Claudia Schreier has been commissioned to choreograph on the ABT Studio Company next season. Here, with Ballet Academy East students. Photo by Rosalie O'Connor, courtesy Schreier.

ABT Is Getting Serious About Female Choreographers

American Ballet Theatre is putting more women in charge of its ballets.

Today, artistic director Kevin McKenzie announced that the company is launching a multi-year initiative called the ABT Women's Movement.


ABT will hire at least three female choreographers each season. The idea is that, in general, one woman will create a new ballet for the main company, one will make a work on the Studio Company, and one will workshop with dancers from either group for a choreographic residency without the expectation of a final product.

Lauren Lovette, choreographing here in the NYCB studios, created a ballet on ABT Studio Company last year. Photo by Erin Baiano, courtesy NYCB.

The launch will be celebrated this October during ABT's Fall Gala. That program will be devoted entirely to work by women: a premiere by Michelle Dorrance, Lauren Lovette's Le Jeune for the ABT Studio Company and Twyla Tharp's iconic In The Upper Room, which has been in ABT's rep since 1988.

The fall season will also include a premiere by Jessica Lang, her third for ABT. And both Claudia Schreier and Stefanie Batten Bland will create new works for the Studio Company's 2018-2019 season.

"The ABT Women's Movement takes inspiration from the groundbreaking female choreographers who have left a lasting impact on ABT's legacy, including Agnes de Mille and Twyla Tharp," McKenzie said in a press release.

This project builds on an earlier one that started in 2016 as the Women Choreographers Initiative, which supported works by Lang, and funded Lovette's Le Jeune as well as a Studio Company piece by Dana Genshaft, plus a main company residency last November with modern choreographer Pam Tanowitz.

No details were given about how many years this will run. But we're hoping it will last for as long as it takes until initiatives like these don't need to be a thing.

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Luke Isley, Courtesy Ballet West

How Do Choreographers Bring Something Fresh to Music We've Heard Over and Over?

In 2007, Oregon Ballet Theatre asked Nicolo Fonte to choreograph a ballet to Maurice Ravel's Boléro. "I said, 'No way. I'm not going near it,' " recalls Fonte. "I don't want to compete with the Béjart version, ice skaters or the movie 10. No, no, no!"

But Fonte's husband encouraged him to "just listen and get a visceral reaction." He did. And Bolero turned into one of Fonte's most requested and successful ballets.

Not all dance renditions of similar warhorse scores have worked out so well. Yet the irresistible siren song of pieces like Stravinsky's The Firebird and The Rite of Spring, as well as the perennial Carmina Burana by Carl Orff, seem too magnetic for choreographers to ignore.

And there are reasons for their popularity. Some were commissioned specifically for dance: Rite and Firebird for Diaghilev's Ballets Russes; Boléro for dance diva Ida Rubinstein's post–Ballets Russes troupe. Hypnotic rhythms (Arvo Pärt's Spiegel im Spiegel) and danceable melodies (Bizet's Carmen) make a case for physical eye candy. Audience familiarity can also help box office receipts. Still, many choreographers have been sabotaged by the formidable nature and Muzak-y overuse of these iconic compositions.

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