A native of Lafayette, Louisiana, Courtney danced with Lafayette Ballet Theatre before matriculating to New York University. After spending her freshman year in London, she moved to New York to attend NYU Tisch School of the Arts, where she recently graduated with a BFA in Dance. Courtney began contributing to Dance Magazine during her senior year. She has performed in works by Karole Armitage, Netta Yerushalmy, Septime Webre, Vita Osojnik, Cherylyn Lavagnino, Giada Ferrone and Fairul Zahid, among others. She continues to take class, create and perform in the city.
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.
For artists working outside of cities with well-established arts scenes, the lack of a creative community can be disheartening. To combat that, Knoxville, Tennessee–based dancer-choreographer Harper Addison founded The Iteration Project, an online platform through which artists from anywhere in the world can connect, experiment and converse. The structure is simple: Every Monday, TIP sends a prompt via email and invites dancers, musicians and writers to share their responses on social media via #theiterationproject. The prompts are usually simple words or phrases—"15 Ways to Say Hello," "Walking" and "Hungry, Alone and Together" are a few. The project also hosts TIP Jams, inviting artists to meet in person to explore the most recent prompt together and forge stronger local arts communities. Get in on the action at theiterationproject.org.
Love them or hate them, the ill-fated lovers at the center of Emily Brontë's masterpiece have loads of dramatic potential, and Charlotte Ballet associate artistic director Sasha Janes' new take on the novel is sure to draw on its psychological potency. April 27–29. charlotteballet.org.
Pride and Prejudice
Mr. Darcy might not dance if he can help it, but he and the vivacious Elizabeth Bennet—not to mention the colorful cast of characters in Jane Austen's witty novel—will have excellent reason to do so in American Repertory Ballet's new production. The ballet features choreography by artistic director Douglas Martin and live accompaniment by the Princeton Symphony Orchestra. April 21–22. americanrepertoryballet.org.
When the Leonore Annenberg Fellowship Fund for the Performing and Visual Arts announced their tenth and final round of $50,000 fellowships for performing and visual artists last week, it wasn't exactly a surprise to see Cassandra Trenary's name on the list. The American Ballet Theatre soloist sparkles onstage in classical rep (particularly in works by Alexei Ratmansky), but hasn't been content with a typical company career. She's constantly working on outside projects; in fact, when we caught up with her she was in between a rehearsal with Gemma Bond and a preview showing of an Alejandro Cerrudo–choreographed project she'll perform with Daniil Simkin this fall.
How did you react when you got the news that you were receiving the fellowship?
I was so overjoyed of course, but also kind of felt this pressure all of a sudden. There were so many things I had set out to do if I received it, and now that I have I've got a lot of work to do! I'm looking forward to challenging myself in ways I've never had a chance to before.
Past ABT recipients include Misty Copeland and Isabella Boylston—does that add to the pressure?
Oh, absolutely! I'm very humbled and honored to look at the dancers in the past who have received this and be included in that special group, and I'm thinking of all the dancers I would have chosen for it over myself. I'm so grateful, and I don't take it for granted.
Cassandra Trenary in rehearsal with Alexei Ratmansky. Photo by Susie Morgan Taylor, Courtesy ABT.
You're planning to use the fellowship to study with outside companies, correct?
I'm looking to travel to Amsterdam, England and St. Petersburg. What I really want to do is stretch myself, technically speaking. I want to see what these places offer to the dance world and see how I can infuse my own dancing and artistry with it.
You're looking at working with the Mariinsky Ballet, The Royal Ballet and Nederlands Dans Theater. What influenced you to go for three such different groups?
I love exploring different types of movement. I love how refined and pure the dancers at The Royal are, but they also have this edge that they bring to their contemporary work. And you go to Russia and those dancers are, for lack of a better term, whacked out! But they also have that perfect Russian technique that I've never had the opportunity to work in. And I'm obsessed with NDT! I love the way they move, they're another breed. I've always really enjoyed and identified with contemporary work. A friend of mine just joined the company, and I want to work with him and get some inspiration that way, and work on contemporary partnering. Also, I really want to do some more acting, so I'm also looking into acting courses and the more theatrical side of things.
I just want to explore more, and be pushed in ways I've never been pushed. It's easy to get comfortable in your company and surroundings. But these other coaches will look at me with a blank slate and not know when to give me the benefit of the doubt, and they're going to push me.
Cassandra Trenary in rehearsal with Daniil Simkin. Photo by Jim Lafferty.
The connections between New York City Ballet and Broadway go way back—choreography by Jerome Robbins and George Balanchine frequently found its way onto Broadway stages, from West Side Story to the Slaughter on Tenth Avenue number in On Your Toes. Today, principal Robert Fairchild is currently headlining the West End production of An American in Paris, while soloist Georgina Pazcoguin has been on a leave of absence this past year to play Victoria in the Broadway revival of CATS.
