Can We All Please Acknowledge Ballet's Sexism Problem Already?
On Friday, The New York Times posted an article to its website titled "A Conversation With 3 Choreographers Who Reinvigorated Ballet," a joint interview with Justin Peck, Christopher Wheeldon and Alexei Ratmansky. It's a delightful conversation at first, veering from process to style to musical choices—delightful, that is, until a question about the dearth of female choreographers in classical ballet arose.
Screenshot via nytimes.com
These responses range from sort-of-passable (Peck at least acknowledges the need for systemic changes) to worrisome (Wheeldon's apparent bafflement) to troubling (Nijinska? Seriously?). In a word, problematic.
The issue Roslyn Sulcas raises here is not news. We know that there are far, far fewer women choreographers than men in the ballet world. We know that a small group of white men (who are, to be fair, fantastic choreographers) largely dominates the field in terms of consistent international impact.
Justin Peck. Photo by Erik Tomasson, Courtesy San Francisco Ballet.
In fact, it's slightly absurd that in 2017, we feel it's cause for celebration when Cincinnati Ballet programs a season equally split between works by men and women, or when New York City Ballet commissions two works by women choreographers for their fall gala for a second year in a row. Even allowing for the reality that the comments from Peck, Wheeldon and Ratmansky are from an excerpted, edited interview in which printing space is at a premium, even allowing that it was a relatively informal conversation, even allowing that it is an extremely complex issue—even then, these three men could, and should, have done better.
Earlier today, Luke Jennings, who writes on dance for The Guardian and The New Yorker, tweeted this response:
Screenshot via Twitter.
And with that, Twitter went mad. NYT chief dance critic Alastair Macaulay laid out a seven point rebuttal critiquing Jenning's response, then parlayed with Jennings on several of the points. Other NYT dance writers also chimed in, as did notable critics from other publications and a number of Dance Magazine contributors. The threads quickly became sprawling.
Christopher Wheeldon in rehearsal. Photo by Todd Rosenberg, Courtesy Joffrey Ballet
Meanwhile on Instagram, a flurry of heated comments resulted from NYT and DM contributor Siobhan Burke posting an image of the three responses in question. Choreographer Annie-B Parson simply chimed in with, "Haha. I can speak to this #erasure #beenthere."
Obviously, this is a far, far more complex problem than can be fully discussed in a 140 character tweet or a sharply worded comment on Instagram, or even in an interview like the one that launched this entire conversation. And that's just the thing: We need more conversation, we need more collaborative effort, and we need to stop shrugging and pointing to dance history as though one Bronislava Nijinska makes up for all of the other voices we might still be missing in the ballet world today without systemic change. It's happening—however slowly—and we'd much prefer it if the men who are currently dominating the field can take a step back, acknowledge the power they have and use it to move the conversation forward.
So a message for Peck, Wheeldon and Ratmansky: We love your work. Now do better.
UDPATE (Apr. 25): Alexei Ratmansky shared this post on Facebook, giving more context to the question. He also calls for deeper conversation on the topic.
Screenshot via Facebook.
Imagine this scenario: You get a text from a friend just as you're heading into ballet class, and have to answer as quickly as possible. Now, if you were heading into a juggling class, or water polo match, or fencing practice, you'd be able to send a quick emoji in response. But alas, you're forced to type out a full sentence. Because, to the ballet world's collective frustration, There. Is. No. Ballet. Emoji. Until now...
According to Emojipedia, the site for all things emoji-related, a ballet shoe emoji is slated to come out later this year (the exact date hasn't been announced yet) as part of Emoji Version 12.0. The proposal came from Australia-based tech company manager and ballet fan Rüdiger Landmann. Landmann proposed three separate ballet emojis: a ballerina, a male ballet dancer and a pair of pointe shoes. Only the pointe shoe emoji was approved, and we'll be honest, it doesn't look like any pointe shoe we've ever seen. It's more like a pink loafer with ribbons attached. But we're trying not to complain, as this is definitely a (wobbly, given the shape of that shoe) step in the right direction.
You might still be thinking wistfully of the figure skating choreography at the 2018 Winter Olympics or already looking forward to the gymnastics competition at next summer's games, but we're officially marking our calendars for Paris 2024. Why? There's an excellent chance that break dancing will make its Olympic debut.
The jukebox musical is a bonafide Broadway staple. Everyone from ABBA to Elvis and Billy Joel to The Beach Boys has been given the Great White Way treatment, and shows with Alanis Morissette's and Michael Jackson's hits are on their way. The big question on our minds is, What current artists' songs might we hear on Broadway in the future?
The fourth wall has come down, and it has opened up a whole new kind of gig for dancers. Since Sleep No More became a hit in 2011, immersive theater experiences have been shattering expectations by inviting audiences to move through the world of the performance as they please. What kind of skill set does this burgeoning art form demand?
For choreographer Raja Feather Kelly, music is simple: "There's good music and there's bad music and I love good music and I love to hate bad music."
But, true to form, Kelly—whose past few months have included choreographing the Skittles Super Bowl musical and earning one of our first-ever Harkness Promise Awards—had some surprises up his sleeve when he made us a playlist he describes as "for moody Geminis who work over 12 hours a day and need a playlist that can shuffle and never disappoint."
Though the playlist has some whiplash-inducing twists and turns—from Coheed and Cambria to Carly Rae Jepsen to Missy Elliott to Schubert—there is a through-line: "Music that makes you feel like you're in your own movie. I love walking through the street feeling like I'm on a runway, living my best life."
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Lately I've been having recurring dreams: I'm in an audition and I can't remember the combination. Or, I'm rehearsing for an upcoming show, onstage, and I don't know what comes next. Each time I wake up relieved that it was only a dream.
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