While representatives from each organization first met during the summer at Dance/USA's Los Angeles conference, news of The Equity Project remained quiet until a formal announcement in late September. The news comes at an especially poignant time, shortly after the death of Arthur Mitchell, DTH co-founder and trailblazer for black ballet dancers.
In a press release for The Equity Project, current DTH artistic director Virginia Johnson remarked that "...Arthur Mitchell created Dance Theatre of Harlem 50 years ago with the intention of dispelling the myth that black people did not have the ability to succeed in the art form of classical ballet. In the years since its founding, Dance Theatre of Harlem has become a beacon of opportunity for black dancers to not only succeed in classical ballet, but to excel." Now, The Equity Project gives ballet companies across the country the chance to continue the "work that Mr. Mitchell began in 1968," said Johnson.
Photo courtesy MoBBallet.
The participating cohort organizations are 20 major ballet companies and one school: American Ballet Theatre, Atlanta Ballet, Ballet Austin, Ballet Memphis, Boston Ballet, Charlotte Ballet, Cincinnati Ballet, Dance Theatre of Harlem, Miami City Ballet, Nashville Ballet, National Ballet of Canada, New York City Ballet, Oregon Ballet Theatre, Pacific Northwest Ballet, Pennsylvania Ballet, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, Richmond Ballet, San Francisco Ballet, School of American Ballet, Texas Ballet Theater and The Joffrey Ballet.
Artistic and executive staff from each company will gather for a second meeting at IABD's conference and festival in Dayton, Ohio, this January, and the last meeting will be hosted by DTH in Harlem, New York during 2020.
Experts on Board
The Equity Project seems to differ from American Ballet Theatre's Project Plié initiative, which launched in 2013 as an outreach program to train students, teachers and arts administrators from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds. (However, a handful of The Equity Project's cohorts are also partner companies in Project Plié.)
The Equity Project has established a unique consulting team to coach and educate ballet companies about topics like undoing racism, the intersection of history and ballet, discussing systems of power and privilege, and determining concrete ways companies can change.
The consulting team includes frequent Dance Magazine contributor and founder of MoBBallet (Memoirs of Blacks in Ballet) Theresa Ruth Howard, as well as Tammy Bormann, principal with The TLB Collective; Joselli Audain Deans, EdD, dancer, educator and independent dance scholar; and P. Kimberleigh Jordan, PhD, educator, former dancer, and assistant professor at Drew University.
We're excited to see the positive changes initiated by The Equity Project. Hopefully this means that the ballet world will someday more closely mirror the diverse world in which we live.
James Whiteside (Jayme Thornton for Dance Magazine)
Say you're perpetually impeccable designer Thom Browne. Say you're planning your Spring 2020 Paris menswear show along a "Versailles country club" theme. Say you want a world-class danseur to open the show with some kind of appropriately fabulous choreography.
Who do you call? James Whiteside, of course. On Saturday, the American Ballet Theatre principal—wearing pointe shoes and a glorious pinstriped tutu—kicked off Browne's presentation at the École des Beaux-Arts with a 15-minute, show-stealing solo. Whiteside choreographed the piece himself, with the help of detailed notes from the designer.
I'd been a professional dancer for five years when I realized the pain I'd been feeling in my hip and down my sciatic nerve was not going away. I had been treating it for two years as we dancers do—with regular visits to my masseuse, physical therapy, baths, ice and lots of Aleve—but I never stopped dancing. It finally dawned on me that if I kept going at the speed I was going (which was, well, speedy), the pain would only get more severe and unrelenting, and I might never dance again.
I told myself I'd take two months off, and all would be better.
That first morning when I woke up at 10 am, I had no idea what to do with myself. My life until that moment had been dictated by class and rehearsal, every hour accounted for. How should I fill the huge swath of time ahead of me?