Does NYCB Have A Gambling Problem?
New York City Ballet's fall season opened last week with Peter Martins' production of Swan Lake. The company is looking ahead to their gala tomorrow, followed by a month of works new and old. The marketing department seems particularly excited about its premieres, many of them created by new choreographers (perhaps part of their admirable attempt to lure in young audiences). But, when photos of these choreographers are stitched together (as they were on Facebook last week), the homogeneity of the faces featured is striking. They are all white men, and their pieces start off a season of revivals by more white men.
To be fair, most major companies aren't doing much better. Boston Ballet and Joffrey Ballet are making an effort at inclusivity, each featuring one woman in their fall programming. Pacific Northwest Ballet will dance the work of two women this fall. The only woman on the roster for both Miami City Ballet and American Ballet Theatre's fall seasons is Twyla Tharp. While I love that they are including classic Tharp works, this doesn't demonstrate a commitment to fostering new voices or shifting their repertory long-term.
But City Ballet prides itself on commissioning new works every season and developing the talent of young choreographers. Last week, The New York Times published a piece by Roslyn Sulcas entitled "New York City Ballet Gambles on Unknown Choreographers." Unknown, and young. Robert Binet is only 24. Myles Thatcher is 25. By comparison, Justin Peck and Troy Schumacher, 28 and 29, seem like old pros. The article tracks the trajectory of these boys, highlighting their mentor relationships with men such as Alexei Ratmansky, Wayne McGregor and NYCB ballet master in chief Peter Martins. The pattern of white men supporting younger white men points to a problem that starts early on but eventually determines whose work will be seen. Martins says on hiring young choreographers: "What can I say, I’m gutsy. I liked the idea of having all these people in their 20s, making new work. It shows the art form is really alive." But how can an art form be alive when it excludes so many?
There are countless women whose work I would love to see on the Koch stage. Annabelle Lopez Ochoa might have more experience than all of NYCB's boys combined, and makes inventive and charming works. Amy Seiwert, Helen Pickett, Gabrielle Lamb and Aszure Barton have been making bold pieces for mid-sized companies for years. Gemma Bond finds time to choreograph smart and subtle works when she isn't shining in ABT's corps. Emery LeCrone is a promising voice, who participated in NYCB's Choreographic Institute and often makes works on NYCB dancers on smaller stages. Why wasn't her career nurtured like these male choreographers? This is not to mention choreographers of color, who face an entirely different set of barriers because they are also excluded from ballet as performers. That's a blog for another day.
The fault is not solely NYCB's. The problem is far-reaching, especially among companies of NYCB's scale. And yet, I want to believe that I work in a field that cares about the voices of women and people of color. I want to believe that an art form that fancies itself as progressive, and a company situated in one of the most forward-thinking cities in the world, isn't complacent about racism and sexism. Unfortunately, I don't believe any of this yet.
When Miami City Ballet artistic director Lourdes Lopez was a principal dancer at New York City Ballet, she missed her opportunity to honor Jerome Robbins onstage. "Every time there was a celebration for Jerry, I was either injured or had just retired," says Lopez. "I was never able to publicly thank him onstage for all that he taught us and the beauty he left us."
But when Lopez was planning MCB's Jerome Robbins Celebration for the 100th anniversary of the legend's birth, she saw an opportunity. She asked the Robbins Trust to allow her to perform the Ringmaster in Robbins' Circus Polka, a role the choreographer originated himself.
From coast to coast, choreographers have spent the first year of Donald Trump's presidency responding to the impact of his election and what it means for them as artists.
New York City's Dante Brown used rubber Trump masks in his work Package (revamped), which examines the monstrosities of power.
A video titled "Dancers vs. Trump Quotes" went viral last summer, showing dancers taking Trump's "locker-room" talk to task.
Alexis Convento, lead curator of the New York City–based Current Sessions, dedicated a whole program to the concept of resistance, while educator and interdisciplinary artist Jill Sigman has initiated a workshop called "Body Politic, Somatic Selves," as a space for movement research around questions of support, activism and solidarity.
In San Francisco, choreographer Margaret Jenkins facilitated a panel of artists about the role of activism within their work.
Growing up in inner city Rochester, NY, Aesha Ash was just one of the neighborhood kids. She'd imagine people driving by, judging her by her black skin.
"They'd never know that I was dreaming of becoming a professional ballet dancer. No one would think, Some day she's going to make it into New York City Ballet," says Ash.
After an inspiring career at NYCB, Béjart's Ballet Lausanne and LINES, the January 2006 Dance Magazine cover star—one of our 25 to Watch that year—is no longer performing. But she's determined to use her dance background to change the stereotypes and misconceptions that people—including black people—have about women of color. "I want to show it's okay to embrace our softer side, and let the world know we're multidimensional," says Ash.
