Girl Was Called "the Most Dangerous Movie About a Trans Character in Years"—But It Helped Its Subject Learn to Love Herself
Before she watched her life play out on screen, transgender dancer Nora Monsecour never felt she could truly connect with a character in a film.
And though Girl—which was released on Netflix today after being highly awarded at the Cannes Film Festival last year—isn't a biography, "the essence of the story is the same," says Monsecour. "A trans girl with a big dream, finding the strength to pursue this career. It was very emotional to watch. It's very strange when you recognize yourself so closely."
Girl follows Lara, a trans girl and aspiring ballet dancer who is frustrated that her hormone therapy isn't working fast enough and that her body is different from the other girls in her class. And though the film has one moment of bullying, overall, Lara is supported in her dream to be a ballet dancer.
Monsecour, who is now a young adult, had a rather different experience in ballet. "When I was Lara's age, it was very hard and I had to fight against a lot of opposition." She was bullied, and had teachers who "didn't believe that transgender was something that existed in the world."
It's not that Girl sugarcoats Monsecour's life. In fact, the film has been criticized by the trans community for its "disturbing fascination with trans bodies." (The camera often lingers on Lara's groin, and there are gruesome moments of her removing tape from her genitals as well as a violent final scene.) This is one of many issues posed in The Hollywood Reporter by transgender critic Oliver Whitney, who calls it "the most dangerous movie about a trans character in years" and who notes that the film's depiction of hormone therapy is harmfully misleading. Monsecour responded to his essay, writing that "those criticizing Girl are preventing another trans story from being shared in the world, and are also attempting to silence me and my trans identity."
Monsecour also argues that Girl's obsession with the body is only realistic for a film with ballet as its subject matter. "I wanted the ballet class scenes to be as pure and honest as possible," she says. "I wanted to see the struggle she had to maintain her focus. When I was 11 or 12 in the studio, I had a leotard on like all the girls, but my body was that of a little boy. So I was busy with, 'Is anyone going to see my body parts? Am I dancing like a girl?' "
Director Lukas Dhont and Victor Polster
Kris Dewitte, Courtesy Netflix
The dance scenes do feel authentic, thanks in part to Monsecour's heavy involvement in the film. In addition to attending dance rehearsals and being on set, Monsecour read each version of the script, sending edits to director and writer Lukas Dhont, who originally approached her about making the film after reading about her story. As the years went by, says Monsecour, it became like "working on something with a friend."
Another source of controversy: Lara is not played by a trans performer, but a cisgender male dancer, Victor Polster. Monsecour told IndieWire that she wasn't concerned about whether the actor who played her was trans or not. "I didn't see Victor as a male actor going to play a trans role," she told writer Jude Dry. "I really felt that he was the one person that could give this role life in a way that would pay respect to my story." (Dhont and his co-writer, Angelo Tijssens, are also both cis men. Dhont recently defended the film in The Guardian.)
Monsecour says that Polster, who is a student at Antwerp's Royal Ballet School, is now a close friend, who often asks her for advice on becoming a professional dancer. "We can really connect on that level," she says. "I have so much appreciation for him." Monsecour wanted Polster to have the freedom to interpret the character in his own way. "But he knew a lot of background of my story," she says. "He's so open and really wanted to understand and respect my journey."
Monsecour's story differs from Lara's in another notable way: At age 14, Monsecour was "pushed away from the ballet world. It's a system that's very much in terms of male and female." She began studying contemporary dance. "I fell in love with it completely," she says. "You really find yourself in the aesthetic." She went on to study at the Northern School of Contemporary Dance in England, and is currently in her first year as a company member with tanzmainz in Germany, dancing works by choreographers like Roy Assaf and Felix Berner.
Girl has opened doors for Monsecour, including the opportunity to write a book, which she's currently working on. The film was also Belgium's submission for the Oscars' Best Foreign Film award, and was nominated for a Golden Globe. Watching Girl for the first time was "liberating," says Monsecour. "It made me proud of my journey." But, she says, "the biggest thing is that I found acceptance for myself. I always tried to hide behind this mask of being the perfect girl. After seeing so many people love the film, now I should maybe love myself."
