Sarah Kaufman’s gloomy assessment is a must-read:

” “Finally, a real success!” exclaimed one patron on his way up the aisle at the War Memorial Opera House, where he had just seen the last of 10 world premieres performed in three days by the San Francisco Ballet. Wonderful for him that he was pleased, but I was merely weary. Too many bad ballets, too few steps forward.

The company didn’t envision its ambitious New Works Festival, the centerpiece of the San Francisco Ballet’s 75th-anniversary season, as a microcosm of what’s wrong with the ballet world. But the fact that this large outlay of money, time and talent — unprecedented in its scope — produced more mediocrity than revelation points to a big problem for ballet. Self-renewal is not its strong suit. Ballet does well with the old and the familiar — whether traditional story ballets such as “Sleeping Beauty” and “Swan Lake,” or their plotless offspring, the tighter, sexier undressed works of George Balanchine. This is largely what the ballet runs on these days. But in recent years, producing new masterpieces (not just new pieces) has become a challenge.”

I don’t agree with Kaufman’s underlying cynicism (particularly her arch unveiling of the festival as a marketing play–why shouldn’t it also be that?), but her piece reawakened me to a standard of what mainstream-press dance writing today could be. Hers is a level of reportage and analysis–and a level of wider cultural relevance–that could only be achieved with the benefit of weeks to mull over the festival’s bigger implications. And it’s done incisively, with a level head and without hyperbole. It’s clearly not the kind of thinking that could be arrived at overnight.

I’m beginning to think I’ve valued knee-jerk passion–passion that tilts towards hyperbole–too much in dance writing lately, both my own and others. Alas, freelancing for the Chronicle, I’m often logistically unable to do the kind of deeper, longer form consideration Kaufman offers, alongside perhaps only Alastair Macaulay at the Times, and Joan Acocella at the New Yorker. But I thank Kaufman for providing an example to aspire towards.

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