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How Kate Ladenheim's New Video Series Tackles Women's Internalized Misogyny
It's a standalone dance film series, a nuanced examination of contemporary feminism and an evocative teaser trailer for an upcoming performance—it wouldn't be a project by Kate Ladenheim, artistic director of The People Movers and one of our "25 to Watch," if it wasn't daringly ambitious. Glass is the multi-hyphenate's latest creation, a four-pronged project about women living under glass ceilings that, in its most widely accessible form, is a five-part video series, the third installment of which was released today.
What are the double standards that come into play when women try to break glass ceilings? What is the backlash when they fail? What happens when they stand together in solidarity, or when they unintentionally perpetuate misogyny? These are some of the questions the film series asks as four dancers protest in pantsuits, conform in deconstructed hoop skirts and pause to paint their nails. We caught up with Ladenheim to discuss the ongoing project.
What is Glass?
There are four main forms: a five part series of online films, a film and performance installation, a live performance and a dialogue series. My original idea was that I would build a glass ceiling that an audience would stand on and look down on a community of women. But it's really expensive to build a glass ceiling! And difficult, and dangerous if you don't do it correctly. We had to find ways around this idea and expressing this inescapable hierarchy women experience collectively. It's about how you internalize patriarchy against yourself and fellow female identified folk without realizing it when you're inside that pressure cooker environment.
What led you to create both a video series and a live performance?
There is a stage that everybody looks at all the time, and it's your phone or computer. There's something essential about live work, but also about how live and reactive digital spaces have become. If you're talking about something so reactive as these topics around women and feminism, you need to be there, online. This is a theme in my work in general: the way live and digital work interfaces, and how dance can exist in digital spaces and how that impacts liveness in general. The story can be told in many ways. I don't really have delusions about myself as an independent dancemaker: My reach isn't that big, but I like to provide platforms for engagement in a number of different ways.
What is the relationship between the video series and the concert work?
In live work, there's a way to build tension. You can be more patient with your work in live spaces than in digital spaces, because in digital spaces people get bored. A lot of my pieces are a slow burn, and about things bubbling up inside you and trying to keep it all in. All humans can feel that, but especially women in professional settings where you don't always feel you can speak up. So in these films, how do we get that feeling without staying in the same place for too long?
Where did the idea for Glass come from?
I started building the base material in 2015. I had a residency with a composer—Peter Van Zandt Lane—that took place at The Pocantico Center, the former private residence of the Rockefellers. It's this lavish property, and there are beautiful gardens, but everything is protected by gates. By the end of the week we had the idea that we would make something around the ideas of barriers and gates. And then the 2016 election happened, and the truly disturbing and overt and horrifying displays of misogyny that were plastered throughout this campaign. Hillary Clinton is a woman who is so privileged in every sense, and to have her constantly slandered for her femaleness was really shocking for me. The thought that you can work your entire life for something, be qualified in every sense of the word and just not achieve it because of your woman-ness—that hit me very hard. That's a barrier everyone can see past but you can't get through. So this piece was born.
"There are all these skeletons of perceived femininity in the work," Kate Ladenheim says of Glass. Photo by Whitney Browne courtesy Ladenheim
The costuming choices across the video series so far have been very evocative—pantsuits, deconstructed hoop skirts. How did you arrive at these choices?
The pantsuits pretty directly referenced white pantsuits and political movements and women's suffrage. The hoop skirts reference restrictive costuming for women that has been throughout the ages. Also, one of the essays by Rebecca Solnit that was inspirational to me was about silence as a series of concentric circles; basically, how silence works as an oppressive tool to keep people from believing women and to keep violence against them invisible. Looked at from above, women in hoop skirts are constrained inside of concentric circles. They stay in the hoop skirts in the rest of the films. They become obstacles: It's harder to get close to people, you get stuck in them.
What about the nail painting that is so instrumental to Glass: Part III?
There are all these skeletons of perceived femininity within the work: nail painting and hoop skirts and leotards and nakedness. They all kind of reference these things that women can reclaim for themselves. My mom would get her nails painted every week when I was growing up. I was never really into nail polish. It made me feel overindulgent, ostentatious; even though it's such a tiny thing, it made me feel like I was attracting too much attention. But it's something that my mother and a lot of other women reclaim as something that makes them powerful and fierce and sexy—but it's created by men, with the male gaze in mind. And you can't do as many things as first when the nails are wet; it affects your physicality in a very specific way. To research for the piece we would paint our nails and do the movement while they were wet to see how it affects our approach.