When you're bouncing between hotel rooms without access to a kitchen, eating a pescatarian diet can be challenging. Stephanie Mincone, who most recently traveled the globe with Taylor Swift's Reputation Stadium Tour, told Dance Magazine how she does it—while fueling herself with enough energy to perform for thousands of Taylor fans.
The way we create and consume dance is changing every day. Now more than ever, the field demands that dancers not only be able to perform at the highest level, but also collaborate with choreographers to bring their artistic visions to life. Dancers who miss out on choreographic training may very well find themselves at a disadvantage as they try to launch their careers.
Choosing music for your first-ever choreography commission can feel daunting enough. But when you're asked to create a ballet using the vast discography of the Rolling Stones—and you happen to be dating Stones frontman Mick Jagger—the stakes are even higher.
So it's understandable that as of Monday, American Ballet Theatre corps de ballet dancer Melanie Hamrick, whose Port Rouge will have its U.S. premiere tonight at the Youth America Grand Prix gala, was still torn about which songs to include.
What is an acceptable request from a choreographer in terms of nudity? On the first day of shooting All That Jazz in the 1970s, Bob Fosse asked us men to remove everything but our jock straps and the women to remove their tops. His rationale was to shock us in order to build character, and it felt disloyal to refuse. Would this behavior be considered okay today?
It's not often that a promising choreographer gets to stage work in a world-class theater, on a skillfully-curated program with professional dancers, and with the possibility of winning a substantial cash prize. But at the McCallum Theatre's Palm Desert Choreography Festival, that's been the status quo for over twenty years.
Since Shea New, the festival's artistic director, founded the festival in 1998, she's worked tirelessly with McCallum's director of education and festival producer, Kajsa Thuresson-Frary, and stage manager and festival production manager Joanna Fookes to build a festival that nurtures choreographers, highlights high quality work, powerfully engages the local community and cultivates an audience base for dance in the Coachella Valley. The trio is backed by a strong team of professionals at McCallum and the brilliant volunteers from the local and national level who serve as adjudicators.
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As much as audiences might flock to Swan Lake or The Nutcracker, ballet can't only rely on old war horses if it wants to remain relevant. But building new full-lengths from scratch isn't exactly cheap.
So where can companies find the money?
Today—April 16, 2019—marks what would have been Merce Cunningham's 100th birthday. As dancers from Los Angeles to New York City to London gear up for Night of 100 Solos (the marathon performance event being livestreamed today), and as companies and presenters worldwide continue to celebrate the Cunningham Centennial through their programming, we searched through the Dance Magazine Archives to unearth our favorite images of the groundbreaking dancemaker.
A bright disposition with a dab of astringent charm is how I remember Brock Hayhoe, a National Ballet School of Canada schoolmate. Because we were a couple years apart, we barely brushed shoulders, except at the odd Toronto dance party where we could dance all night with mutual friends letting our inhibitions subside through the music. Dancing always allows a deeper look.
But, as my late great ballet teacher Pyotr Pestov told me when I interviewed him for Dance Magazine in 2009, "You never know what a flower is going to look like until it opens up."
One night. Three cities. Seventy-five dancers. And three unique sets of 100 solos, all choreographed by Merce Cunningham.
This incredible evening of dance will honor Cunningham's 100th birthday on April 16. The Merce Cunningham Trust has teamed up with The Barbican in London, the Brooklyn Academy of Music in New York City and the Center for the Art of Performance in Los Angeles for a tri-city celebration.
The best part? You don't have to be in those cities to watch—Night of 100 Solos is being live-streamed in its entirety for free.
When George Balanchine's full-length Don Quixote premiered in 1965, critics and audiences alike viewed the ballet as a failure. Elaborate scenery and costumes framed mawkish mime passages, like one in which the ballerina washed the Don's feet and dried them with her hair. Its revival in 2005 by Suzanne Farrell, the ballerina on whom it was made and to whom Balanchine left the work, did little to alter its reputation.
