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Inside IABD's New Ballet Audition for Men of Color
Last month, the International Association of Blacks in Dance's third annual ballet audition for women of color was expanded to include a separate audition for men.
The brainchild of Joan Myers Brown (founder of both Philadanco and IABD), the women's audition was created to specifically address the lack of black females in ballet. However, the success and attention that audition drew made the men feel left out, so IABD decided to give the men equal time this year.
Both auditions happen within IABD's larger conference, hosted this year by Lula Washington Dance Theatre. The week-long event of panel discussions, master classes, auditions and performances feels part–family reunion, part-retreat.
The electrically-charged atmosphere can feel foreign to some white ballet representatives, but it's an invaluable social education. Experiencing the way in which African Americans gather, interact and educate can explain why walking into a ballet school can feel cold and unwelcoming.
Here, white administrators can experience what it feels like to be one of a few, to stick out, to not know if you are authentically welcome or just being tolerated. I had conversations with some who were uncertain if their voices would be welcomed. Welcome to the African American experience.
This year's ballet auditions drew some of the original supporting organizations (San Francisco Ballet, Ballet Memphis, Pacific Northwest Ballet, Joffrey, Kansas City Ballet and Nashville Ballet) plus some newcomers (Atlanta Ballet, Oakland Ballet, New York City Ballet), although some chose to attend only the women's audition. The number wanting to attend at the last minute—and the distinct increase in the level of talent this year—prove the word is spreading.
The male auditioners pose with IABD president Denise Saunders Thompson
Providing talented dancers with training and professional opportunities is the stated mission of the auditions. But another type of work happens behind closed doors, in a meeting with the representatives led by IABD president Denise Saunders Thompson and myself.
In it, Jonathan Stafford, head of the interim artistic team at NYCB admitted, "This is not something we have always been good at." He came to the conference along with Elise Drew, SAB's new manager of diversity and inclusion. "I have heard painful stories from the past," Stafford said, "which we must take responsibility for and learn from. Like many ballet companies around the country, we are now involved in a process of change that we hope will make the culture of our institution more diverse, inclusive and equitable. NYCB is now working to ensure that as more dancers from diverse backgrounds begin to enter the company, they are made to feel welcome and supported in all aspects of their careers. There is much work to do."
SFB assistant administrative director Christina Gray Rutter shared the success story of Raquel Smith who received a scholarship to SFB's school at IABD's first ballet audition in 2015: Now in level 8, she has performed with the company in The Nutcracker, Sleeping Beauty and been asked to learn Serenade. Smith returned to the IABD audition this year.
Raquel Smith's journey to San Francisco Ballet began at IABD's 2015 audition. In December, she performed with the company in Nutcracker.
SFBS faculty member Rubén Martín Cintas also shared his experience teaching master classes arranged by IABD for students of color. The first of these was held in Chicago last October; others have taken place in Washington, DC and San Francisco as a way to engage with African American communities and build a trusted network. Local instructors and students can sit in on the class and ask questions.
"I wanted to create an environment that allowed for an exchange and dialogue by everyone, 'a first date' if you will, and it was quite successful," Thompson said about the master classes. "I am open to having discussions with other organizations about this opportunity, however I'll really be looking at the entire organization and its authenticity regarding real inclusion, access and opportunity for black and brown dancers."
Next year, there are plans to expand the audition, creating a comprehensive ballet component to the IABD conference (which has traditionally focused on modern dance).
The results of this years auditions were promising: Of the 27 male dancers who attended, 18 received offers ranging from tuition scholarships for summer intensives to AGMA contracts. Of the 49 women at the female audition, 31 received offers to either attend a summer intensive, take a company class to see about an apprenticeship or join a second company.
Whether playing a saucy soubrette or an imperious swan, Irina Dvorovenko was always a formidable presence on the American Ballet Theatre stage. Since her 2013 retirement at 39, after 16 seasons, she's been bringing that intensity to an acting career in roles ranging from, well, Russian ballerinas to the Soviet-era newcomer she plays in the FX spy series "The Americans."
We caught up with her after tech rehearsal for the Encores! presentation of the musical Grand Hotel, directed and choreographed by Josh Rhodes and running March 21–25 at New York City Center. It's another tempestuous ballerina role for Dvorovenko—Elizaveta Grushinskaya, on her seventh farewell tour, resentfully checks into the Berlin hostelry of the title with her entourage, only to fall for a handsome young baron and sing "Bonjour, Amour."
