Can We All Please Acknowledge Ballet's Sexism Problem Already?
On Friday, The New York Times posted an article to its website titled "A Conversation With 3 Choreographers Who Reinvigorated Ballet," a joint interview with Justin Peck, Christopher Wheeldon and Alexei Ratmansky. It's a delightful conversation at first, veering from process to style to musical choices—delightful, that is, until a question about the dearth of female choreographers in classical ballet arose.
Screenshot via nytimes.com
These responses range from sort-of-passable (Peck at least acknowledges the need for systemic changes) to worrisome (Wheeldon's apparent bafflement) to troubling (Nijinska? Seriously?). In a word, problematic.
The issue Roslyn Sulcas raises here is not news. We know that there are far, far fewer women choreographers than men in the ballet world. We know that a small group of white men (who are, to be fair, fantastic choreographers) largely dominates the field in terms of consistent international impact.
Justin Peck. Photo by Erik Tomasson, Courtesy San Francisco Ballet.
In fact, it's slightly absurd that in 2017, we feel it's cause for celebration when Cincinnati Ballet programs a season equally split between works by men and women, or when New York City Ballet commissions two works by women choreographers for their fall gala for a second year in a row. Even allowing for the reality that the comments from Peck, Wheeldon and Ratmansky are from an excerpted, edited interview in which printing space is at a premium, even allowing that it was a relatively informal conversation, even allowing that it is an extremely complex issue—even then, these three men could, and should, have done better.
Earlier today, Luke Jennings, who writes on dance for The Guardian and The New Yorker, tweeted this response:
Screenshot via Twitter.
And with that, Twitter went mad. NYT chief dance critic Alastair Macaulay laid out a seven point rebuttal critiquing Jenning's response, then parlayed with Jennings on several of the points. Other NYT dance writers also chimed in, as did notable critics from other publications and a number of Dance Magazine contributors. The threads quickly became sprawling.
Christopher Wheeldon in rehearsal. Photo by Todd Rosenberg, Courtesy Joffrey Ballet
Meanwhile on Instagram, a flurry of heated comments resulted from NYT and DM contributor Siobhan Burke posting an image of the three responses in question. Choreographer Annie-B Parson simply chimed in with, "Haha. I can speak to this #erasure #beenthere."
Obviously, this is a far, far more complex problem than can be fully discussed in a 140 character tweet or a sharply worded comment on Instagram, or even in an interview like the one that launched this entire conversation. And that's just the thing: We need more conversation, we need more collaborative effort, and we need to stop shrugging and pointing to dance history as though one Bronislava Nijinska makes up for all of the other voices we might still be missing in the ballet world today without systemic change. It's happening—however slowly—and we'd much prefer it if the men who are currently dominating the field can take a step back, acknowledge the power they have and use it to move the conversation forward.
So a message for Peck, Wheeldon and Ratmansky: We love your work. Now do better.
UDPATE (Apr. 25): Alexei Ratmansky shared this post on Facebook, giving more context to the question. He also calls for deeper conversation on the topic.
Screenshot via Facebook.
You know Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo as the men who parody your favorite ballet variations—and make it look good. But there's more to the iconic troupe than meets the eye.
A new documentary, Rebels on Pointe, goes behind the scenes of the company, and it's full of juicy tidbits about what it's like to be a Trock. These were some of our favorite moments:
After 30 years of pioneering work in physically integrated dance, AXIS Dance Company co-founder Judith Smith has announced plans to retire from the Oakland, California, company. Throughout her tenure, she strived to get equal recognition for integrated dance and disabled dancers, commissioning work from high-profile choreographers like Bill T. Jones. Her efforts generated huge momentum for expanded training, choreography, education and advocacy for dancers with disabilities.
By phone from her home in Oakland, Smith reflected on how far the field has evolved since the early days of AXIS, and what's yet to be done.
You know that how you care for your body before curtain can impact your performance. But with so many factors to consider, it can be difficult to nail down an exact routine. How much rest is enough? How close to showtime should you eat? We asked the experts.
