Nonprofit Quarterly: The Gender Divide in Ballet Leadership and Choreography

By Jeanne Allen

28 September 2015

In 1963, the Ford Foundation used the power of its grants to help create eight ballet companies across the U.S. Most of these companies were founded and cultivated by leading female artistic directors. Today, all of these companies are headed by men. Additionally, men also head the choreography.

According to a recent article on NPR, many of the current female leaders in the arts, and in ballet, seem to share similar perspectives. According to scholar Lynn Garafola,  “The more professional a company becomes, in my observation, the more likely women are going to disappear from the leadership positions, and they’re going to be replaced by men. I think this is very typical of organizations when they get larger, when they get more important.”

And, indeed, this is a dynamic that cuts across organizational types, as is reflected in this recent review of studies of nonprofit diversity profiles.

Twyla Tharp, the famous choreographer who started her own dance troupe 50 years ago, is touring this year to celebrate that lifetime achievement. She comments, about the vanishing number female choreographers, “It’s not a woman’s prerogative to be an artist. We all know women have a high hill to climb whatever they do.”

Why the change? Well, in ballet schools, girls outnumber boys by almost 20 to 1. This creates a “culture in which the boys are trained to be much more individuals, to do solos,” according to Rachel Moore, who will serve as CEO of the American Ballet Theatre until October 5th, when she leaves to take on the role of president and CEO of the Los Angeles Music Center. “Girls are taught to stand in line and be obedient.”

Read the full article in Nonprofit Quarterly.

British Vogue: Ballerina Alessandra Ferri's Advice Is What Every Young Woman Should Read

By Alyson Lowe

17 January 2019

Lowe’s article details Ferri’s selection to open the new Linbury Theatre, a second stage within the Royal Opera House. Below is an excerpt from the article:

TRIO, an hour-long contemporary ballet, has been chosen to open the Linbury Theatre. “I choose very carefully what I do and with who,” says Ferri. I need to know that I’m sharing the thing that is most precious to me – my dance – with people who speak the same language.” It’s important to her that ballets continue to evolve over time. “It’s always an ongoing rehearsal.”

It’s the subject of evolution within longevity, especially for women, that really sets Ferri’s spark alight. “If you’re attached to the past, and keep thinking about what you were like aged 20, you will be insecure,” she says. “But if you let go of the past, and are aware of where you are now, that’s what’s important.

For Ferri, women hold the power themselves when it comes to rejecting institutionalised beliefs around aging. “For centuries, there’s been this mentality that the moment a woman biologically cannot have children, she is finished. But, I think that we are at a point where things are really changing. It’s up to us not to buy into this anymore,” she continues.

“If we start changing the conversation we have with ourselves as women, things will change.” If the Linbury Theatre is still in need of words above the door to welcome the millennial audience they hope to entice, they needn’t look any further than Ferri’s.

Read the full article in British Vogue.

New York Times: The Place to Challenge Ballet’s Gender Stereotypes? In Daily Class

By Madison Mainwaring

25 January 2019

In a typical morning class at American Ballet Theater, the brightly lit studio feels like a laboratory. If you’ve watched these dancers in performance, you might be surprised at how messy they can be when practicing, falling out of turns, missing the landing of jumps.

On a Friday before “Nutcracker” season, the ballet master Vladilen Semenov remained relatively quiet, explaining a combination before stepping back to watch to the mixed class of men and women. But the dancers had their own agendas, testing their bodies in experiments of strength, flexibility and physics. A handful of the women, instead of going on point, stayed in slippers to try the men’s steps.

Ballet is widely seen as putting women on a pedestal — male dancers literally lift them over their heads — reinforcing conventional ideas about masculinity and femininity. The pas de deux, or romantic male-female duet, is considered by many to be the art form’s linchpin, but it can seem sentimental, or worse, sexist. Can ballet reflect contemporary ideas about gender? This question is crucial in determining its future standing and reception, especially among audience members unfamiliar with its traditions.

Read the full article in the New York Times.

Dance Australia: The only boy in the class

By Jake Burden

23 January 2019

How do you address the gender imbalance in the ballet studio? Ballet Brothers’ Jake Burden has some tips for teachers, parents and the boys themselves.