When Andrew Montgomery first saw the Las Vegas hit Le Rêve - The Dream 10 years ago, he knew he had to be a part of the show one day. Eight years later, he auditioned, and made it to the last round of cuts. On his way home, still waiting to hear whether he'd been cast, he was in a motorcycle accident that ended up costing him half his leg.
But Montgomery's story doesn't end the way you might think. Today, he's a cast member of Le Rêve, where he does acrobatics and aerial work, swims (yes, the show takes places in and around a large pool) and dances, all with his prosthetic leg.
When you spend as much time on the road as The Royal Ballet's Steven McRae, getting access to a proper gym can be a hassle. To stay fit, the Australian-born principal turns to calisthenics—the old-school art of developing aerobic ability and strength with little to no equipment.
"It's basically just using your own body weight," McRae explains. "In terms of partnering, I'm not going to dance with a ballerina who is bigger than me, so if I can sustain my own body weight, then in my head I should be fine."
Last week in a piece I wrote about the drama at English National Ballet, I pointed out that many of the accusations against artistic director Tamara Rojo—screaming at dancers, giving them the silent treatment, taking away roles without explanation—were, unfortunately, pretty standard practice in the ballet world:
If it's a conversation we're going to have, we can't only point the finger at ENB.
The line provoked a pretty strong response. Professional dancers, students and administrators reached out to me, making it clear that it's a conversation they want to have. Several shared their personal stories of experiencing abusive behavior.
Christopher Hampson, artistic director of the Scottish Ballet, wrote his thoughts about the issue on his company's website on Monday:
Camille A. Brown is on an impressive streak: In October, the Ford Foundation named her an Art of Change fellow. In November, she won an AUDELCO ("Viv") Award for her choreography in the musical Bella: An American Tall Tale. On December 1, her Camille A. Brown & Dancers made its debut at the Kennedy Center, and two days later she was back in New York City to see her choreography in the opening of Broadway's Once on This Island. Weeks later, it was announced that she was choreographing NBC's live television musical Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert, to air on April 1.
An extraordinarily private person, few knew that during this time Brown was in the midst of a health crisis. It started with an upset stomach while performing with her company on tour last summer.
"I was drinking ginger ale, thinking that I would feel better," she says. Finally, the pain became so acute that she went to the emergency room in Mississippi. Her appendix had burst. "Until then, I didn't know it was serious," she says. "I'm a dancer—aches and pains don't keep you from work."
A flock of polyamorous princes, a chorus of queer dying swans, a dominatrix witch: These are a few of the characters that populate the works of Katy Pyle, who, with her Brooklyn-based company Ballez, has been uprooting ballet's gender conventions since 2011.
Historically, ballet has not allowed for the expression of lesbian, transgender or gender-nonconforming identities. With Ballez, Pyle is reinventing the classical canon on more inclusive terms. Her work stems from a deep love of ballet and, at the same time, a frustration with its limits on acceptable body types and on the stories it traditionally tells.
The latest fitness fad has us literally buzzing. Vibrating tools—and exercise classes—promise added benefits to your typical workout and recovery routine, and they're only growing more popular.
Warning: These good vibrations don't come cheap.
My life is in complete chaos since my dance company disbanded. I have a day job, so money isn't the issue. It's the loss of my world that stings the most. What can I do?
—Lost Career, Washington, DC
Dance Theatre of Harlem is busy preparing for the company's Vision Gala on April 4. The works on the program, which takes place on the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., reflect on the legacy of Dr. King and his impact on company founder Arthur Mitchell. Among them is the much-anticipated revival of legendary choreographer Geoffrey Holder's Dougla, which will include live music and dancers from Collage Dance Collective.
We stepped into the studio with Holder's wife Carmen de Lavallade and son Leo Holder to hear what it feels like to keep Holder's legacy alive and what de Lavallade thinks of the recent rise in kids standing up against the government—as she did not too long ago.
The encounter with man-eating female creatures in Jerome Robbins' The Cage never fails to shock audiences. As this tribe of insects initiates the newly-born Novice into their community and prepares her for the attack of the male Intruders, the ballet draws us into a world of survival and instinct.
This year celebrates the 100th anniversary of Jerome Robbins' birth, and a number of Robbins programs are celebrating his timeless repertoire. But it especially feels like a prime moment to experience The Cage again. Several companies are performing it: San Francisco Ballet begins performances on March 20, followed by the English National Ballet in April and New York City Ballet in May.
Why it matters: In this time of female empowerment—as women are supporting one another in vocalizing injustices, demanding fair treatment and pay, and advocating for future generations—The Cage's nest of dominant women have new significance.