Chloe Angyal: Code of points

As written for her newsletter.

By Chloe Angyal

Hello, good readers —

Who’s exhausted? You’re exhausted. I’m exhausted. We are all bone-deep, full-body, whole-soul wiped out, fatigued on a cellular and spiritual level.

This year has just been so much. I say that as someone who is not a parent, who has not been sick, and who has not lost a job. There are so many people who are worse off than I am. And now, as we head into what is supposed to be the joyous, fun, family-oriented stretch of celebrations, all we have is rising positive test rates and the grim truth that right now, to gather with our family is to risk killing a member of someone else’s. It is going to be a long, dark winter.

If you are the kind of person who likes the Nutcracker, though, there is some good news to be had (I say “if,” because plenty of dancers who grow up in American dance schools cannot bear to hear even a few notes of Waltz of the Flowers because they’ve performed so many Nutcrackers that their brains just can’t handle it anymore).

San Francisco Ballet, for example, is putting on a digital Nutcracker, a filmed production (from 2008) and a “digital journey” that will include choreography tutorials and a virtual tour of the War Memorial Opera House, the ballet’s stage home.

Houston Ballet will be screening excerpts of its regular Nutcracker, plus premiering new works set to Christmas carols.

Boston Ballet will air its Nutcracker on NBC six times in November and December.

And your local ballet school or company might be doing something digital, too (my local dance school, for example, has filmed scenes from its Nutcracker outside and all over town, and will cut it all together into a streamable production). Ballet schools and companies are doing what they can, trying to replace the revenue that this production reliably brings in every year and that, for some companies, accounts for 40% or more of annual ticket sales. Help them out, if you can.

A few weeks ago, I sat down with the Dance Data Project as part of their Global Conversations series, in which they’ve been interviewing creative and institutional leaders in the ballet world to talk about surviving the coronavirus crisis and rebuilding more equitably on the other side. DDP’s research on the gender gap in choreography and company leadership was essential to me as I was writing Turning Pointe (did you know that for every one woman running a ballet company in America, there are three men, and that only one of the largest ten companies in the country is run by a woman? Not great!).

Anyway, one thing that was cut from our conversation, which you can watch here (it’s 25 minutes) is the question of how to make the bodies that are put on professional ballet stages more representative of the population at large: by race, by size, by shape, by (dis)ability.

As often happens, the challenge of finding dancers who are not super-skinny, white and able-bodied was termed a “pipeline problem.” Another way of saying that is, “we would totally hire those dancers and put them on stage, but they don’t audition for us because no one’s training them to our standards.” I heard that from artistic directors a lot as I was reporting this book.

And to that I say: You have it precisely backwards. If you are a leader in ballet — if you are a leader anywhere — then you make the pipeline. You set the standard. You send the signal about what you want, and the rest of the ecosystem — the schools, the teachers, the curricula — adapt to that.  This has already happened: as ballet companies perform more contemporary work, ballet schools have added contemporary training to their curricula to give students a better chance on the job market.

Read the full story here.