James Whiteside's Unapologetic New Music Video is Custom-Made for Ballet Insiders
American Ballet Theatre principal James Whiteside is known for more than just his uber-charismatic presence on the ballet stage; He doubles as both the drag queen Ühu Betch and the pop star JbDubs. Whiteside's newest musical release, titled WTF, came out last week, and is for sure his most ballet-filled song to date. Both the lyrics and the choreography are jam-packed with bunhead references, from the Rose Adagio to Haglund's Heel to a framed portrait of George Balanchine. Not to mention the fact that he and his four backup dancers (Matthew Poppe, Douane Gosa, Maxfield Haynes and Gianni Goffredo) absolutely kill it in pointe shoes.
Whiteside released the video on May 17, the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia. And beyond showing off his impressive quadruple pirouette into a double tour (see 3:22), Whiteside uses WTF to shine a light on the questions surrounding gender, sexuality and harassment that have been circling the ballet world for the past two years. Whiteside's main message, "What the what," shows that he's flummoxed, and trying to make sense of it all. Yet his words also act as a form of protest against the people who have held him back, or questioned his unapologetic sense of self. (An explicit version of WTF, available on Spotify and iTunes, references Marcelo Gomes, Chase Finlay, Amar Ramasar and Zachary Catazaro, male dancers who have been involved in cases of sexual misconduct in the midst of the #MeToo movement.)
The most prominent example of this is Whiteside's pushback against Sergei Polunin's recent homophobic and sexist outbursts. If being partnered by men while on pointe doesn't send enough of a message, then Whiteside's lyrics make things crystal clear. "Sergei Polunin is a bully and a coward," he sings. Towards the end of the video, Whiteside walks defiantly toward the camera while a recorded clip of Polunin speaking plays: "Personally I don't want to see men onstage not being a man." In another section, Whiteside calls out writers, naming former New York Times chief dance critic Alastair Macaulay and anonymous ballet blogger Haglund's Heel. He sings, "I will not be influenced by Alastair Macaulay. Haglund is fresh by the names that she calls me. Look at my career and look at all the ones that fought me." Whiteside has been celebrated for redefining the idea of the principal male dancer, but that progress has not come without criticism; in an interview with Dance Magazine last year he said, "I can't imagine someone like me existing when I was a kid." Here, Whiteside uses his musical platform to showcase his most honest and unapologetic self.
Yes, we realize it's only August. But we can't help but to already be musing about all the incredible dance happenings of 2019.
We're getting ready for our annual Readers' Choice feature, and we want to hear from you about the shows you can't stop thinking about, the dance videos that blew your mind and the artists you discovered this year who everyone should know about.
Just four years ago, the University of Southern California's Glorya Kaufman School of Dance welcomed its first class of BFA students. The program—which boasts world-class faculty and a revolutionary approach to training focused on collaboration and hybridity—immediately established itself as one of the country's most prestigious and most innovative.
Now, the first graduating class is entering the dance field. Here, six of the 33 graduates share what they're doing post-grad, what made their experience at USC Kaufman so meaningful and how it prepared them for their next steps:
Chiara Valle is just one of many dancers heading back to the studio this fall as companies ramp up for the season. But her journey back has been far more difficult than most.
Valle has been a trainee at The Washington Ballet since 2016, starting at the same time as artistic director Julie Kent. But only a few months into her first season there, she started experiencing excruciating pain high up in her femur. "It felt like someone was stabbing me 24/7," she says. Sometimes at night, the pain got so bad that her roommates would bring her dinner to the bathtub.
Michele Byrd-McPhee's uncle was a DJ for the local black radio station in Philadelphia, where she was born. As a kid she was always dancing to the latest music, including a new form of powerful poetry laid over pulsing beats that was the beginning of what we now call hip hop.
Byrd-McPhee became enamored of the form and went on to a career as a hip-hop dancer and choreographer, eventually founding the Ladies of Hip-Hop Festival and directing the New York City chapter of Everybody Dance Now!. Over the decades, she has experienced hip hop's growth from its roots in the black community into a global phenomenon—a trajectory she views with both pride and caution.
On one hand, the popularity of hip hop has "made a global impact," says Byrd-McPhee. "It's provided a voice for so many people around the world." The downside is "it's used globally in ways that the people who made the culture don't benefit from it."