When I first heard that New York City was getting a new Jeff Koons sculpture of a ballet dancer in Rockefeller Center, I was pumped. Yay, more dance!
But then I saw it and realized it was that kind of dancer: a five-year-old's idea of a "pretty ballerina."
The 45-foot inflatable nylon sculpture features a blond, pony-tailed girl in a tutu seated with her legs daintily tucked underneath her in a position in which no true dancer would ever actually tie her pointe shoes. (And yes, there are ribbons criss-crossing up her calves. Because, of course.)
The sculpture is part of Koons' "antiquity series," and is based on a turn-of-the-century porcelain figurine a.k.a. the kind of tchotchke your grandma keeps on her shelf. According to Rockefeller Center's website, "The sculpture acts as a contemporary iteration of the goddess Venus, and symbolizes notions of beauty and connectivity."
Well okay, then. But is this really the best we've got to represent dancers? Of course, Koons has made a career of reproducing things like ballon animals, or building giant puppies out of flowers, so he's not exactly known for his realism.
But as Kristin Lewis, one of my former colleagues at our sister publication Dance Spirit, wrote on Facebook earlier this week:
"This is a missed opportunity to depict ballerinas as they are: strong and powerful, not docile and fragile (and tying their ribbons up their legs). I know it's based on a figurine but it still perpetuates stereotypes of a field that is actually marked by athleticism, beauty, and discipline."
Just when it seems like most mainstream outlets are finally catching on to the glorious strength and determination of dancers, it's frustrating to have an outdated cliché take up residence in one of the most famous corners of the dance capital of the world.
Oh, and the other public sculpture we've got of a dancer in New York City right now? The Hippo Ballerina, just across from Lincoln Center. With all due respect to Fantasia fans, I think we can do better.