as well ("portly"), but never heard a peep about it. Readers' angry reactions have only in regards to the comment about Ringer. Macauley says this is a form of sexism. But if the response to comments about a woman's weight versus a man's suggests some sort of weight sexism, that's because there's a double standard when it comes to an acceptable amount of extra padding. Men generally can "get away" with it. And that's what's sexist here. Newsflash, I know, but I guess it bears repeating, if only for Macauley's sake.
As we know and know and know again, eating disorders and ballet are old friends (or frenemies, really). And Ringer herself has spoken about her struggles with anorexia and binge eating. Macauley quite rightly notes that this is no reason for him to bite his tongue in a review; Ringer is not a victim, and her eating disorder does not define her. But neither does her body, and Macaulay fails to actually explain why Ringer's supposedly sugar-plumped figure hurt her performance. This is as close as we get:
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.
And your point is…? He doesn't go any further with this idea; it's just thrown in there so as to remind us that we are, y'know, looking at people in skin-tight garments. And that when we look at people in skin-tight garments, we can see what their bodies look like. To wit:
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 can accept that the body itself is indeed relevant; I'm not naive. It's not a crime to talk about it. Ballet is an art rooted in the audience's gaze; moreover it's athletic, and watching this athleticism is to appreciate what the human body can do. But until Macaulay can give a reasoned explanation as to how Ringer's not-so-noticeable weight gain hindered her performance, or why a ballerina's body needs to be smaller than Ringer's, I can't buy what this guy is selling. If you can't give a reason for a critique, perhaps it's best not to critique at all.