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"Ballet Is Woman"? Not in the Artistic Director's Office
In America, Balanchine's famous quote does not apply offstage. Last week The Richmond Ballet convened a panel to examine the question, Why aren't more women in charge of ballet companies? I came away from a discussion of and by a group of female artistic directors on the generally male-dominated leadership of American ballet companies with more questions than answers. The panel, titled “The Glass Slipper Ceiling,” was put together by the Richmond Ballet under artistic direction of Stoner Winslett. Participants were Andrea Snyder (executive director of DanceUSA), Anna Kisselgoff (former chief dance critic of The New York Times); Celia Fushille (artistic director of Smuin Ballet); Victoria Morgan (a.d. of Cincinnati Ballet); Dorothy Gunter Pugh (founder and a.d. of Ballet Memphis); and Ms. Winslett herself. (Suzanne Farrell was to have attended but could not due to a last minute scheduling conflict.)
The climate that gave rise to this panel: All top-tier ballet companies (budgets over $7M) in the U.S. are run by men. Of the next tier down, only four companies are run by women, all of whom participated in the panel. This male domination of leadership roles is not true outside the States; England’s Royal Ballet, France’s Paris Opéra Ballet, the National Ballet of Canada, and the Royal Ballet of Flanders, are all run by women.
Kisselgoff, as moderator of the panel, provided a fantastic historical perspective, and asked great questions herself. She pointed out that many major American ballet companies had been founded or originally directed by women, but that by the 1980s, ballet company leadership had become overwhelmingly male. She attributed this to the star power and draw of artistic leaders such as Balanchine, Nureyev, and Baryshnikov. But she questioned why, as soon as ballet companies became institutionalized (and thus legitimized), women faded from leadership roles. Ms. Snyder pointed out that this was also around the time when nonprofits began to adopt corporate, “business-like” models of operating, which at the time lent themselves to male leadership.
The women, most of whom had not originally set out to direct companies themselves, agreed in general that when they first stepped into leadership roles and met with other directors at conferences and meetings hosted by the likes of Dance/USA, they faced a sort of “boys club” atmosphere. Dorothy Gunter Pugh noted that more recently, with a younger generation assuming directorial roles, that atmosphere has softened—less pontificating, more asking questions.
The panelists offered a wonderful range of experience and perspectives: Pugh, in particular, noting that while balancing her company with family demands has been “a juggling act, I’ve created what works for me.” Winslett recounted her founding of a dance school in a neighbor’s basement at age 13.
Yet I found myself wanting more pointed answers to Kisselgoff’s questions—answers that moved beyond the women’s individual experience and addressed issues of the field as a whole (although Snyder, whose position provides her with excellent and far-reaching insights into exactly that, did offer excellent information). I want to know: Are female dancers encouraged with equal enthusiasm to choreograph? Do they have access to similar mentorship opportunities as male dancers, opportunities that might foster their potential as leaders and directors? Are they encouraged to even think of directorship as a possibility? And if not, can the field’s current leaders begin to fill these gaps? How?
Left to Right: Celia Fushille, Victoria Morgan, Andrea Snyder, Anna Kisselgoff, Stoner Winslett, Dorothy Gunther Pugh
Photo by Aaron Sutton, Courtesy Richmond Ballet
One of the biggest myths about ballet dancers is that they don't eat. While we all know that, yes, there are those who do struggle with body image issues and eating disorders, most healthy dancers love food—and eat plenty of it to fuel their busy schedules.
Luckily for us, they're not afraid to show it:
Looking for your next audition shoe? Shot at and in collaboration with Broadway Dance Center, Só Dança has launched a new collection of shoes working with some pretty famous faces of the musical theater world! Offered in two different styles and either 2.5" or 3" heels, top industry professionals are loving how versatile and supportive these shoes are! Pro tip: The heel is centered under the body so you can feel confident and stable!
When I wrote about my struggle with depression, and eventual departure from dance because of it, I expected criticism. I was prepared to be challenged. But much to my relief, and horror, dancers from all over the world responded with support and stories of solidarity. The most critical response I saw was this one:
"Dance isn't for everyone."
This may as well be a mantra in the dance world. We have become entrenched in the Darwinian notion that the emotionally weak will be weeded out. There is no room for them anyway.
Growing up in a family-owned dance studio in Missouri had its perks for tap dancer Anthony Russo. But it also earned him constant taunting, especially in high school.
"There was a junior in my sophomore year health class who was absolutely relentless," he says. "I'd get tripped on my way to the front of the classroom and he'd say, 'Watch out, twinkle toes.' If I raised my hand and answered a question incorrectly, I'd hear a patronizing 'Nice one, Bojangles.' "
What does a superstar like Carlos Acosta do after bidding farewell to his career in classical ballet? In Acosta's case, he returns to his native country, Cuba, to funnel his fame, connections and prodigious energies back into the dance scene that formed him. Because of its top-notch, state-supported training programs and popular embrace of the art of dance, Cuba is brimming with talented dancers. What it has been short on, until recently, are opportunities outside of the mainstream companies, as well as access to a more international repertoire. That is changing now, and, with the creation of Acosta Danza, launched in 2016, Acosta is determined to open the doors even wider to new ideas and audiences.
There's so much more to the dance world than making and performing dances. Arts administrators do everything from raising money to managing companies to building new audiences. With the growing number of arts administration programs in colleges, dancers have an opportunity to position themselves for a multifaceted career on- or offstage—and to bring their unique perspective as artists to administrative work.
While Solange was busy helping big sis Beyoncé give Coachella its best performances of all time, an equally compelling project was quietly circulating on Instagram:
New York City Ballet continues its first year without Peter Martins at the helm as our spring season opens tonight.
When he retired at the start of the new year, we plunged headfirst into unknown, murky waters. Who would the new director be? When would we know? Would we dancers get some say in the decision? Who would oversee the Balanchine ballets? Who would be in charge of casting? Would a new director bring along huge upheaval? Could some of us be out of a job?
In the world of ballet, Arcadian Broad is a one-stop shop: He'll come up with a story, compose its music, choreograph the movement and dance it himself. But then Broad has always been a master of versatility. As a teenager he juggled school, dance and—after the departure of his father—financial responsibility. It was Broad's income from dancing that kept his family afloat. Fast-forward six years and things are far more stable. Broad now lives on his own in an apartment, but you can usually find him in the studio.
Bales of hay, black umbrellas, bicycles—this Midsummer Night's Dream would be unrecognizable to the Bard. Alexander Ekman's full-length, inspired by Scandinavian solstice traditions and set to music by Mikael Karlsson, is a madcap celebration of the longest day of the year, when the veil between our world and that of the supernatural is said to be at its thinnest. The Joffrey Ballet's performances mark the seductively surreal work's North American premiere. April 25–May 6. joffrey.org.