Aesha Ash in Richmond, CA. PC Renee Scott via swandreamsproject.org
In 2011, she launched the Swan Dreams Project to inspire kids in the community she grew up in. The original idea was to post images of herself in a tutu all over Rochester. "I remember growing up and in the bodega you'd see images of girls in bikinis on motorbikes," says Ash. "I wanted to replace those with photos that show women of color in a different light."
She knew the power imagery can have: She still remembers what it felt like as a student at the School of American Ballet to see a photo of black ballet dancer Andrea Long. "That image was everything on days when I was feeling disenchanted. I'd see that picture of her, and know that the struggles I was going through, she went through them, too."
Ash soon realized she didn't have the budget to fund her original plan ("I never realized how expensive a bus stop advertisement is!"). But she's made the images available through an online store, and often simply gives away prints at her own expense to schools and students in need of some inspiration.
Any proceeds she makes from the sales go directly to other organizations that are working to expand ballet in diverse communities. One large donation even led to a pointe shoe fund at dancer Robyn Gardenhire's City Ballet of Los Angeles school—and it helped one dancer who had quit ballet because of the expense come back to class.
Now a mother of two in San Jose, CA, Ash will also start teaching a free after-school ballet class at her daughter's public school next month. "I recently taught at Girls Inc. in Oakland, and one of the little black girls said, 'Are you the ballet teacher?' She just stood there, staring at me with her mouth open, like a unicorn had just walked into the room," Ash says. "You never know the impact you can have just by being a presence."
Ever find yourself lusting after that six o'clock penché, or a développé that will reach your nose? You're not alone. The eye is naturally drawn to the end points of a movement, and, in dance, that often translates to the highest extension.
But what if you're born without extreme, Instagram-worthy lines? It's a matter of developing a laser focus on alignment as well as strengthening and stretching with better body mechanics in mind.
When London-based perfume company The Beautiful Mind Series was looking for a collaborator for their next scent, they skipped the usual celebrity set and brought in prima ballerina Polina Semionova instead. "I was fascinated by what goes on in the mind of a great dancer," perfumer Geza Schoen said in a press release. Semionova's ballet-inspired scent, Precision & Grace, celebrates the intelligence and beauty behind her craft.
Courtesy of The Beautiful Mind Series
The ever-so-busy Kyle Abraham is back in New York City for a brief visit with his company Abraham.In.Motion as they prepare for an exciting spring season of new endeavors with some surprising guests. The company will be debuting a new program at The Joyce Theater on May 1, that will include two new pieces from Abraham, restaged works by Doug Varone and Bebe Miller, and a world premiere from Andrea Miller. Talk about an exciting line-up!
We caught up with Abraham during a recent rehearsal where he revealed what he is tired of hearing in the dance community.
Choreographer Tero Saarinen has a proclivity for the peculiar—and for epic orchestral music. That he should be commissioned by the Los Angeles Philharmonic to create a new dance work to accompany the U.S. premiere of Bernd Alois Zimmermann's Cello Concerto en forme de pas de trois only makes sense. Zimmermann's eerie, difficult-to-classify composition falls squarely in Saarinen's wheelhouse. Walt Disney Concert Hall, Jan. 19–21. laphil.com.
Two competition routines are equal in technical proficiency, artistry and choreography. One consists of all girls, the other includes a boy. Guess which takes home first prize?
If you guessed the one with the boy, you may be privy to an unspoken and much-debated phenomenon in the competition dance world: The Boy Factor. According to The Boy Factor, a competitive piece is more likely to win if there's a boy in it.
"If it's all technically equal and one group is all girls and the other group has a boy, the one with the boy will win," says Rysa Childress, owner of All Star Studios in Forest Hills, New York. "Boy soloists are sometimes scored higher than more technically proficient girls because if a boy has good stage presence, we let him slide," says an anonymous competition judge. "And most of the feedback will be for the boy."
I'll never forget something Roberto Bolle once told me when I was interviewing him about his workout regimen: Talking about how much he loved to swim, he said, "I would love to go in the Italian sea, but I am too well-known there to show up in my suit."
It always amused and kinda shocked me that a ballet dancer could reach that level of fame. But it's true: In his native Italy, Bolle is a bonafide celerity.
Everyone knows that community college is an affordable option if a four-year school isn't in the cards. But it can also be a solid foundation for a career in the dance field. Whether students want an associate in arts degree as a precursor to obtaining a bachelor's, or to go straight into the performing world, the right two-year dance program can be a uniquely supportive place to train. Don't let negative stereotypes prevent you from attending a program that could be right for you: