Read the following excerpt from The New Yorker‘s Goings On About Town, written by dance critic and writer Marina Harss. DDP gets a shoutout within her recommendation of the Guggenheim Works & Process this Sunday (a discussion of the experience of women choreographers of color in dance).
The dearth of ballets choreographed by women is a matter of record—a new group called Dance Data Project has calculated that less than twenty per cent of the ballets that premièred in 2018-19 were made by women, and works created by women of color represents a tiny fraction of that. Dance Lab New York and the Joyce Theatre Foundation have partnered to create a Choreographic Lab, designed specifically to offer opportunities to this grossly underrepresented demographic. At the Guggenheim, four choreographers who have taken part in the lab—Margarita Armas, Courtney Cochran, Amy Hall Garner, and Preeti Vasudevan—show their work and discuss the challenges of breaking out in this male-dominated field.MARINA HARSS
See the full list of Goings On About Town in The New Yorker.
The Seattle Times: At Pacific Northwest Ballet and elsewhere, female choreographers are a rarity — but that’s changing
By Moira Macdonald
31 October 2019
On an autumn afternoon in a cavernous Pacific Northwest Ballet studio, something brand-new was slowly beginning to take shape. Choreographer Eva Stone, whose ballet, “F O I L,” will make its world premiere as part of the “Locally Sourced” program in November, watched intently as a group of PNB’s female dancers settled into her work, memorizing it in their bodies.
“It’s almost like your hearts are beating in unison,” she said of the delicate movements of a trio. Urging the dancers to immerse themselves in each moment, Stone reminded them that the steps were actually uncomplicated. “The magnificence,” she said, “is in you.”
Just the quiet, everyday miracle of art and bodies, but there was something unusual going on that day.
Though we often think of ballet in terms of women — pointe shoes, tutus, swan queens — female choreographers are relatively rare in the ballet world, and local female choreographers at PNB are even rarer. Stone, a Seattle-based dance-maker and producer (she curates the annual dance festival, “CHOP SHOP: Bodies of Work,” and is artistic director of the Stone Dance Collective), is making her PNB debut as a choreographer. She’s one of only five women whose choreography has been seen on PNB’s mainstage in the last five seasons, along with Twyla Tharp, Crystal Pite, Jessica Lang and Robyn Mineko Williams. In that same time frame, 27 men have presented their work.
While ballet company rosters tend to be slightly majority-female (PNB currently has 47 dancers on its roster, 27 of whom are women), the statistics for those who create the dances tell another story. The Dance Data Project, which examined the top 50 American ballet companies, found that for the 2018-19 season, 81 percent of the works performed by those companies was choreographed by men; for 2019-20, that figure was 79 percent. PNB’s average is in the same neighborhood — over the past five seasons, 83 percent of the works on its stage have been choreographed by men.
Read the full article in The Seattle Times.
“Locally Sourced,” a Pacific Northwest Ballet program featuring three world-premiere ballets from local choreographers: “F O I L” by Eva Stone, “Love and Loss” by Donald Byrd,” and “Wash of Grey” by Miles Pertl. Nov. 8-17, McCaw Hall, 321 Mercer St., Seattle; $37-$190; 206-441-2424, pnb.org
In ‘BB@home: ChoreograpHER,’ The Women Of The Boston Ballet Show Ingenuity And Talent
By Sharon Basco
25 October 2019
When you look at ballet you enjoy the movement, the shape of the dance, the performers, and, if there is any, the music and the story. You may marvel at the dancers’ skill, strength, artistry and charisma. Chances are, you don’t immediately focus on the person who created the work.
But now, for very good reasons, the ballet world is thinking about who makes its dances.
Historically, it’s overwhelmingly a male domain, with most ballet companies going year after year without a single piece made by a woman. In the 2012-2013 season, U.S. ballet troupes with budgets exceeding $5 million staged some 290 ballets. Just 25 of those were choreographed by women, according to research compiled by the Cincinnati Enquirer. According to a new research organization called the Dance Data Project, men will choreograph some 79 percent of works this season.