How do you make your athleisure collection stand out from the pack? Get the ultimate studio-to-street seal of approval by having dancers star in your campaign, of course.
For his second collaboration with activewear brand Carbon38, ready-to-wear designer Jonathan Simkhai traded in his usual top models like Gigi Hadid and Karlie Kloss for the original Hiplet dancers—and the resulting video is as cool as we'd expect from such a fierce collaboration.
To be honest, we never tire of watching non-dancers tackle a day in the life of the pros. From athletes to average Joes, these videos always give us a good laugh, and they remind the rest of the world that a whole lot of work goes into every dance performance you see. But often times, these dancer-for-a-day videos don't fully understand the importance of training (i.e., you can't just throw on a pair of pointe shoes and give it a go).
That's why we're especially loving this video by Refinery29 that actually gets it. Lucie Fink, host of the R29 YouTube series Lucie For Hire , got a private lesson from American Ballet Theatre principal Isabella Boylston, and it was endlessly entertaining.
Who are you when you no longer do what you've been doing for years?
It is the big question facing anyone who retires. For top ballet dancers, however, the situation is more extreme. They start young, grow up in a rarified atmosphere, mostly see only each other, and become more and more removed from ordinary life. So what is it like to give this all up?
I asked seven former principal dancers from different generations at San Francisco Ballet, including myself, about this challenge.
Again and again, dance teaches me that when the filters fall away between people—when the boundaries of geography, religion and politics soften—the beginning and end of our relationships is always human.
In March, I traveled with Keigwin + Company to Cote D'Ivoire, Ethiopia and Tunisia, on a tour sponsored by the US State Department and facilitated by DanceMotion USA/Brooklyn Academy of Music. Our mission was cultural diplomacy: Simply, to share ourselves with diverse communities, to promote common understanding and friendships.
Our last stop was Tunisia. Until that point, we had mostly been learning varieties of traditional African dance, and sharing American modern dance. But Tunisia was different. The dancers already had a solid grasp of contemporary movement invention. Though we didn't speak the same language, we could make movement vocabulary with surprising ease. Everything about our backgrounds was different, but there was this special intersection through dance that seemed to present an open door to collaboration.
Photo by Todd Rosenberg, Courtesy Joffrey Ballet.
Christopher Wheeldon's new Nutcracker for the Joffrey Ballet was huge news when it premiered last winter. The choreographer shifted the setting from the home of a well-off German family to the Chicago world's fair, making the hero the young daughter of a working-class, Polish immigrant sculptress. This month, WTTW Chicago, the city's public broadcasting station, will premiere Making a New American Nutcracker, a new documentary showing how Wheeldon and his high-profile collaborators made the magic happen. Premieres on WTTW11 and wttw.com/watch on Nov. 16 before appearing on public television stations across the country. Check your local listings.
For most dancers, walking into the theater elicits a familiar emotion that's somewhere between the reverence of stepping into a chapel and the comfort of coming home. But each venue has its own aura, and can offer that something special that takes your performance to a new level. Six dancers share which theaters have transported them the most.
GLENN ALLEN SIMS
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater
Glenn Allen Sims in Alvin Ailey's Masekela Langage. Photo by Paul Kolnik, courtesy AAADT
Favorite theater: Teatro Real in Madrid, Spain
Royal details: "The theater is gorgeous and ornate, with deep red upholstery and gold trim. There is a huge royal box in the center, which takes you back to when kings and queens were watching performances there."
Impressive facilities: Even the dressing rooms are a sight to see: Amenities for the dancers include large, carpeted rooms, and towel service.
The business side of dance can often fall second to the art. Contracts, which usually appear after you've done the hard work of securing a job, can seem like an inconsequential afterthought. You might decide to simply sign without reading the terms—or be understandably confused by all the legalese.
Ultimately, though, contracts can play an important part in setting the expectations for your job. A basic understanding of the legal terms you might see can go a long way in making sure that signing is a positive step toward growing your career.