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The Problem With Les Grands Ballets' Male-Choreographed "FEMMES" Program Goes Beyond Fairness
It had the makings of great satire. Three male dancers wrapped up in several layers of dripping cellophane, set against a background of vibrant pink. Above them was the headline FEMMES. Below was a blurb outlining Les Grands Ballets Canadiens' concept: an evening of ballet on the theme of "Woman," which would be part of the larger 2018/19 season billed as "an ode to woman."
The punchline: the triple bill would be choreographed entirely by men, and out of the eight choreographers on the season program, only one would be female.
On first glance (or second or third) you might have assumed that the Montreal-based company had put together a brilliant marketing coup in the form of a "mock season." An Onion-worthy parody to indict sexism and patriarchy in the ballet-world—especially the dearth of female choreographers having their work presented at major companies. A #TimesUp lampoon of the myriad ways men attempt to speak for women in life and art, and an indication that incoming artistic director, Ivan Cavallari, had his finger on the pulse of the times.
But there was one big problem: The season was no joke.
When Les Grands Ballets issued its 62nd season announcement last Monday, the dance community balked at the inconceivably tone-deaf program. The press release, which referred to women as "symbols" and stated that the male choreographers would "courageously meet the challenge of creating work on such a powerfully charged theme," was ridiculed and criticized across social media platforms. Luke Jennings wrote a damning editorial about the programming in The Guardian.
Local artists began to organize: Kathleen Rea, a former National Ballet of Canada dancer and contemporary choreographer, started a petition to add a female choreographer to the triple bill and change the objectifying nature of the marketing language. Within several days, she had nearly 3000 signatures.
Yesterday, there were new developments to the story. One of the choreographers of the all-male triple bill, the French Medhi Walerski, announced on Facebook that he'd removed himself from the program. "I am aware of the pervasive misrepresentation and lack of predominance [women] have often been subjected to in their own careers, and I do not stand for that," he posted.
Then, Les Grands Ballets issued a second press release. The triple bill's name had been changed to "Palarmi d'Amore," (Italian for "talk to me of love") and would now explore "love in all its forms in today's society."
"We have heard you," is the message from Cavallari, who is quoted in the press release as having been surprised by the backlash. "I didn't want to talk about women as objects, but from a broader perspective: in relation to life, to love and to the Earth," the document states.
Even with the sexism partly corrected (no commitment to adding a female choreographer to the triple bill has been made) the new program sounds corny and out of touch. A meditation on love in its many societal forms seems about as probing and intelligent as a good mobile-network commercial.
Les Grands Ballets' marketing image for Lady Chatterly's Lover, which opens the season in October
Cavallari is hardly the only artistic director who has failed to give women choreographers sufficient presence in his programming. The National Ballet of Canada has the work of zero female choreographers on their Toronto stage in 2018/19. But what I'm not sure these producers realize is that the issue goes beyond fairness and numbers.
The lack of gender and cultural diversity in the ballet world is a huge part of what keeps classical ballet from actually reflecting and refracting the world we live in—as good art must—and leaves it churning out hackneyed ideas and Disney-level child's fare. While the cultural conversation moves in one direction, ballet seals itself off hermetically and moves the other way, becoming increasing irrelevant and indefensible to younger generations. Yes, the results are absurd and ethically questionable—as this FEMMES gaffe shows. But they're also just plain boring.
When Rachel Hamrick was in the corps of Universal Ballet in Seoul, her determination to strengthen her flexibility turned into a side hobby that would eventually land her a new career. "I was in La Bayadere for the first time, and I was the first girl out for that arabesque sequence in The Kingdom of the Shades," she says. "I had the flexibility, but I was wobbly because I wasn't stretching in the right way. That's when I first started playing around with the idea of the Flexistretcher. It was tied together then, so it was definitely more makeshift," she says with a laugh, "But I trained with it to help me get the correct alignment so that I would have the strength to sustain the whole act."
Now, Hamrick is running her own business, complete with an ever-growing product line and her FLX training method—all because of her initial need to make it through 38 arabesques.
