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 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 (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