#WomanCrushWednesday: Meet Two Young Choreographers Breaking Ballet's Glass Ceiling
Recently, the ballet world seems to be owning up to the fact that it's got a female choreographer problem. Some companies have started devoting entire evenings to works by women, while others are incorporating female choreography into their regular seasons more slowly but steadily. For example, next year, Crystal Pite will be the first woman to create for The Royal Ballet since 1999. And premiere-factory New York City Ballet is breaking its five-year dry spell for females by commissioning Annabelle Lopez Ochoa and principal Lauren Lovette to make new works for next season.
These may be small steps, but we like where they're heading. The trick now—after years of not particularly encouraging female talent—is finding women choreographers who have the chops to truly intrigue and delight ballet audiences. Two young names have popped out of the crowd.
Over in London, 19-year-old Charlotte Edmonds is living out a choreographer's fantasy of a dream career. Although she was "assessed out" of The Royal Ballet School at age 16 due to her body type, during her time there she won the Kenneth MacMillan Senior Choreographic Competition twice in a row, catching the eye of Royal artistic director Kevin O'Hare. While studying composition at the Rambert School of Ballet and Contemporary Dance, she received her first professional commission when she was still only 16. And as soon as she graduated, O'Hare offered her a year-long apprenticeship under resident choreographer Wayne McGregor. It must have been successful, because it's just been extended another 12 months.
The styles in her work vary pretty widely, from classical to street. Out of the clips we've seen, we're most intrigued by her contemporary vocabulary in this work for the Dutch National Ballet junior company. She uses groupings of bodies to paint elegant images on the stage, with swift shifts of momentum that grab your attention. In a recent profile in the London Evening Standard, Edmonds says, "I like those still, static moments where there’s structured architecture that just disintegrates into fluid movement."
This November, she'll be sharing a Royal Ballet program with rising choreographer Robert Binet, who's also been mentored by McGregor. A huge feat not only for a woman, but for one so young! It's obvious that, although the school kicked her out, the company is placing its bets on her talent, grooming her for bigger things to come.
Although she doesn't have one major institution backing her like Edmonds does, Claudia Schreier is slowly building up a network of major supporters.
In 2015, she won the Breaking Glass Project's competition for female choreographers, then put together a full-evening program of her work performed by dancers from NYCB, American Ballet Theatre, Dance Theatre of Harlem and the Suzanne Farrell Ballet. Last month, she won the Virginia B. Toulmin Fellowship at New York University's Center for Ballet and Arts. And this summer, she'll be featured in the NOW: Premieres program at Vail, sharing the stage with the likes of Lil Buck, Jodi Melnick, Matthew Neenan and Rashaun Mitchell + Silas Reiner.
It may seem like a swift rise out of nowhere for a 20-something who's been doing the freelance hustle since graduating from Harvard in 2008. But it's unsurprising: Audiences are drawn to the way she infuses a neoclassical base with gooey contemporary vocabulary and a driving musicality.
We will be keeping an eye on these ladies, and wish them both the best of luck—the ballet world needs more bright young talents like them.
Jennifer Kahn knew the theater industry could do better. As a professional stage manager for 17 years she worked on regional, off-Broadway and Broadway shows. Nearly each time a show closed, something unsettling happened: "I would watch them throw away our shows. All of the beautiful artwork by my friends in the paint shop would go in the trash." The elaborate backdrops? Gone.
But she had an idea: What if the material used in the backdrops and legs could be upcycled into something new? And what if theater lovers could literally keep a piece of a beloved show?
"The show must go on" may be a platitude we use to get through everything from costume malfunctions to stormy moods. But when it came to overcoming a literal hurricane, Houston Ballet was buoyed by this mantra to go from devastated to dancing in a matter of weeks—with the help of Harlequin Floors, Houston Ballet's longstanding partner who sprang into action to build new floors in record time.
For decades the name Alicia Alonso has been virtually synonymous with Ballet Nacional de Cuba, the company she co-founded in Havana in 1948. Alonso died on October 17, just shy of what would have been her 99th birthday. In recent years, she had stepped back from day-to-day decision-making in the company. As if preparing for the future, in January, the company's leading ballerina, 42-year-old Viengsay Valdés, was named deputy director, a job that seems to encompass most of the responsibilities of a traditional director. Now, presumably, she will step into her new role as director of the company. Her debut as curator of the repertory comes in November, when the troupe will perform three mixed bills selected by her at the Gran Teatro de la Habana Alicia Alonso. The following has been translated from a conversation conducted in Spanish, Valdés' native tongue.
New York City Ballet principal Sara Mearns wasn't sure she was strong enough. A ballerina who has danced many demanding full-length and contemporary roles, she was about to push herself physically more than she thought was possible.
"I said, 'I can't. My body won't,' " she says. "He told me, 'Yes, it will.' "
She wasn't working with a ballet coach, but with personal trainer Joel Prouty, who was asking her to do squats with a heavier barbell than she'd ever used.