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Rant & Rave: And Now a Word From the Darker Side
It’s hard to talk about racial issues without sounding like an angry black woman. Though I have been accused of being black, I am not angry—annoyed maybe. Modern racial prejudice has been subtly refined to a degree that it can be inflicted without evidence, making it hard to prove, and often quite plausibly explained away. When you live on the darker side of the issue, if something’s not right you can feel it even though you can’t prove it—which may make you look paranoid, but doesn’t necessarily make you wrong.
For instance, it’s 2010 and though it bears the moniker of one of the most diverse cities on the planet, New York City Ballet still looks like an episode of Friends in tights and tutus. There’s something racially hinky about it, but I can’t prove it. It doesn’t come close to representing Balanchine’s original vision of creating an integrated company that was perhaps impossible in 1935, but today… A plausible reason for the whiteout is the inability to find a suitable black swan. Really? We can find a black man qualified to be the President of the United States but we can’t find a black woman to be a principal in NYCB?
Ballet has always been akin to the private country clubs of old, but modern dance is not without fault, either. For instance, back in the 1920s Ruth St. Denis admitted Edna Guy (“colored girl”) to her school and company, Denishawn, but permitted her to dance only at school performances. The Merce Cunningham Dance Company is the NYCB of modern dance. Where black men have been able to puncture the exclusionary membrane, their female counterparts have not; again, I can’t prove the why.… Two common excuses are that black dancers “aren’t interested in moving that way” or they don’t show up to auditions. There may be truth to the latter, but some folks don’t need a book to tell them “He’s just not that into you.” You start to learn where you are not wanted. It’s exhausting being a pioneer, sometimes you just want to dance, not be Sojourner Truth at an audition. It could come down to “You’re just not what we were looking for,” which could also mean “We aren’t looking for black people.” But you can’t prove that.
On the lighter side of the issue it could seem like excuses: Maybe black dancers aren’t making the cut or every “fierce” black dancer only wants to dance for Ailey (do we really think that?). Though an African American organization, Ailey is, and has almost always been, diverse both onstage and off. Oddly, dance organizations founded by non-whites historically have had a “curriculum of inclusion,” but it’s not just about headcount. If New York City Ballet were a corporation and not an arts organization, Peter Martins would have some ’splaining to do. Affirmative action is a slippery question in the arts.
True diversity is when a person’s differences are welcomed, desired, and integral to the environment such that their absence would diminish the product. Exhibit A: New York. So many different races and cultures in one place create a singular energy and flavor. That’s its beauty. We may get on each other’s nerves, but we all have to be here to make it magical. We have made progress, it’s inevitable when we are living the “browning of America.” But sometimes it’s not where you are but where you are not that speaks volumes. It’s a black thing, but I think you can understand.
Theresa Ruth Howard, who teaches at The Ailey School, has danced with Dance Theatre of Harlem and Karole Armitage.
Photo by Ken Kobiashi, courtesy Howard
Choreographer Sergio Trujillo asked the women auditioning for ensemble roles in his newest musical to arrive in guys' clothing—"men's suits, or blazers and ties," he says. He wasn't being kinky or whimsical. The entire ensemble of Summer: The Donna Summer Musical is female, playing men and women interchangeably as they unfold the history of the chart-busting, Grammy-winning, indisputable Queen of Disco.
Have a scroll through Agnes Muljadi's Instagram feed (@artsyagnes), and you'll notice that in between her ballet shots is a curated mix of lifestyle pics. So what exactly sets her apart from the other influencers you follow? Muljadi has made a conscious effort to only feature natural beauty products, sustainable fashion and vegan foods. With over 500k followers, her social strategy (and commitment to making ethical choices) is clearly a hit. Ahead, learn why Muljadi switched to a vegan lifestyle, and the surprising way it's helped her dance career.
When I wrote about my struggle with depression, and eventual departure from dance because of it, I expected criticism. I was prepared to be challenged. But much to my relief, and horror, dancers from all over the world responded with support and stories of solidarity. The most critical response I saw was this one:
"Dance isn't for everyone."
This may as well be a mantra in the dance world. We have become entrenched in the Darwinian notion that the emotionally weak will be weeded out. There is no room for them anyway.
The #MeToo movement has made its way to France's biggest ballet company.
An anonymous survey recently leaked to the French press revealed major turbulence at the Paris Opéra Ballet. The Straits Times reports that the survey was conducted by an internal group representing POB's dancers. In it, there are numerous claims of bullying, sexual harassment and management issues.
Nearly all of the dancers (132 out of 154) answered the questionnaire, but they didn't know it would be made public. (Around 100 of them later signed a statement saying they didn't consent to its release.)
He may not be a household name, but you probably know Brandon Stirling Baker's work. The 30-year-old has designed the lighting for most of Justin Peck's ballets—including Heatscape for Miami City Ballet, and the edgy The Times Are Racing for New York City Ballet—but also Jamar Roberts' new Members Don't Get Weary at Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and a trio of Martha Graham duets for L.A. Dance Project.
He's been fascinated by lighting ever since he attended a public performing arts middle school in Sherman Oaks, California, where he had his first experiences lighting shows. He also has a background in music (he plays guitar and bass) and in drawing. Both, he says, are central to the way he approaches lighting dance.
Update: Due to an overwhelming response, the in-person audition has been moved to a larger location to accommodate more dancers. See details below.
For the first time in more than 10 years, Janet Jackson is holding an open audition for dancers.
Even better? You could land a spot in her #JTribe simply by posting a video on social media.
What does it take to become an international superstar? Carlos Acosta might have a few ideas.
At the Oxford Literary Festival earlier this month, the BBC sat down with Acosta to ask for his life lessons. His answers—which he says he will pass on to his kids one day—give incredible insight into how he's become such a beloved worldwide success.
The ballet world will converge on San Francisco this month for San Francisco Ballet's Unbound: A Festival of New Works, a 17-day event featuring 12 world premieres, a symposium, original dance films and pop-up events.
"Ballet is going through changes," says artistic director Helgi Tomasson. "I thought, What would it be like to bring all these choreographers together in one place? Would I discover some trends in movement, or in how they are thinking?"
Several weeks ago, Youth America Grand Prix announced that the lineup for tonight's Stars of Today Meet the Stars of Tomorrow gala at Lincoln Center's Koch Theater would include Bolshoi Ballet principal Olga Smirnova and first soloist Jacopo Tissi. But an article in Page Six published last night states that Smirnova and Tissi were denied visas to enter the US.
YAGP organizers "believe the Department of Homeland Security's decision may be motivated by the myriad tensions between the superpowers," says the piece, noting that "Smirnova is so revered in Moscow that her treatment could create a Russian backlash."
Is it any surprise a world premiere by choreographer Uri Sands and musician Justin Vernon, both renowned for the profound beauty and gorgeous musicality of their work, immediately sold out? We're hungry for creative collaborations that take reflective deep dives into what constitutes our humanity—and then there's the undeniable cool factor. Nine members of TU Dance will perform alongside Bon Iver (Vernon's band) during the evening-length piece. Presented as part of the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra's Liquid Music Series. April 19–21. The work will also appear at the Hollywood Bowl Aug. 5. tudance.org.