When the just-announced revival of the Rodgers & Hammerstein classic Carousel opens on Broadway in March 2018, we'll be adding three more names to the list: Justin Peck has been brought on to choreograph the production, while Amar Ramasar and Brittany Pollack have been cast in key roles.
According to The New York Times, Peck's work will be based on Agnes de Mille's choreography for the original 1945 production (her second Rodgers & Hammerstein collaboration, after Oklahoma!). However, he believes this version "will be an even more dance-and-movement focused production."
This isn't the first time that Peck has followed in de Mille's footsteps. His 2015 Rodeo: Four Dance Episodes took Aaron Copland's score for de Mille's famous dramatic ballet and reinterpreted it as a semi-abstract contemporary work.
Ramasar is set to play Jigger, a ruffian who incites the male lead, Billy Bigelow, to assist him with a dangerous robbery. Pollack will portray Louise, Bigelow's daughter. Ramasar might be playing the exact opposite of the joyful guy we're used to seeing onstage at NYCB, but Pollack will have loads of dancing to do if de Mille's original choreography is anything to go by, which featured an extended ballet sequence starring Pollack's character.
As Peck's recent The Times are Racing for NYCB proved, the young choreographer still has quite a few tricks up his sleeve in terms of stylistic range—and really, it was probably only a matter of time before the Great White Way came calling. We can't wait.
Ballet Across America returns to The Kennedy Center this week with a twist: programming curated by American Ballet Theatre principal Misty Copeland and New York City Ballet soloist/resident choreographer Justin Peck. It's a unique opportunity to get inside the heads of two of the most influential figures in American ballet today—so what companies and choreographers did the superstars choose to showcase?
Copeland's program, running Wednesday through Friday, features Nashville Ballet, Complexions Contemporary Ballet and Black Iris Project. All three are making their Kennedy Center debuts, and as Copeland explains in this video, she made her choices based on both personal connections to the works and to help continue the diversity conversation in ballet.
Saturday and Sunday mark the performances of Peck's picks, which include works by Benjamin Millepied and Kyle Abraham (both L.A. Dance Project and Abraham.In.Motion are appearing at The Kennedy Center for the first time), as well as The Joffrey Ballet in Christopher Wheeldon's Fool's Paradise. And, for a bonus treat, Miami City Ballet principals Patricia Delgado and Jovani Furlan will perform a duet from Peck's Year of the Rabbit.
And at this evening's opening night performance, hosted by none other than NYCB star Sara Mearns, you can catch Stella Abrera, Isabella Boylston, Renan Cerdeiro, Jeanette Delgado, Marcelo Gomes, Desmond Richardson, Calvin Royal III and James Whiteside, plus students of ABT's JKO School and Nashville Ballet.
The Olivier Awards were this weekend, and (though you might not have noticed with all of the hubbub over Harry Potter and the Cursed Child practically sweeping) three of our dance world faves snagged well-deserved awards for some very diverse programming.
Crystal Pite and actor/playwright Jonathon Young won Best New Dance Production for Betroffenheit, their harrowing exploration of loss and grief. (It premiered in 2015, but it made its way to London's Sadler's Wells, and therefore Olivier consideration, last summer.) Pite told us in our February issue, "I'm interested in offering an audience a variety of ways to get into a piece. Some people can connect in a visceral way to pure movement, and others connect more to language. I like to be able to use anything to get people in the same world as each other."
English National Ballet
Tamara Rojo has made some gutsy choices since becoming artistic director in 2012, and ENB's Best Achievement in Dance Olivier "for expanding the variety of their repertoire with Giselle and She Said at Sadler's Wells" is just one more spot of validation. The Giselle in question is, of course, Akram Khan's contemporary retelling that premiered in the fall; She Said was a diverse triple bill with new commissions from Azsure Barton, Annabelle Lopez Ochoa and Yabin Wang. As Khan said in our September cover story, "She has transformed the entire way the company works...The most interesting work right now is coming out of ENB."
Not only did he garner the Best Theatre Choreographer award for his production of The Red Shoes (based on the 1948 feature film starring Moira Shearer), Bourne also got to accept the award for Best Entertainment and Family, again for The Red Shoes. Anglophiles, get excited about this one: The work is making its U.S. premiere this fall on the west coast.
60 Years Ago This Month
In the April 1957 issue of Dance Magazine, we reported on that year's Dance Magazine Awards, one of which went to Agnes de Mille. The dancer-choreographer first leapt to prominence after choreographing—and starring in—her now-iconic Rodeo for the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo in 1942. Lauded for its realism, the "cowboy ballet" was such a success that Rodgers and Hammerstein invited de Mille to choreograph the original Broadway production of Oklahoma! Accepting her award, she said, "I think the function of saying to somebody: 'You don't have to take leave of the human race in order to be interested in dancing. It's a normal expression for people' is a worthy one. I am glad to have had some part in doing that."