The Boston Ballet is trying to strike a more even balance. They’ve given female dancers the time and opportunity to create short ballets. This effort, called “ChoreograpHER,” presents its second season this week (it’s sold out) featuring six pieces by female company members. The venue is the small but well-appointed theater in the company’s South End headquarters.
Read the full article in The Artery.
Sacramento Ballet Ties New York City as a Leader in Works by Women
By Jim Carnes
The Sacramento Ballet‘s upcoming season — the second under artistic director Amy Seiwert — leads the nation in the percentage of its works by female choreographers, according to research published by the Dance Data Project.
According to DDP, which studies the operations of the nation’s top 50 dance companies, Sacramento Ballet moved up from fifth place in the 2018-2019 season study to being tied for first (with New York City’s American Ballet Theatre) in the 2019-2020 season. DDP reports that only 19 percent of the nation’s 467 productions are choreographed by women.
The increase in recognition of female choreographers is thanks to the Ballet’s new season, ‘Sights Unseen.’ This season’s programs will be 67 percent female-choreographed, compared to 47 percent in the 2018-2019 season. In addition, reports DDP, “there was one female-choreographed full-length world premiere in the 2018-2019 season: The Sacramento Ballet’s ‘The Nutcracker’ by Seiwert.”
Read the full article in the Sacramento Press.
A Gender Gap In Ballet, Seriously?
By Kim Elsesser
12 September 2019
If there is one occupation in which it seems women should have an equal shot of making it to leadership roles, it is ballet. From a young age, far more girls than boys are interested in ballet, so much so that girls are estimated to outnumber boys 20-to-1 in ballet classes. Yet when it comes to leadership, there’s a shocking gender gap in favor of men.
The Data Dance Project (DDP), an organization dedicated to promoting equity in classical ballet, examined leadership and salary data for artistic directors at the top 50 ballet companies in the United States—and their findings are pretty shocking. Artistic directors are often former dancers, and they have the final say on artistic decisions like how a step may be performed or how a show will transition from one piece to the next. According to DDP, a whopping 72% of ballet companies have a male artistic director. Those women who do get the title of artistic director earn only 68 cents for every dollar earned by their male counterparts. Sadly, only one woman made it onto DDP’s top ten list of the highest paid artistic directors.
The gender bias in choreography is even worse. DDP found that in the 2018-19 ballet season, men choreographed 81% of all works performed by the top 50 ballet companies. Of the 467 works announced for the 2019-20 season, 79% will be choreographed by men.
Read the full feature on Forbes.com.
The ballet world is still male-dominated, research shows
By Elizabeth “Liza” Yntema
This article originally appeared on the Women’s Media Center website.
The great choreographer George Balanchine famously said, “Ballet is woman.” But an overwhelming majority of top jobs in classical dance on both the artistic and executive side are held by men, and the artistic vision presented — to a female-dominated audience — is similarly male, including re-treads of sexist stereotypes and an alarming number of ballets that include scenes of sexual violence and degradation.
I founded Dance Data Project four years ago to document and raise awareness about the lack of opportunities for female choreographers as well as the gender imbalance in artistic and administrative leadership in dance organizations. Our research has found that women hold only three of the artistic director jobs in the largest 10 companies in the U.S. (their combined revenue of $435 million exceeds the next 40 combined by approximately $125 million). Despite the fact that girls outnumber boys 20 to one and pay most of the fees in ballet schools, and despite the audience and donor base being 70% women, female artistic directors are paid 68 percent of what their male counterparts earn. The imbalance is even more pronounced when it comes to what you see on stage. For the 2018–2019 and 2019–2020 seasons of work in the top 50 ballet companies in the U.S., a stunning 81% and 79% (respectively) of work is choreographed by men.