For the new Broadway season, Ellenore Scott has scored two associate choreographer gigs: For Head Over Heels, which starts previews June 23, Scott is working with choreographer Spencer Liff on an original musical mashing up The Go-Go's punk-rock hits with a narrative based on Sir Philip Sidney's 1590 book, Arcadia. Four days after that show opens, she'll head into rehearsals for this fall's King Kong, collaborating with director/choreographer Drew McOnie and a 20-foot gorilla.
Scott gave us the inside scoop about Head Over Heels, the craziness of her freelance hustle and the most surprising element of working on Broadway.
Dance in movies is a trend as old as time. Movies like The Red Shoes and Singin' in the Rain paved the way for Black Swan and La La Land; dancing stars like Gene Kelly and Ginger Rogers led the way for Channing Tatum and Julianne Hough.
Lucky for us, some of Hollywood's most incredible dance scenes have been compiled into this amazing montage, featuring close to 300 films in only seven minutes. So grab the popcorn, cozy on up, and watch the moves that made the movies.
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.
If you want to know how scary the AIDS epidemic was in the 1980s, come see Ishmael Houston-Jones' piece THEM from 1986. This piece reveals the subterranean fears that crept into gay relationships at the time. Houston-Jones is one of downtown's great improvisers, and his six dancers also improvise in response to his suggestions. With Chris Cochrane's edgy guitar riffs and Dennis Cooper's ominous text, there's an unpredictable, near-creepy but epic quality to THEM.
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.
This time last year, Catherine Conley was already living a ballet dancer's dream. After an exchange between her home ballet school in Chicago and the Cuban National Ballet School in Havana, she'd been invited to train in Cuba full-time. It was the opportunity of a lifetime, and one that was nearly unheard of for an American dancer. Now, though, Conley has even more exciting news: She's a full-fledged member of the National Ballet of Cuba's corps de ballet.
"In the school there were other foreigners, but in the company I'm the only foreigner—not just the only American, but the only non-Cuban," Conley says. But she doesn't feel like an outsider, or like a dancer embarking on a historic journey. "Nobody makes me feel different. They treat me as one of them," she says. Conley has become fluent in Spanish, and Cuba has come to feel like home. "The other day I was watching a movie that was dubbed in Spanish, and I understand absolutely everything now," she says.
Chantel Aguirre may call sunny Los Angeles home, but the Shaping Sound company member and NUVO faculty member spends more time in the air, on a tour bus or in a convention ballroom than she does in the City of Angels.
Aguirre, who is married to fellow Shaping Sound member Michael Keefe, generally only spends one week per month at home. "When I'm not working, I'm exploring," Aguirre says. "Michael and I are total travel junkies."
Akram Khan and Florence Welch (of Florence + The Machine) is not a pairing we ever would have dreamt up. But now that the music video for "Big God" has dropped, with choreography attributed to Khan and Welch, it seems that we just weren't dreaming big enough.
In the video, Welch leads a group of women standing in an eerily reflective pool of water. They seem untouchable, until they begin shedding their colorful veils, movements morphing to become animalistic and aggressive as the song progresses.
Savannah Lowery is about as well acquainted with the inner workings of a hospital as she is with the intricate footwork of Dewdrop.
As a child, the former New York City Ballet soloist would roam the hospital where her parents worked, pushing buttons and probably getting into too much trouble, she says. While other girls her age were clad in tutus playing ballerina, she was playing doctor.
"It just felt like home. I think it made me not scared of medicine, not scared of a hospital," she says. "I thought it was fascinating what they did."
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.
A Jellicle Ball is coming to the big screen, with the unlikeliest of dancemakers on tap to choreograph.
We'll give you some hints: His choreography can aptly be described as "animalistic," though Jellicle cats have never come to mind specifically when watching his hyper-physical work. He's worked on movies before—even one about Beasts. And though contemporary ballet is his genre of choice, his choreography is certainly theatrical enough to lend itself to a musical.