Something I've really appreciated about this series is how nuanced the ideas feel. It's not just women in solidarity with each other to crush the patriarchy, or, on the other extreme, women putting down or holding back other women.
There's something I've been interested in while watching the discourse around feminism becoming more prominent: Who gets to claim feminism? Nobody is a perfect activist; there is no such thing as an ideal woman. Everyone is trying to become a better person, and I think that's what the women in Glass are trying to do. Within this structure, how do they relate to each other, the world around each other, express their feelings? It's not always kind. I don't think anyone in this world can say someone came to me with a story and I had the perfect reaction, or I gave them the perfect comfort. So there are nuances to the way we treat each other. There are faults to our discourse. There are faults to our attempts at liberation.
Still from Glass: Part I. Photo by Chelsea Robin Lee, Courtesy The People Movers
Has your perspective on this series changed at all in light of the #MeToo movement?
I don't think it was anything that I didn't know before it came to light. Of course I know that abuse is rampant. Every woman and queer person that I know has a story around harassment and abuse. So I guess it's galvanizing to see things coming to the forefront, and it's exciting to be creating topical work, but I'm not sure that it changed our approach in any way. It was like, Great, everyone caught up!
How do you go about creating a feminist working environment in the studio?
We're cautious to care for each other. We started with agreements about safety and what I will ask of them and what they can say no to. We all really care about and value consent. I can't really take credit for that one. I just have the most amazing collaborators, these incredible women: generous, smart, and capable, and really willing to engage on every level. They're honest and open and I don't know that it's me that's doing it! It's us that's done it.
It's so funny because there's so much violence and pettiness and passive aggression in the work, but if you saw us you'd never believe we could do that to each other because there's so much love and care and admiration between us. I'm so honored they work with me! That they think I'm worthy!
It can be hard to focus when Alice Sheppard dances.
Her recent sold-out run of DESCENT at New York Live Arts, for instance, offered a constellation of stimulation. Onstage was a large architectural ramp with an assortment of peaks and planes. There was an intricate lighting and projection design. There was a musical score that unfolded like an epic poem. There was a live score too: the sounds of Sheppard and fellow dancer Laurel Lawson's bodies interacting with the surfaces beneath them.
And there were wheelchairs. But if you think the wheelchairs are the center of this work, you're missing something vital about what Sheppard creates.
So far, the fervor to create diversity in ballet has primarily focused on dancers. Less attention has been paid to the work that they'll encounter once they arrive.
Yet the cultivation of ballet choreographers of color (specifically black choreographers) through traditional pathways of choreographic training grounds remains virtually impossible. No matter how you slice it, we end up at the basic issues that plague the pipeline to the stage: access and privilege.
"I'm sorry, but I just can't possibly give you the amount of money you're asking for."
My heart sinks at my director's final response to my salary proposal. She insists it's not me or my work, there is just no money in the budget. My disappointment grows when handed the calendar for Grand Rapids Ballet's next season with five fewer weeks of work.
"It just...always looks better in my head."
While that might not be something any of us would want to hear from a choreographer, it's a brilliant introduction to "Off Kilter" and the odd, insecure character at its center, Milton Frank. The ballet mockumentary (think "The Office" or "Parks and Recreation," but with pointe shoes) follows Frank (dancer-turned-filmmaker Alejandro Alvarez Cadilla) as he comes back to the studio to try his hand at choreographing for the first time since a plagiarism scandal derailed his fledgling career back in the '90s.
We've been pretty excited about the series for a while, and now the wait is finally over. The first episode of the show, "The Denial," went live earlier today, and it's every bit as awkward, hilarious and relatable as we hoped.
Christopher Wheeldon is going to be giving Michael Jackson some new moves: The Royal Ballet artistic associate is bringing the King of Pop to Broadway.
The unlikely pairing was announced today by Jackson's estate. Wheeldon will serve as both director and choreographer for the new musical inspired by Michael Jackson's life, which is aiming for a 2020 Broadway opening. This will be Wheeldon's second time directing and choreographing, following 2015's Tony Award-winning An American in Paris.
