In the past several years, ballet has been called out time and again for not fostering, presenting and commissioning the work of women. Recently, highlighting women ballet choreographers has become somewhat of a trend, with companies pioneering initiatives to try to close the gender gap, or presenting all-women programs.
But numbers don't lie, and unfortunately, we still haven't made much progress.
In the June 1974 issue of Dance Magazine, our cover subject was the endlessly charming Frederic Franklin, then 60 years old. After declaring at the age of 4 that he was "going to be in the theater," the Liverpool-born dancer spent a lifetime doing exactly that.
What's next for the dance world? Our annual list of the dancers, choreographers and companies that are on the verge of skyrocketing has a pretty excellent track record of answering that question.
Here they are: the 25 up-and-coming artists we believe represent the future of our field.
In dance, pushing through pain is often glorified. Dancers can be reluctant to take time off when sick or injured for fear of missing out on opportunities. It can feel even harder to justify when the pain isn't physical. Though it's becoming more commonly acknowledged that mental health is just as important as physical health, a dance career doesn't leave much time to address mental or emotional issues.
But dancers need to take care of their mental well-being to be able to perform at their best, says Catherine Drury, a licensed clinical social worker for The Dancers' Resource at The Actors Fund. So what can you do if you need a mental health day?
While there are more women making dance than ever before, the question still swirls: Do they have the same programming and mentoring opportunities as their male counterparts? This spring, Ballet West and the University of Southern California are choosing to tackle the question head-on, with performances and residencies that focus on female dancemakers.
Two questions I'm often asked as an advocate for diversity in ballet are, "Do you think ballet organizations are genuine?" and, "Do you think it's changing?"
Quite honestly, there are times when I am not so certain. Then there are days when I get texts and Facebook messages alerting me to a story that reinforces my belief that ballet might just be shifting.
One such moment was in late November when Andrea Long-Naidu texted me the image of Pacific Northwest Ballet's Clara, Samrawit Saleem. There she was, seated on the floor in her party dress, gazing down lovingly at her Nutcracker with an elegant use of épaulement. Andrea called me, "Theresa, she's gorgeous, she's brown and look at her hair!!" She was referring to Saleem's double strand twists that were styled half-up half-down. My mouth was agape.
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At Cincinnati Ballet, the 2017–18 season boasts that 8 out of the 15 company productions are from female choreographers. For the past five seasons, Cincinnati Ballet had devoted one program a year to works by women, which allowed for a directed conversation about the need for female voices. "People always responded strongly to that series, so I thought, Why am I sequestering them?" says artistic director Victoria Morgan. "We have enough feistiness to respond to the conversations that are happening, not only in our community but across the country, about the lack of women in leadership."
In the ballet world, the phrase "going to college" is sometimes regarded as the musings of a dancer who's not really serious about their craft. Although schools like Juilliard and Bennington College have made degrees acceptable for modern dancers for decades, the competitive ballet world (which often follows a philosophy of "the younger the better") tends to discourage higher education.
But some ballet students just don't feel physically or emotionally ready to join a professional company at age 18, and others simply don't want to miss out on the college experience. So they choose to pursue an undergraduate dance degree to continue their ballet training in an academic atmosphere.
For a small competition, Valentina Kozlova International Ballet Competition is packed with 20 power judges and loads of promising talent. More than 100 serious students ages 11 to 25 gathered in New York to dance at Symphony Space, culminating in a gala Sunday June 10. Judges included top figures like Nina Ananiashvili, director of State Ballet of Georgia; Andris Liepa, People's Artist of Russia; Jeon Mi Sook, faculty of Korea National University of Arts; Victoria Morgan, artistic director of Cincinnati Ballet; choreographer Margo Sappington; and Olga Guardia de Smoak, artistic advisor to the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Panama.
Now more than ever, ballet companies are searching for creative ways to build revenue. One tactic has stood out: patrons choosing to donate via the sponsorship of a particular dancer. Often implemented by large troupes like American Ballet Theatre (all of its principals and most soloists have sponsors), the trend has now reached smaller companies such as Cincinnati Ballet and Carolina Ballet.
The History of the Tradition
The custom of bankrolling dancers goes back at least to the 19th century and the Paris Opéra. The right amount of money guaranteed a patron a visitation to the foyer de la danse, built as a space for the men to mingle with the ballerinas. (The foyer was off limits to wives and male dancers.) Louis Véron, a director of the Paris Opéra in the 1830s, observed that "attending the Opéra was fashionable; keeping a ballet girl even more so." Fortunately, 21st-century patrons aren't allowed to indulge such salacious intentions.
Cincinnati Ballet has announced their 2017-18 season, and it looks like artistic director Victoria Morgan is making a statement about gender equality with her programming choices: Of the 15 works being presented this season, 8 are choreographed by women. Kate Weare, Penny Saunders, Jennifer Archibald, Johanna Bernstein Wilt and Heather Britt are creating world premieres for the company. And Morgan brings back her Romeo & Juliet and (of course) her 2011 version of The Nutcracker, as well as a solo piece performed to a K.D. Lang song.
