Patricia Barker observes rehearsal.

Jeremy Brick, Courtesy Royal New Zealand Ballet

This Ballet Company Will Only Dance Works by Women in 2020. The Director Doesn't Think That Should Be News

It's fitting that New Zealand, the first country to give women the right to vote, should also be the place where, for the first time, a major ballet company will pre­sent an entire 12-month dance season devoted to works by female choreographers. But according to Royal New Zealand Ballet's artistic director, former Pacific Northwest Ballet star Patricia Barker, programming this historic season was far less difficult than it might sound.

At the start of your tenure in 2017, there was some controversy around the ratio of non–New Zealander dancers and staff hired. Has the dust finally settled?

That really never had anything to do with me. I was just the unlucky one that stepped into it. My goal was to turn the attention back to the art. As soon as we did that, all of that uproar dissipated.

Patricia Barker stands with a hand pressed to the side of her face as she intently watches two dancers rehearse a pas de deux.

Patricia Barker observes rehearsal.

Jeremy Brick, Courtesy RZNB

Why an all-female choreographer season?

Shopping for a new pair of glasses inspired my thinking about the new "2020" season as being about vision and seeing clearly. An all-women-choreographers year seems like such a feat, but it should be common. It is just as easy to hire a woman as a man.

Why do you think there is more conversation on female dancemakers lately?

What I really think has changed is social behavior. There are now more women directors of dance companies and in seats of power.

How else are you helping foster the careers of female choreographers?

What has worked well for us is to develop an ongoing relationship with choreographers. They create work for us more than once, and that helps build their popularity and connection with audiences.

Why do you think some other direc­tors have been slower to give female choreographers opportunities?

Male artistic directors have had every opportunity to hire female choreographers all along. While I applaud any effort to develop and encourage the next generation, it feels like a belated pat on the head. There is an existing generation of female choreographers doing fantastic work already. You can just pick up the phone and call them. The balance of equality rests solely on the shoulders of artistic directors, and each one of us needs to be held accountable for our choices and how we collectively shape this industry.

Patricia Barker stands in the middle of a straight line of five women, the rest of whom are in romantic tutus and pointe shoes. Their left leg degages to 45 as their right arm softly gestures to the front.

Patricia Barker (center) rehearses members of Royal New Zealand Ballet.

Stephen A'Court, Courtesy RZNB

Royal New Zealand Ballet's 2020 Season

• New production of The Sleeping Beauty, choreographed by Danielle Rowe after Marius Petipa

• New production of Annabelle Lopez Ochoa's full-length Dangerous Liaisons

• Premieres by Kiara Flavin, Andrea Schermoly and Sarah Foster-Sproull

• Company premieres of Twyla Tharp's Waterbaby Bagatelles, Alice Topp's Aurum and Penny Saunders' Berceuse

• Returning rep: Foster-Sproull's Artemis Rising and Rowe's Remember, Mama

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Stark Photo Productions, Courtesy Harlequin

Why Your Barre Can Make or Break Your At-Home Dance Training

Throughout the pandemic, Shelby Williams, of Royal Ballet of Flanders (aka "Biscuit Ballerina"), has been sharing videos that capture the pitfalls of dancers working from home: slipping on linoleum, kicking over lamps and even taking windows apart at the "barre." "Dancers aren't known to be graceful all of the time," says Mandy Blackmon, PT, DPT, OSC, CMTPT, head physical therapist/medical director for Atlanta Ballet. "They tend to fall and trip."

Many dancers have tried to make their home spaces as safe as possible for class and rehearsal by setting up a piece of marley, like Harlequin's Dance Mat, to work on. But there's another element needed for taking thorough ballet classes at home: a portable barre.

"Using a barre is kinda Ballet 101," says 16-year-old Haley Dale, a student in her second year at American Ballet Theatre's Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School. She'd bought a portable barre from Harlequin to use at her parents' home in Northern Virginia even before the pandemic hit. "Before I got it, honestly I would stay away from doing barre work at home. Now I'm able to do it all the time."

Blackmon bought her 15-year-old stepdaughter a freestanding Professional Series Ballet Barre from Harlequin early on in quarantine. "I was worried about her injuring herself without one," she admits.

What exactly makes Harlequin's barres an at-home must-have, and hanging on to a chair or countertop so risky? Here are five major differences dancers will notice right away.

December 2020