In 2018–2019, 70% of entire evening programs are exclusively male, and in the upcoming season 62% are — in other words, an exact inverse proportion of audience and donor base to works seen on stage. Eighty-three percent of the most prestigious pieces, full evening ballets, will be by men.
I started DDP because as an audience member and a donor, I couldn’t fathom why all the works I saw were male, why the leadership and commissions and even the panels of experts at company pre- and post-show discussions I have attended featured men only. I sat at a dinner not too long ago, and every single choreographer in a long list mentioned as important, a worthy inspiration for the men on stage, was another man.
Why should we care? Well, ballet globally is a multibillion-dollar industry. In the U.S., tens of thousands of girls and women go off to class, perhaps only a few times, many on an almost daily basis. They are being trained in a culture that enforces compliance, silence, and unquestioning submission to authority. And ballet is just one art form that perpetuates an “impresario” system with little accountability or transparency, and almost no recourse for victims of discrimination or violence. Opera, symphonies, and theater have also been plagued by lack of opportunities for women (especially women and girls of color) and violence against the vulnerable.
Ironically, it was women who originally were the powers in ballet in the United States. As Sharon Basco noted in her 2015 article “Where Are the Women in Ballet?” of the eight ballet companies launched in 1963 with a $7.7 million Ford Foundation grant, most were helmed by women who were ballet school directors. As the budgets grew, however, the women have been pushed out. That is now true even at ballet schools as salaries have risen. When I asked Alexei Moskalenko, assistant artistic director of the Youth America Grand Prix, why the overwhelming majority of the judges at the prestigious international scholarship competition are male, he said, “Well, that is because all the big ballet schools are run by men.”
Figures indicate declining and aging audiences for classical dance (a study by the Wallace Foundation found that only 3% of millennials had seen a classical ballet performance in the previous 12 months) and a real audience appetite for works by and the vision of women. Yet, the system is self-referential, with the hiring for plum commissions doled out on a who-knows-whom basis that reinforces an old boys’ network unchecked by outside rigor or opinions.
In giving the keynote address at Positioning Ballet 2019, the second Ballet Working Conference, an international symposium in the Netherlands, Theresa Ruth Howard, the founder and curator of MoBBallet (Memoirs of Blacks in Ballet), recommended a “12-step recovery program” for ballet, noting toxic ballet culture in which multiple reports of violence against women and lack of opportunities for leadership have been ignored. Howard, as so many critiques have detailed, cited a hierarchal system that enforces unquestioning obedience, particularly from women.
That certainly resonates with my experience. It is commonplace to hear artistic directors of the largest, most influential companies freely opine publicly that women cannot be choreographers, for the most risible, blatantly illogical reasons, including “Women don’t want to choreograph, they just want to have babies and dance” (told to me at a company fundraiser) or this gem from a recent gala, reported by a woman well known for her advocacy for women in finance: “Women cannot choreograph because they are used to being lifted on stage, so they cannot see what’s going on behind them.” Nope, not making it up. Alexei Ratmansky, who as the in-house choreographer for American Ballet Theatre has immense influence, stated on Facebook in 2017 that there is no equality in ballet, and he is fine with that, it is simply part of the tradition and the way things are.
There are some notable and encouraging exceptions in the big companies. An extraordinary and unprecedented 100% of world premieres announced this summer to be featured in American Ballet Theatre’s 2019–2020 season will be work choreographed by women. ABT stands alone among the big companies by investing so heavily in new work. ABT’s Artistic Director Kevin McKenzie has made a multiyear, multilevel commitment to bringing new voices to the stage by working with female choreographers from every level — black box short pieces to full evening main stage productions. This alleviates the anxiety I have heard from so many female choreographers that if they don’t hit it out of the park every single damn time, they will never work again.
