Did The Tenant unintentionally conflate transness and mental illness? Photo by Matthew Murphy, courtesy The Joyce Theater
Last week, Arthur Pita's much-anticipated The Tenant, featuring American Ballet Theatre principal James Whiteside, had its New York City premiere at The Joyce Theater.
Based on the novel by Roland Topor and the 1976 Roman Polanski film, The Tenant follows a man who moves into an apartment that's haunted by its previous occupant (Simone, played by ABT's Cassandra Trenary) who committed suicide. Throughout the show, the man—Trelkovsky, played by Whiteside—slowly transforms into Simone, eventually committing suicide himself.
But some found the show's depiction of a trans-femme character to be troubling. Whether the issues stem from the source material or the production's treatment of it, many thought the end result reinforced transphobic stereotypes about mental illness. We gathered some of the responses from the dance community:
When Arthur Pita brought his Metamorphosis to the Joyce in 2013, The Royal Ballet's Edward Watson played the man who becomes a cockroach in Franz Kafka's famous story. He was slithery, spiky and sticky, and the creepiness factor loomed large. It was like the performers and audience were trapped in this brilliantly bizarre nightmare together.
Known as "the David Lynch of dance," Arthur Pita brings his new work, The Tenant, to The Joyce from November 6–11. Based on the surrealist novel by Roland Topor and the subsequent 1976 film, Pita's Tenant stars American Ballet Theatre's James Whiteside. Readers of Dance Magazine know from Whiteside's cover story that he is a maverick who will try anything. In The Tenant, a young man moves into an apartment where the previous renter, a woman, jumped out the window to her death. He becomes obsessed with her and starts to transform into her. The woman is played by ABT soloist Cassandra Trenary, and a third character, a kind of guardian, is played by Kibrea Carmichael.
The Metamorphosis was unforgettable when it came to the Joyce five years ago, so we have high hopes for The Tenant.
Cathy Marston is one of a dozen choreographers premiering a new work for San Francisco Ballet during the festival. Photo by Erik Tomasson, Courtesy SFB
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?"
Arthur Pita is doing one of his first abstract works with San Francisco Ballet, to premiere in April. Photo by Erik Tomasson
The ballet world can't get enough of Arthur Pita. With his maverick, surreal imagination, the self-styled "David Lynch of dance" brings a welcome theatricality to everything he touches, from his version of Kafka's The Metamorphosis to 2017's Salome for San Francisco Ballet.
The South African–born Pita competed in disco dancing and later performed with Matthew Bourne's New Adventures. Today, he is Bourne's offstage partner, and the pair live together in London. His latest work, which premiered in November, is a one-act adaptation of Dorothy Scarborough's 1925 Texan novel, The Wind, for The Royal Ballet.