While some ballet schools offer programs designed specifically for boys, not all studios have the resources or numbers to offer specialised boys’ classes. Although attitudes towards boys and ballet have changed markedly in recent years, it is still common for boys to find themselves the only male dance student in the studio. Often surrounded by a sea of pink, it’s likely that most young male dancers will feel uncomfortable or out of place in the ballet studio at some point in their training. 

So what can be done?
Jake Burden is a young Australian dancer and teacher who has put a lot of time into addressing the challenges faced by young male dancers, as the founder and director of Ballet Brothers, an independent organisation aimed at supporting and encouraging boys who love to dance. He has some advice for teachers and parents about supporting young male dancers in the studio, as well as some tips for the boys themselves.

Read the full article in Dance Australia.

Le Figaro: Aurelie Dupont Does the Right Thing

16 January 2019

Aurelie Dupont has rescinded Sergei Polunin’s invitation to dance with the Paris Opera Ballet in the upcoming spring season.

A tweet was released by the Paris Opera:

Compte tenu des propos publics tenus par Sergei Polunin, Aurélie Dupont, Directrice de la danse, a pris la décision de ne plus inviter l’artiste. Ces propos n’étant pas en adéquation avec ses valeurs et celles de l’Institution.

Translated, it reads, “Having taken into account the public remarks made by Sergei Polunin, Aurélie Dupont, Director of Dance, has made the decision to no longer invite the artist. These statements do not align with her values and those of the Insitution.”

Renouncing Polunin’s sexist and homophobic comments was a smart and appropriate move by the Paris Opera and its female leader. This announcement comes during a time where leadership must fight against years of sexism and female inequity in dance.

Le Figaro reported on the dancer’s controversial statements here.

NY Times: Anti-Gay and Sexist Posts Cost Sergei Polunin a Role in Paris

By Roslyn Sulcas

14 January 2019

Sergei Polunin will dance at the Paris Opera Ballet. Sergei Polunin will not dance at the Paris Opera Ballet.

Barely 48 hours passed between a tweet on Thursday announcing a coming guest appearance as Siegfried in “Swan Lake” by Mr. Polunin, whom many consider one of the finest male dancers of his generation, and an announcement on Saturday by the Opera that the invitation had been withdrawn.

The withdrawal came after a furor on social media, responding to news of the Paris performances. That’s because, over the last two months, Mr. Polunin, a former principal at the Royal Ballet in London, has posted around a dozen Instagram messages trumpeting his dislike for homosexuals and “females now trying to take on man role”; and his desire to slap fat people for their lack of discipline. (This last, most recent message has been removed from Instagram.) Beyond those, he has used social media to address his admiration for Vladimir V. Putin, whose image is tattooed on his chest, and his support for Donald Trump.

Read the full article in the New York Times.

Chicago Classic Magazine: Liza Yntema Leads the Charge

By Judy Carmack Bross

6 January 2019

At January’s end, vibrant Liza Yntema will roll out the Dance Data Project™ (DDP), which could not only transform the ballet community and impact the national and international arts environment but also change philanthropy for women.

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Using over 2,000 records of choreographic works in DDP’s database on this online platform, Liza will promote dance equity by providing data analysis, advocacy, and programming. In addition, she will showcase women-led companies, festivals, venues, and special programs. Her work will undoubtedly have bottom line results with the development of grants to female choreographers and women in leadership positions as well as to women composers; costume, set and light designers; and photographers.

Soon to set out soon on a listening tour of the top 50 dance companies in the country from Sacramento to Philadelphia, whose stories will be featured on DDP’s website, Liza paused to tell us:

“Gender equality in relationship to major companies is a topic that is barely breached in the dance world. I feel a moral obligation to lead the charge. What we see on the ballet stage is, for the most part, a male’s vision, even if the story is supposed to be from a woman’s point of view.

“I have commissioned ballet works that come from a woman’s perspective, but I have also wanted to do much more. On my fact-finding tour I will be looking at the number of male versus female artistic and executive directors at the top U.S. dance companies and which companies pay the most versus the least—and where women fall on that spectrum.”