A Storm of Movement
Crystal Pite, that master of rigor and recklessness, kicks off the tour of her latest creation, The Tempest Replica, for Frankurt/Vancouver–based Kidd Pivot this month. Exploring the themes of revenge/forgiveness and reality/imagination that run through Shakespeare’s The Tempest, the piece engages a dual cast of characters: Dancers dressed in street clothes and the “replicas,” clothed in all white with covered faces. Replica appears at the Power Center in Ann Arbor, MI, Sept. 21–22 and Ottawa’s National Arts Centre Theatre Sept. 27–28, and will travel to Halifax, Nova Scotia; Montreal; Vancouver; and NYC through the fall. www.kiddpivot.org.
Eric Beauchesne with Peter Chu, Jiri Pokorny, Yannick Matthon, and Jermaine Maurice Spivey in The Tempest Replica. Photo by Jörg Baumann, Courtesy UMich.
A midsized company with big dreams, Tulsa Ballet opens its season with ambitious fare: the return of Jorma Elo’s furiously fast Slice to Sharp, the company premiere of Edwaard Liang’s Age of Innocence, inspired by the novels of Jane Austen, and Wayne McGregor’s PreSentient. The last, set to the music of Steve Reich, is a U.S. debut, with TB joining only a handful of stateside companies to which the choreographer has entrusted his overstretched, highly kinetic movement. Sept. 14–16. www.tulsaballet.org.
Alfonso Martin and Sofia Menteguiaga in Liang’s Age of Innocence. Photo by Julie Shelton, Courtesy Tulsa Ballet.
TBA in PDX
Portland Institute for Contemporary Art’s Time-Based Art Festival celebrates its 10th anniversary of putting experimental art front and center. In the festival’s first year under the direction of Angela Mattox, a former curator at San Francisco’s Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, interdisciplinary performances will take over warehouses and streets, as well as theaters. TBA:12 welcomes back Faustin Linyekula and Miguel Gutierrez, while Nora Chipaumire makes her first appearance in Miriam, a world premiere that grapples with popular expectations of femininity. Another sociopolitical piece comes courtesy of Bay Area–based Keith Hennessy, with his Turbulence (A Dance About the Economy). Sept. 6–16. www.pica.org/tba.
Okwui Okpokwasili and Nora Chipaumire in Miriam. Photo by Antoine Tempé, Courtesy PICA.
New Choreo in Cincinnati
Cincinnati Ballet has commissioned three pieces from female dancemakers for its Kaplan New Works Series, all of whom have local roots as alumni of Cincy’s School for Creative and Performing Arts.Paige Cunningham Caldarella, assistant professor at the Dance Center of Columbia College Chicago and a former Cunningham dancer; Bay Area–based choreographer Amy Seiwert; and Heather Britt, on faculty at Northern Kentucky University will contribute the premieres, while Jessica Lang’s Baroque-influenced La Belle Danse rounds out the program. Sept. 6–16. www.cballet.org.
Joshua Bodden in Heather Britt’s Blind Man’s Map at the Kaplan New Works Series 2011. Photo by Peter Mueller, Courtesy CB.
Noémie Lafrance’s work, in which dancers have scaled buildings, performed in empty swimming pools, and “melted” while perched on a brick wall, evokes a visceral response. Her latest project, Choreography for Audiences, uses technology to incorporate the public into the performance. When reserving tickets to the concert (Sept. 15–16), individuals were given a secret website link with instructions about the roles they will play in the piece. Lafrance also plans to film the performances and distribute the footage online, adding another layer of audience members. www.sensproduction.org.
Noémie Lafrance’s The White Box Project. Photo by sens production, Courtesy Lafrance.
Into Living Rooms Across Philly
The annual Philadelphia Live Arts Festival has invited international guests, as well as local dancemakers, to perform a slew of shows that put the audience first. In Sylvain Émard Danse’s Le Grand Continental, more than 200 residents will take over the Benjamin Franklin Parkway with a combination of Émard’s contemporary movement and line dancing (the choreographer’s childhood love). Philly-based Brian Sanders’ JUNK (which often incorporates found objects) performs The Gate Reopened, in which the dancers scale a 20-foot-high octagon with moving parts, surrounded by the audience. Local troupe Headlong Dance Theater brings This Town Is a Mystery into the living rooms of four homes—with the residents as the performers. Sept. 7–22. www.livearts-fringe.org.
Sylvain Émard Danse’s Le Grand Continental. Photo by Robert Etcheverry, Courtesy PLA.
Les Ballets Jazz de Montréal’s home season at the Théâtre Maisonneuve is especially sweet this year, as the edgy company celebrates 40. The program includes Benjamin Millepied’s duet Closer with the luminous Céline Cassone and recent Juilliard grad Alexander Hille; Fuel, by Cayetano Soto; and a premiere by Barak Marshall for the full company (set to a mash-up of jazz, Israeli folk music, and traditional Québécois music). Sept. 27–29. The company will tour nationally and internationally this fall, including a run at the Joyce in New York beginning Oct. 30. www.bjmdanse.ca.
Alexandra Gerchman and Morgane Le Tiec in Fuel. Photo by Benjamin Von Wong, Courtesy Danse Danse.