Yet at New York City Center's Balanchine festival last fall, some regretted its absence.
"I'd want to see Balanchine's Don Quixote," says Apollinaire Scherr, dance critic for the Financial Times. "It was a labor of love on his part, and a love letter as well. And you want to know what that looks like in his work."
Even great choreographers make mistakes. Sometimes they fail on a grand scale, like Don Quixote; other times it may be a minor misstep. Experiment and risk help choreographers grow, but what happens when a choreographer of stature misfires? Should the work remain in the repertory? And what about a work that fails on some levels but not others?
After the horrific March 15 terrorist attacks at two New Zealand mosques, the music and arts community sprang into action to plan a way to help victims and their families. A series of resulting concerts, titled "You Are Us/Aroha Nui," will take place in New Zealand (April 13 and 17), Jersey City, New Jersey (April 17) and Los Angeles (April 18). Proceeds from ticket sales will be donated to the Our People, Our City Fund, which was established by the Christchurch Foundation to aid those affected by the attacks.
Throughout 2019, the Merce Cunningham Trust continues a global celebration that will be one of the largest tributes to a dance artist ever. Under the umbrella of the Merce Cunningham Centennial are classes and workshops, film screenings and festivals, art exhibitions and symposia, and revivals and premieres of original works inspired by the dancemaker's ideas. The fever peaks on April 16, which would have been the pioneering choreographer's 100th birthday, with Night of 100 Solos: A Centennial Event, featuring a total of 75 dancers in three performances live-streamed from London, Los Angeles and New York City.
Cloud & Victory gets dancers. The dancewear brand's social media drools over Roberto Bolle's abs, sets classical variations to Beyoncé and moans over Mondays and long adagios. And it all comes from the mind of founder Tan Li Min, the boss lady who takes on everything from designs to inventory to shipping orders.
Known simply (and affectionately) to the brand's 41K Instagram followers as Min, she's used her wry, winking sense of humor to give the Singapore-based C&V international cachet.
She recently spoke with Dance Magazine about building the brand, overcoming insecurity and using pizza as inspiration.
This is huge news, so we'll get straight to it:
We now (finally!) know who'll be appearing onscreen alongside Ariana DeBose and the other previously announced leads in Steven Spielberg's remake of West Side Story, choreographed by Justin Peck. Unsurprisingly, the Sharks/Jets cast list includes some of the best dancers in the industry.
The pleasure of watching prodigies perform technical feats on Instagram can be tinged with a sense of trepidation. Impressive tricks, you think, but do they have what it takes for an actual career?
Just look at 18-year-old Maria Khoreva, who has more followers than most seasoned principals; in videos, her lines and attention to detail suggested a precocious talent, and led to a Nike ambassador contract before she even graduated from the Vaganova Ballet Academy. Still, when she joined the Mariinsky Ballet last summer, there was no guarantee any of it would translate to stage prowess.
What's next for the dance world? Our annual list of the dancers, choreographers and companies that are on the verge of skyrocketing has a pretty excellent track record of answering that question.
Here they are: the 25 up-and-coming artists we believe represent the future of our field.
The Ballet Memphis New American Dance Residency, which welcomes selected choreographers for its inaugural iteration next week, goes a step beyond granting space, time and dancers for the development of new work.
At six feet tall, Jesse Obremski dances as though he's investigating each movement for the first time. His quiet transitional moments are as astounding as his long lines, bounding jumps and seamless floorwork. Add in his versatility and work ethic, and it's clear why he's an invaluable asset to New York City choreographers. Currently a freelance artist with multiple contemporary groups, including Gibney Dance Company and Limón Dance Company, Obremski also choreographs for his recently formed troupe, Obremski/Works.
Last night at Parsons Dance's 2019 gala, the company celebrated one of our own: DanceMedia owner Frederic M. Seegal.
In a speech, artistic director David Parsons said that he wanted to honor Seegal for the way he devotes his energy to supporting premier art organizations, "making sure that the arts are part of who we are," he said.