Read the full article in Chicago Classic Magazine.

Petipa: A Woke Article by Alastair Macaulay for the New York Times

26 December 2018

Five days ago Alastair Macaulay, the outgoing chief dance critic of the New York Times known for his difficult critique and hard-to-impress nature, wrote an article entitled “The Ambiguous Sexism of Marius Petipa, Ballet’s Towering Master.” In ballet’s recent climate, even this long-standing man-in-power has become woke to the issues in the dance world, largely related to misogynistic tradition and inequity.

Macaulay has increasingly used his elevated position at the New York Times to deploy his immense knowledge-base and erudition in a more nuanced view of classical ballet. This article is one of the best examples of this scholar and critic engaging in a sometimes-unpopular opinion amongst dance leaders.

Macaulay writes:

The woman goes on point; the man does the partnering. The positions may not be reversed. What’s going on here? Is he serving her or controlling her? He subordinates himself to making her all the more spectacular, but which one is in charge? We can say that such behavior glorifies women — or that it falsifies them. I’m among the thousands who are disarmed by it; I’m also well aware that it’s far from the behavior I encounter anywhere today.

This article is a welcome change from an influential critic, and we hope more writers will highlight instances of sexism onstage in works of dance and offstage in the offices and studios of theaters and dance companies.

Read the full article in the New York Times.

The Hurdles of Running a Small Company

17 December 2018

As Jessica Lang Dance closes its doors, Ryan Casey at Dance Magazine wrote an article to discuss the financial difficulties that plague leaders of small companies (often women choreographers, we at DDP would like to note).

Describing his own troubles, Casey went on to make the highly poignant remark that transparency is key to alleviating this issue, writing:

It's not that we'd be surprised to hear what our peers are experiencing. I know I'm not the only company director to have funded gigs with my personal savings, spent thousands of dollars on largely unsuccessful APAP showings, received rejections for grant applications that took hours to complete, or lost money on events I produced. But watching ensembles such as Trey McIntyre Project, Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet and now Jessica Lang Dance announce their final bows in recent years has made it clear that we're all waging similar battles, and they're not going to be won alone.

The reason for JLD's demise isn't even mentioned in the company's official announcement. If we can't be transparent with each other and with the public about the issues we're facing, we're doomed to similar fates—which, as in the case of JLD, ultimately means depriving audiences of innovative, transformative art.

Running a company is a juggling act, and it cannot be tackled alone. We at DDP feel strongly that any resources that can make the load lighter on the artists seeking to create should be provided. Those resources come in the form of transparent contracts, aid negotiating those very contracts, tools to make choreographic competitions and performance opportunities at festivals well-known and application readily-available. The list goes on.

Melanie Doerner, mentioned in DDP’s academic inspiration, is investigating this problem at a deeper level, undertaking a research project that looks beyond funding to deeper questions of sustainable business model for arts organizations, particularly regional theatre and regional ballet. Melanie asserts, “The sustainability of theatre and ballet ultimately lives with the purveyors and practitioners, less it become a museum piece or mere preservation project in select urban centers, rather than the vibrant regional art forms.” Through her investigation of several companies and their business habits, Melanie hopes to highlight the best models that embody successful innovation.

In the coming months, DDP, too, will use its website address the hurdles women in particular must overcome in order to successfully obtain commissions and keep their companies up-and-running. Our team will be highlighting women choreographers and leaders of successful companies (both large and small) to reveal their areas of challenge, success, and inspiration in this tricky and competitive field. Look out for “Meet the Choreographer” and “Meet the Company” posts soon on our website.

Read Casey’s article in Dance Magazine.

The Guardian: Sexism in dance: where are all the female choreographers?

By Luke Jennings

28 April 2013

As a nation we are well supplied with choreographers. Matthew Bourne, Akram Khan, Wayne McGregor, Liam Scarlett, Christopher Wheeldon… the list goes on. All are highly acclaimed, players on the world stage, their services booked for years ahead. So why are their female colleagues struggling for visibility? Why, when British dance was founded by women like Ninette de Valois and Marie Rambert, and has always employed more women than men, are there no high-profile women choreographers?