Wheeldon is a surprising choice, to say the least. There are many top choreographers who worked with Jackson directly, like Wade Robson and Brian Friedman, who could have been tapped for the project. Or the production could have even hired someone who actually choreographed on Jackson when he was alive, like Buddha Stretch.
What is the right flooring system for us?
So many choices, companies, claims, endorsements, and recommendations to consider. The more you look, the more confusing it gets. Here is what you need to do. Here is what you need to know to get the flooring system suited to your needs.
Broadway musicals have been on my mind for more than half a century. I discovered them in grade school, not in a theater but electronically. On the radio, every weeknight an otherwise boring local station would play a cast album in its entirety; on television, periodically Ed Sullivan's Sunday night variety show would feature an excerpt from the latest hit—numbers from Bye Bye Birdie, West Side Story, Camelot, Flower Drum Song.
But theater lives in the here and now, and I was in middle school when I attended my first Broadway musical, Gypsy—based, of all things, on the early life of the famed burlesque queen Gypsy Rose Lee. I didn't know who Jerome Robbins was, but I recognized genius when I saw it—kids morphing into adults as a dance number progresses, hilarious stripping routines, a pas de deux giving concrete shape to the romantic yearnings of an ugly duckling. It proved the birth of a lifelong habit, indulged for the last 18 years in the pages of this magazine. But all long runs eventually end, and it's time to say good-bye to the "On Broadway" column. It's not the last of our Broadway coverage—there's too much great work being created and performed, and you can count on hearing from me in print and online.
Let's start with the obvious: Over the weekend, Beyoncé and Jay-Z released a joint album, Everything Is Love. Bey and Jay also dropped a video for the album's lead track, which they filmed inside the actual Louvre museum in Paris (as one does, when one is a member of the Carter family). And the vid features not only thought-provoking commentary on the Western art tradition, but also some really incredible dancing.
So, who choreographed this epic? And who are the dancers bringing it to life in those already-iconic bodystockings?
Travis Wall draws inspiration from dancers Tate McCrae, Timmy Blankenship and more.
One often-overlooked relationship that exists in dance is the relationship between choreographer and muse. Recently two-time Emmy Award Winner Travis Wall opened up about his experience working with dancers he considers to be his muses.
"My muses in choreography have evolved over the years," says Wall. "When I'm creating on Shaping Sound, our company members, my friends, are my muses. But at this current stage of my career, I'm definitely inspired by new, fresh talent."
Wall adds, "I'm so inspired by this new generation of dancers. Their teachers have done such incredible jobs, and I've seen these kids grown up. For many of them, I've had a hand in their exposure to choreography."
This week, New York City's Joyce Theater presents two companies addressing LGBTQ+ issues.
When most people think of dance students, they imagine lithe children and teenagers waltzing around classrooms with their legs lifted to their ears. It doesn't often cross our minds that dance training can involve an older woman trying to build strength in her body to ward off balance issues, or a middle-aged man who didn't have the confidence to take a dance class as a boy for fear of bullying.
Anybody can begin to learn dance at any age. But it takes a particular type of teacher to share our art form with dancers who have few prospects beyond fun and fitness a few nights a week.
New York City–based dancers know Gibney. It's a performance venue, a dance company, a rehearsal space, an internship possibility—a Rubik's Cube of resources bundled into two sites at 280 and 890 Broadway. And in March of this year, Gibney (having officially dropped "Dance" from its name) announced a major expansion of its space and programming; it now operates a total of 52,000 square feet, 23 studios and five performance spaces across the two locations.
Six of those studios and one performance space are brand-new at the 280 Broadway location, along with several programs. EMERGE will commission new works by emerging choreographic voices for the resident Gibney Dance Company each year; Making Space+ is an extension of Gibney's Making Space commissioning and presenting program, focused on early-career artists. For the next three years, the Joyce Theater Foundation's artist residency programs will be run out of one of the new Gibney studios, helping to fill the gap left by the closing of the Joyce's DANY Studios in 2016.
Dancers crossing over into the fitness realm may be increasingly popular, but it was never part of French-born Julie Granger's plan. Though Granger grew up a serious ballet student, taking yoga classes on the side eventually led to a whole new career. Creating her own rules along the way, Granger shares how combining the skills she learned in ballet with certifications in yoga, barre and personal training allowed her to become her own boss (and a rising fitness influencer).