Blogged by Isabelle Vail
In October 2017, Rebecca Krohn, longtime principal dancer and subtle star of New York City Ballet, retired from performance and stepped into the role of ballet mistress at the same company. Her retirement was celebrated by the dance world, with posts from fellow dancers celebrating her move to influence future generations of NYCB dancers.
The dance data project’s initial research revealed that amongst leading company rosters of dance masters/mistresses, 56% are female, while are 44% male. The results were initially surprising, given the typicality of the male statistics in DDP research dominating the female. However, after further analysis via news of recent transitions, it is likely that these statistics are explained by the lack of opportunity for females to transition into director roles.
Following Mikhail Baryshnikov’s transition out of American Ballet Theatre, dancer Kevin Mckenzie took over the role, an appointment that was apparently desired by the dancers themselves. Similarly, Peter Martins of NYCB took over in 1990 through a transitional period with Jerome Robbins, who was the founding choreographer of the company with George Balanchine.
It seems these men lead companies in long, drawn out years of directorship. While sustaining leadership with one person for many years is promising for the stability of a company, companies in the US seem to leave women out of this equation. The Paris Opera Ballet had decades with the revered Brigitte Lefèvre from the ‘90s to the 2010s. The Royal Ballet was famously established in 1931 by a women, Ninette de Valois, who also led the company. It later prospered under Monica Mason for ten years in the early 21st century.
Stateside, San Francisco Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, and New York City Ballet, largely considered the most prestigious in the country, have never been led by solely female directors. ABT was led by two women, Lucia Chase and Jane Hermann, who were both co-director with Oliver Smith in their respective times.
Perhaps it is time for NYCB to hone the leadership skills of Krohn or other ballet mistresses and set a female on the track to inherit the leadership of Martins. It won’t be long before former ballerina of ABT Julie Kent augments the Washington Ballet to new heights that rival the New York companies and Aurelie Dupont lives up to her acclaimed assumption of the position at the Paris Opera. The movement has started outside of the largest US companies, and it is time that it expands to the leadership of these powerhouses.