It's 14 years since a woman was commissioned to create a main-stage ballet at the Royal Opera House. If this were true of women playwrights at the National Theatre, or female artists at the Tate, there would be outrage. But at the flagship institution of British dance, the omission has escaped public notice. As it did last summer when the Royal Ballet and the National Gallery launched a collaboration named Metamorphosis: Titian 2012. Of the 15 artists and choreographers involved, none was a woman. An ironic decision, given that the subject was the goddess Diana, the personification of feminine power.

Even in contemporary dance, historically a territory marked out by choreographic pioneers such as Martha Graham and Pina Bausch, men are much more prominent than women. In the UK the female choreographers are there – Fleur DarkinShobana JeyasinghCharlotte Vincent and others have been diligently carving out careers for years – but it's almost always their male colleagues, even the less experienced ones, who get the big commissions. "It's a nightmare for those of us who watch as men get given chances they are simply not ready for while we graft away at our craft and take smaller-scale opportunities," says Janis Claxton, an Edinburgh-based choreographer. "Women quit because they don't get the support that their male colleagues get, and having to push constantly against this outrageous gender inequality is infuriating."

Read the full article in The Guardian.

New York Times: Marina Harss Asks the Right Questions

4 November 2018

A recent article by Marina Harss for the New York Times details the ABT Incubator initiative and implores companies to “give budding choreographers room to move.” Workshops to create new choreography are few and far between, Harss writes, particularly within classical companies.

She asks several questions about the future of the workshop and similar initiatives:

“Should it offer mentoring, as Ailey’s Choreographic Lab does? Or composition classes, as Juilliard does? As the choreographer Jessica Lang, one of the seven-person panel, said in an interview: ‘What are we are trying to do? What is the goal?’”

These questions have long needed to be asked, and certainly companies will soon learn the answers. We at DDP believe choreographers need practical information. Yes, they need mentoring and composition classes, but they also need business strategy and financial savvy. Articles like Harss’ remind us that in order to advocate, we must also inform.

Become informed: read Harss’ article in the New York Times.

University of Washington: Ballet dancer injuries

By Joel Schwarz

11 October 2000

“Swan Lake” and “Sleeping Beauty” may be as tough opponents as the Supersonics or the Steelers.

Psychologists trying to understand the factors that put athletes and performers at risk for injuries have found that professional ballet dancers get hurt just as often and suffer just as serious injuries as athletes in contact sports.

Ronald Smith, a University of Washington psychology professor and lead author of a new study published in the current issue of the journal Anxiety, Stress and Coping, said that the injury rate for ballet dancers over an eight-month period was 61 percent. This is comparable to rates found in other studies for athletes in collision sports such as football and wrestling. The average time lost because of a ballet injury was 10.5 days, with the actual time loss ranging from one to 87 days. An injury was defined as a medical problem that restricted participation for at least one day beyond the date of the injury.

“We think ballet dancers are as vulnerable as athletes because ballet is a very pressure-packed activity with a tremendous amount of competition,” said Smith, who has worked for the Houston Astros organization as a psychological consultant. “Ballet is physically grueling and the fact that other dancers are competing with them adds to the physical stress. They often perform hurt and are afraid someone will take their place. Many dancers have eating disorders and they lead very, very stressful lives. The level of precision required is comparable to that of an Olympic gymnast.”

Read the full article on the U of Washington News Page.

Dance/USA Webinar Series Features Woman Choreographers

By Isabelle Vail

1 December 2018

Dance/USA has created a webinar series to cover important topics in dance. Recently, the webinar has invited three woman choreographers, Stephanie Martinez, Rulan Tangen, and Sarah Reich to be moderated by Christy Bolingbroke. The webinar, entitled Music and the Choreographer: Stories from the Field, investigates the journey to create art and discover music along the way. The inclusion of women on such a panel signifies Dance/USA support for choreographic equity. We hope to see more women in similar panels discussing the choreographic process and the business behind it. 

Watch the webinar here.

Dance Magazine Calls it Straight

A November 9th article posted by Dance Magazine reports on the rehabilitation of male dancers and choreographers who have been accused of harassing women (and men).

