Allison DeBona On What's Really Wrong With the Kendall Jenner Video
After Allison DeBona's Facebook post commenting on the recent Kendall Jenner controversy went viral, we invited the Ballet West first soloist to elaborate on the Dance Magazine blog.
Let’s cut to the chase. The recent Vogue Spain video with Kendall Jenner was not the first ballet representation gone wrong, and it will not be the last. So, as professional dancers who spend our lifetimes working on our craft, I call you to arms: conceive, create and educate.
From DeBona's Vogue Italia shoot. PC Emma Summerton for Vogue Italia.
I came across the Jenner video on Facebook because a friend of mine shared it. My first reaction was, “not this again!” This summer I was hired by Vogue Italia and the creative photographic mastermind Emma Summerton to be part of an eight page editorial and video for their August issue. Emma told me she was very dedicated to finding someone able to do extraordinary things with their body. I submitted photos and video to be considered for the job. I was up against models who really wanted the opportunity as well, but Emma found my technique to be important to her and her vision, so I booked it.
When I first saw it, I wanted to make light of the Jenner video because it seemed to me Vogue Spain hired her to pretend to be a dancer in her room—I originally wanted to post my video on my Facebook page and write, “Beautiful video Kendall, but I raise you a pointed toe.” But, I slept on it and the photo of Kendall in pointe shoes surfaced. There was a bigger issue to discuss.
I think it is wonderful that ballet is becoming more mainstream. Dance needs that to survive. I have made that point numerous times since Ballet West signed on for “Breaking Pointe.” But, as artists we can no longer allow pop culture to dictate the content that is being released on our behalf. “Breaking Pointe” was pitched to us as a docu-series to showcase the blood, sweat and tears it takes to be a professional dancer, but in post-production we fell victim to what the masses wanted—cat fights and love triangles. Ballet was lost in translation. How do we keep a mass of companies who are trying to capitalize on our art form, but are highly uneducated in our craft, from shaming us? We stop sharing the trash, create art we believe in and support each other.
Emma Summerton for Vogue Italia
There is a high level of competition in ballet, and it is not often that dancers look to their peers in support. We all can say we do, but do our actions support it? I posted my Vogue video weeks ago, and it did not get half of the shares and comments as it did after the Jenner video surfaced. Everyone partakes in self-promotion, but in order to educate the masses we must come together and support the content we find intelligent, thought provoking, artistic and technically sound. I try to practice what I preach. In 2014 I started “Art with Alli – A Random Thought” to create a forum where I could share other dancers' content and endeavors. I ask dancers to tag #ARTWITHALLI for a chance to be featured. I also direct artÉmotion Summer Intensive along with Ballet West principal Rex Tilton, a program we started to invest in the future of young dancers and artists. We will also be launching a new endeavor where we hope to reach the masses on a more regular basis with dance. Be the change you want to see, collaborate with artists who share your vision and share what moves you. Or else Kendall Jenner will continue to get the one million views you’re hoping to get for your latest project. As a commenter on my Facebook page put it: "I know nothing about ballet, but Spanish Vogue made me think, 'clothes + Kendall = $$,' whereas Allison's video made me wish I'd taken ballet."
Yvonne Rainer's Parts of Some Sextets (AKA "the mattress dance") hasn't been revived since it premiered in 1965. Nor has Rainer had any wish to do it again, to ask performers to heave 10 mattresses around while carrying out 31 tasks that changed every 30 seconds. It was an unwieldy, difficult dance. (Even the title is unwieldy.) But Emily Coates, who has danced in Rainer's work for 20 years, became curious about this piece and was determined to see it again—and to dance in it. She will get her wish November 15–17, when the mattress dance will be performed as part of the Performa 19 Biennial.
Back in 2011 when Joe Lanteri first approached Katie Langan, chair of Marymount Manhattan College's dance department, about getting involved with New York City Dance Alliance, she was skeptical about the convention/competition world.
"But I was pleasantly surprised by the enormity of talent that was there," she says. "His goal was to start scholarship opportunities, and I said okay, I'm in."
Today, it's fair to say that Lanteri has far surpassed his goal of creating scholarship opportunities. But NYCDA has done so much more, bridging the gap between the convention world and the professional world by forging a wealth of partnerships with dance institutions from Marymount to The Ailey School to Complexions Contemporary Ballet and many more. There's a reason these companies and schools—some of whom otherwise may not see themselves as aligned with the convention/competition world—keep deepening their relationships with NYCDA.
Now, college scholarships are just one of many ways NYCDA has gone beyond the typical weekend-long convention experience and created life-changing opportunities for students. We rounded up some of the most notable ones:
"The show must go on" may be a platitude we use to get through everything from costume malfunctions to stormy moods. But when it came to overcoming a literal hurricane, Houston Ballet was buoyed by this mantra to go from devastated to dancing in a matter of weeks—with the help of Harlequin Floors, Houston Ballet's longstanding partner who sprang into action to build new floors in record time.