However, the most innovative work, which will keep classical dance relevant and younger audiences excited, is being done outside of the big companies, by the second companies in big cities or by regional ballets staging more interesting “contemporary ballet” by women. Smaller companies led by women — BalletX in Philadelphia (Christine Cox), the Cincinnati Ballet (Victoria Morgan) and Dayton Ballet (Karen Russo Burke), the extraordinary Amy Seiwert at Sacramento Ballet, the 40-year veteran Stoner Winslett of Richmond Ballet, as well as newcomer Hope Muir in Charlotte — are producing great work to enthusiastic audiences.
Dance Data Project’s July report did find an encouraging trend: Women are obtaining more commissions to create for the shorter, mixed repertory programs in top 50 companies. Thirty-eight percent of single-act world premieres announced to date for the 2019–2020 season will be by women. In the past season, 2018–2019, 45% of the non–main-stage world premieres were choreographed by women. But both trends underline what dance scholar, Barnard Professor Lynn Garafola has noted: that companies are unwilling to trust women with big, expensive productions.
But to really address disparity in leadership in ballet, we need to change how girls in ballet are encouraged to think of themselves: not as fungible automatons, but as future artists. Eva Stone, who has been a teacher and choreographer for 30 years, persuaded Peter Boal, the artistic director at Pacific Northwest Ballet, to start an intensive in choreography for 14- to 16-year-old girls. Programs like these are critical because girls become serious about ballet at about the same time that they stop speaking in class: a double cultural whammy. And in a lovely gesture, completely upending typical ballet norms, Boal offered up his own choreography to the class for critique and feedback.
So what can we do?
Female audiences, donors, and students continue to support an art form that routinely marginalizes women in all respects. The best chance for real change is for audiences to insist on equity, and to invest their money in companies that are paying women fairly, hiring more women in leadership positions, and showcasing the work of women choreographers. Even female board members who are senior executives at banks and venture capital and accounting firms with active diversity programs often don’t push back. One exception is Alison Quirk, a member of the board of trustees of Boston Ballet. She and another female board member advocated for the establishment of ChoreograpHER at Boston Ballet, a program that showcases choreography by female company members.
Ballet is behind the times and tone deaf. It’s not going to change unless those of us sitting in the seats, board members, critics, and audiences force it to do so. If you want to make an affirmative effort to support female artists, here are some names, besides Twyla Tharp, to look for: Annabelle Lopez Ochoa, Jessica Lang, Crystal Pite, Helen Pickett, Pam Tanowitz, Melissa Barak, Amy Seiwert, Gemma Bond, Gianna Reisen, Lauren Lovette, Stephanie Martinez, Toni Pimble, Celia Fushille, Virginia Johnson, Penny Saunders.
Liza would like to note that Celia Fushille, Virginia Johnson, and Toni Pimble are three artists she would move up from the “names to look for” list at the end of this Op-Ed and relocate to the paragraph detailing female artistic directors. (See paragraph beginning with, “However, the most innovative work, which will keep classical dance relevant and younger audiences excited, is being done outside of the big companies, by the second companies in big cities or by regional ballets…”.
These women are leading extraordinary companies and initiatives. Celia Fushille leads Smuin Ballet, which was founded by a man but now heavily supports the addition of female work. A founding member and principal dancer-turned-artistic director of Dance Theatre of Harlem, Virginia Johnson is also a leading advocate for African-American girls (and boys) entering the ballet world. Toni Pimble leads Eugene Ballet with major inclusion of female work (much of it her own), setting a standard for companies of the same size in the U.S. to commission more women and level their ratio of male v. female work in every season.
See the Op-Ed online at Women’s Media Center.
Over 80% of Ballets Are Still Choreographed By Men
By Lauren Wingenwroth
25 July 2019
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.
A new report released by the Dance Data Project—a nonprofit launched earlier this yearto assess gender inequity in ballet—looks at the 2018-2019 seasons of America’s 50 largest balletcompanies (this list is determined by budget, and “ballet” is defined loosely: The list includes companies like Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and L.A. Dance Project).Here are the biggest takeaways:
81 percent of works last season were choreographed by men.
