Sugar Plum Fatties: Ballet Critic Defends His Right to Demand Skinny Nutcracker Dancers

Alastair Macauley of the New York Times saw the New York City Ballet’s Nutcracker this season, and he thought there was

a little too much of it


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.

Within a week, Macauley was back in the paper

defending his assessment

. Readers and

online critics


pointed out

that Ringer has a

history of eating disorders

, which forced her to withdraw from the New York City Ballet for a year in the late ‘90s. Macauley was unmoved:

[I]n an Apollonian art that requires purity of line, precision of execution and harmony of appearance, dancers with less than ideal shapes must bring other qualities to bear. Many have, and Ms. Ringer does, too, with several roles. This particular Sugar Plum Fairy — one of her rare tutu parts these days — was not one of them.

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.

Macauley seems to have a stronger case on principle than in practice. It is bracing to see a critic dig in after giving offense, rather than trying to mollify people by backing away. He noted that his correspondents were mostly not outraged on Angle’s behalf, only Ringer’s, and that

No one took issue with what might be considered a much more severe criticism, that the two danced “without adult depth or complexity.”

But that also captures what was wrong with Macauley’s original comments about the dancers’ weight: he fired them off without putting any critical muscle into them. The follow-up essay made a forceful argument that body issues in ballet can’t be reduced to simple propositions about fairness or niceness. If Ringer or Angle has trouble dancing effectively at a healthy body weight, then better—and more ruthless—to have said so in those terms to begin with. “One sugar plum too many” came off as a casual cheap shot. (Happens to

lots of us