The publication focused on Jan Fabre, a Belgian multidisciplinary artist. Dance reports that he has been named as Grand Officer in the Order of the Crown, a great honor in Belgium, similar to the Légion d’Honneur in France or appointment as a member or officer of the Order of the British Empire. His troupe, Troubleyn, has recently presented Mount Olympus: To glorify the cult of tragedy (a 24 hour performance). The magazine describes this abhorrent display as including dancers napping onstage due to its absurd length and repeating steps “endlessly at the coaxing of the audience.” To finish the disturbing “art” off is “full frontal nudity, simulated blood and realistically enacted orgies and violence.”

DDP commends Dance Magazine for its straight-forward, no excuse, coverage of this artist and his recent work. DDP firmly believes that the ballet, like other fields, requires more fearless voices that are unafraid to take on entrenched interests like those of Jan Fabre and supporters. Twenty of Fabre’s former and current dancers revealed sexual harassment and coercion were common at the hands of their director, and despite his ban from attending the performance, Fabre’s insensitive work is being presented in conjunction with investigation into his real-life behaviors of the same nature.

New York Times has commented on this production, most recently in a November 9th article. Reporter Alex Marshall describes Belgian arts activists, from the group Engagement, as having “demanded New York University do more to address allegations of sexual harassment against Mr. Fabre as his company prepares to perform at N.Y.U. on Saturday.”

According to the article, European performance venues have cancelled the performance, but N.Y.U.’s Skirball Center for Performing Arts has decided to continue with the scheduled performances, due to the crew members and performers involved. Multiple reviews online, including one posted on an NYU student newspaper (link here), have detailed the explicit and obscene scenes from the 24-hour long production. In Jerusalem, the work was called “pretentious” (link here). “Mount Olympus” performances in Greece and Madrid have gone on as planned.

Sadly, the dismissal of those victimized is not an isolated incident. We've seen this in the case of the New York City Ballet, when management rightly terminated three male dancers for trading intimate photos of female colleagues and partners, without their consent or knowledge, the dancers’ union immediately leaped to the defense of the abusers, not the women themselves.

Read the Dance Magazine report here.

Read the New York Times article here.

New York Times: Alabama Shakespeare Festival Aims to Update Southern Cannon

By Peter Libbey

21 November 2018

The Alabama Shakespeare Festival will commission 22 plays in the next five years, with more than half of the commissions set to go to female playwrights and playwrights of color.

Rick Dildine, the artistic director of the Alabama Shakespeare Festival, the state’s largest professional theater, announced the initiative on Wednesday. He emphasized that the plays will focus on “transformative moments in the South that caused important and lasting changes to its people, culture and land.”

This comes on the heels of Mr. Dildine’s first major project as artistic director, the revitalization of the Southern Writers’ Project, the company’s program for developing new plays that was founded in 1991 and is now known as the Southern Writers Festival. Last summer, Mr. Dildine took a group of Southern playwrights including Elyzabeth Gregory Wilder and David Lee Nelson on a 10-day tour to seven statesto interview local residents about how they experience life in the South.

Read the full article in the New York Times.

The Guardian: Interview with Tamara Rojo

By Michael Hogan

18 November 2018

Born in Quebec and raised in Spain, London-based Tamara Rojo, 44, is the artistic director of English National Ballet, as well as lead principal dancer. She was previously a principal with the Royal Ballet. She was made a CBE in the 2016 New Year honours list.

Your and choreographer Akram Khan’s recent version of Giselle reimagined her as a refugee. Is risk-taking important for ballet?
It’s vital to question our traditions. Classics are classics because their essence is relevant for ever. They will always resonate, but you have to put them in a context where people recognise themselves. Ballet can seem archaic and alienating. I want it to be for and about everybody. I’m not seeking to destroy or erase anything.

Read the full article in the Guardian.

New York Times: Brown Pointe Shoes Arrive, 200 Years After White Ones

By Alex Marshall

4 November 2018

For nearly her whole career, Cira Robinson has — like many ballet dancers of color — performed a ritual: painting her point shoes to match her skin.