That’s 520 of the total 645 works performed by these companies last season. Looking at just full-length ballets the number grows worse: 88 percent were choreographed by men.
One bright spot: Only 65 percent of world premieres were choreographed by men—but of full-length world premieres, 90 percent were by men. Men choreographed 70 percent of mainstage world premieres, although women did have more opportunities in non-mainstage world premieres, which were split 55 percent men and 45 percent women.
Read the full article on Dance Magazine’s blog.
American Ballet Theatre – Jane Eyre – New York
By Marina Harss
6 June 2019
There is a huge imbalance in the number of new works created by men and women for the ballet stage. Evening-length narrative ballets by women are even more of a rarity. So the American première of Cathy Marston’s Jane Eyre on June 4 was a big event. According to the newly-formed Dance Data Project, which tracks the leadership roles of women in the field, Marston’s ballet is one of only nine such premieres at the top 50 companies this season. That is out of several dozen.) The Metropolitan Opera House was full of dance luminaries who had traveled from other cities – Julie Kent from Washington, Jorma Elo from Boston – to be there.
Cathy Martson is a British choreographer with a lengthy portfolio and a specialty in telling stories, particularly stories drawn from the literary canon. In her twenty years as a choreographer, she has made ballets based on Ibsen, Shakespeare, and D. H. Lawrence. Her Jane Eyre, based on Charlotte Bronte’s classic Gothic novel about a woman searching for her place in the world, débuted at the Northern Ballet in 2016, to relative acclaim, and she recently created a one-act ballet based on Edith Wharton’s Ethan Frome, for San Francisco Ballet.
Read the full article on DanceTabs.
By David Lyman
18 June 2019
DDP correction: The article states below, “Among the nation’s top 50 ballet companies, only 13 of the most prestigious full-length works are by women. Of those 13, two were commissioned by Cincinnati Ballet.” The correct number of full-length ballets by women announced for the upcoming season as of May 19, 2019 (as stated in DDP’s report) is 11; two of these ballets are indeed announced for Cincinnati Ballet’s season (one being a second company work).
“The numbers are shocking,” says Elizabeth Yntema, founder and president of the Chicago-based Dance Data Project.
She’s talking about the lack of female choreographers in America’s ballet companies.
“We’ve been talking about this for years,” says Yntema, “but almost nothing has changed.”
Consider these numbers, which Yntema shared in a pair of presentations at the recent annual conference of Dance/USA, the national service organization for professional dance. Analyzing statistics from the nation’s top 50 ballet companies, she found that:
- 81 percent of all ballets scheduled for the 2019-2020 season are created by men. (The number is even higher – 85 percent – for full-length ballets.)
- 64 percent of all ballet programs during the 2019-2020 season feature only male choreographers.
- Just 12 of the nation’s top 50 ballet companies have female artistic directors.
One of the rare exceptions to all of this, she points out, is Cincinnati Ballet, where artistic director Victoria Morgan has championed the works of female choreographers for more than a decade.
According to the DDP report:
- 56 percent of the works Cincinnati Ballet commissioned for the 2019-2020 season are created by women.
- Female choreographers will be featured in 71 percent of Cincinnati Ballet’s programs.
- Among the nation’s top 50 ballet companies, only 13 of the most prestigious full-length works are by women. Of those 13, two were commissioned by Cincinnati Ballet.
Cincinnati Ballet isn’t completely alone. Yntema’s study noted a handful of other companies, most notably Sacramento Ballet – led by Cincinnatian Amy Seiwert – and Philadelphia’s Ballet X.
“But for the most part, you’re seeing very little progress from the largest companies,” she says. “What makes all this worse is that critics from the largest publications almost never see these other companies. Traditional journalism has been cut, so there is this massive disconnect between the biggest cities and the work that is being done in the rest of the country, particularly the ones being led by women. Often, they don’t get reviewed, so they’re invisible to the rest of the world.”
Read the full article in the Cincinnati Enquirer.
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