Pointe Magazine Article on Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montréal Reminds Us of Our Mission

Courtesy of Les Grands Ballets for  Pointe . Photo by Sasha Onyschenko.

Courtesy of Les Grands Ballets for Pointe. Photo by Sasha Onyschenko.

The below excerpt from Pointe magazine is a direct reminder of why our mission is so important in the present culture of the dance world.

By Avichai Scher

14 March 2018

“The latest front in the controversy over the underrepresentation of female choreographers in ballet is at Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montréal. They're facing a petition and choreographer resignation that forced them to rebrand a season and publicly defend their programming.

On February 26, artistic director Ivan Cavallari, who started the job in the summer of 2017, announced the 2018-2019 season, which included a program titled Femmes. The program announcement said the evening would have "woman as its theme," and that Cavallari had "chosen three distinctive voices, rising stars of choreography, to undertake this great subject."

The three voices Cavallari chose to create on the theme of women, however, were all men.

"This was just too much for me, it was the last straw," says Kathleen Rea, a former member of National Ballet of Canada who now freelances, choreographs and teaches in Toronto. Rea says she's been bothered by the dearth of women choreographers throughout her career. But referring to women as "subjects" and excluding them from choreographing on a program about them compelled her to take action.

She started a petition, which currently has almost 3,000 signatures, calling for a female voice to be added to the program and for the marketing language to be more sensitive to women. Press attention, both local and international, immediately followed.

Then, one of the program's choreographers, Medhi Walerski, pulled out in protest.

"I am aware of the pervasive misrepresentation and lack of predominance they (women) have been often subjected to in their own careers, and I do not stand for that," he said in a statement. "It's time to question and revert the pervasive gender imbalance."

Cavallari responded by changing the name of the program to Parlami d'Amore, an Italian phrase that means "let's talk about love," saying "I didn't want to talk about women as objects, but from a broader perspective: in relation to life, to love and to the Earth."

Cavallari will replace Walerski with a different choreographer, but will not budge on the gender issue here, saying the replacement will be male.

In a statement, the company pointed out that they have two women choreographers on the program this year: American Bridget Breiner (whose Firebird premieres March 15) and Annabelle Lopez Ochoa, who is creating the full-evening narrativeVendetta: Storie de Mafia. They also said that another full-evening work, Lady Chatterley's Lover, will be created by choreographer Cathy Marston next year. An all-female triple bill is planned in two years, for the 2020-2021 season.

Cavallari invited Rea to Montreal to meet with him, at her own expense, on Monday. Rea says that Cavallari listened to her concerns but did not change his mind on replacing Walerski with a male choreographer. According to Rea, he shared that he's exploring "a symposium to discuss gender issues in the dance world that could include both ballet and modern dance companies' from across Canada.’” (End of excerpt.)

Read the full article in Pointe.

Cavallari is one of the many male leaders in the dance community acting completely out of self-interest and oblivion to a major issue plaguing the art. No, you cannot create a program honoring women, when the production itself is hypocritically directed and created by men.

Note Scher’s sly nod to another major problem constantly perpetuated by leadership in dance, “Cavallari invited Rea to Montreal to meet with him, at her own expense.”

Women choreographers are not only on their own artistically. Fiscally, these women are unsupported and misdirected. A female artist trying to correct an issue is forced to travel on her dollar to report to a man and help him understand what should be a very blatant mistake. It is also not unlikely for women choreographers to perform “for publicity” without pay. They have almost no resources to negotiate contracts and pay for commissions, and mentorship is far less prevalent than it is for male choreographers.

As Les Grands Ballets moves forward from this great step backwards, let us hope that the rest of the community stands by women like Rea and stands up, like Medhi Walerski, to the leaders that are perpetuating inequity.