She did it first in 2001, when she was 15, at a summer program with Dance Theater of Harlem. The company said her shoes needed to be brown, not the traditional pink, but she couldn’t find any in stores, so she used spray paint. “It made them crunchy and just … ew,” she said in a telephone interview.

When she joined Dance Theater a few years later, she started using makeup instead. “I’d go to the cheapest stores and get foundation,” she said, the kind “you’d never put on your face as it’d break you out. Like, $2.95 cheap.”

Read the full article in the New York Times.

Dancing Times: #MeToo Medusa

By Graham Watts

22 October 2018

Graham Watts travelled to the International Institute of the Arts in Sitges to talk to choreographer Jasmin Vardimon about Medusa, her new production for Jasmin Vardimon Company.

Read the following excerpts from his interview with Jasmin Vardimon and read the full interview in the Dancing Times.

Vardimon describes, “Almost no-one knew she (DDP note: Medusa) became this monster because she was a beautiful woman who was raped by Poseidon in the Temple of Athena, or that the goddess Athena – either out of jealousy or protection, there’s a lot of different interpretations – punished her for being raped, rather than punishing Poseidon.

There are two women in this story because it’s about Athena as well as Medusa. Athena is the one who cursed and punished Medusa and turned her into this monster, but when she sent Perseus to behead her, it became a fight between women. Instead of supporting each other, they fought each other. I find it interesting that this part of the story has been forgotten.”

GW: Given all the revelations of the #MeToo movement, it (DDP note: the piece entitled Medusa) sounds like a story for today. Is that how you see it, too?

JV: Yes, I think it’s very relevant to women who have been victims and who are then forgotten. So, obviously the currency and relevance of #MeToo is right there in this old myth. It has been re-used in culture, in politics and in many other forms, always presenting the woman as the wicked monster but never explaining her backstory as a victim. It’s very powerful.

During the Trump/Clinton election campaign, Trump called Clinton Medusa: he even had awful T-shirts printed depicting him as Perseus holding the head of Hilary, as Medusa. Again, it’s using Medusa as an allegory to depict strong women as the monster. It seems as if women who are strong are like Medusa, they are like a monster. They have to be put down.

Read the full interview in the Dancing Times.

What does the ballet #MeToo mean for DDP?

By Isabelle Vail

18 October 2018

2018 has very much been the year of #MeToo. From the first major accusations in Hollywood beginning a wave in 2017, the world was made aware and a movement took form into what was then the new year.

Amongst the team at DDP, there were many questions. If such horrific abuse was happening in Hollywood, why weren’t we hearing anything about it in the dance world? The two art spheres are practically siblings; men hold the positions of power: the funding, producing, directing, and writing/choreographing. We, like many other individuals in the dance world familiar with the competitive and desperate environment that plagues (and fuels) dance, wondered when the inevitable call to action would begin in our community.

Then the threads began unravelling. The Peter Martins resignation, Marcelo Gomes accusations, #MoiAussi at the Paris Opera Ballet, the Alexandra Waterbury v. NYCB lawsuit. Ballet was (and is) in the midst of its #MeToo reckoning.

Our team has always been committed to promoting equity and opportunity where it is due to women. Equity and respect are not born from a community touched by abuse. It is therefore of equal importance to our organization to report on and condemn acts that deprive women (and men) of respect and challenge their sense of dignity. Our community cannot move forward when those in power like Peter Martins and unnamed others disregard young women (and men)’s years of dedication, vulnerability, and passion through acts of abuse.

The DDP news feed is a means of informing equity through awareness. We hope our visitors are aware of the reality of the present dance world. We hope that you use your knowledge of that reality to make informed, respectful, and appropriate decisions as you lead your own part of the community. While we share articles and blogposts about #MeToo in dance and beyond, we will continue our news feed in the ballet programming category. This movement is not all-encompassing and does not define the dance community.

Companies are creating art and thriving through this difficult climate, and so we too will continue to function, reporting on the good, the bad, and the in-between. Statistics will be interpreted and reported, as fiscal, repertoire-based, and operational equity are not mutually exclusive. DDP is committed to presenting its research, and this research will remain available throughout this important and much-needed evolution. Stay tuned for our findings for the 2018-2019 season and the constantly updated feed of ballet, equity, and transparency news!