San Francisco Classical Voice: Ballet’s New Mandate: Change or Die
By Lou Fancher
14 September 2020
Six months after the coronavirus pandemic shuttered performing-arts venues in mid-March, there are more unsettling questions than there are comforting answers about the future of dance — and classical and contemporary ballet in particular.
Adding tilt to the unsteady imbalance are the art form’s longstanding gender inequities and worldwide social-justice protests related to racism after the most recent killing of Black Americans at the hands of law enforcement. The open wounds of gender and racial inequities that lay across American history and current affairs have left deep imprints on the entire dance world.
In this environment float the presumptions and principles that have led to ballet companies directed generally by men; with more white dancers than people of color in ballet company ranks; with more funding for white-led dance company boards and management, and more commissions and grants awarded to white applicants or for projects with Western, Eurocentric origins and focus. White is not just found in the classical tutus found of Swan Lake or Giselle, but across the entire ballet landscape.
During the unwelcome furlough of COVID-19, companies large and small cancelled annual Nutcrackers, the ballet world’s major money-making machine, and often enough, the bedrock funding for entire seasons. This raises existential questions, but also opportunities to reflect on how companies can more broadly represent their communities. What are dance artists and organizations willing to change, and will it be enough to sustain the art form?
Searching for artists who might be pushing the parameters with results lasting beyond quick, flashy trends, I talked to Trey McIntyre, Amy Seiwert, and Gregory Dawson, three choreographers/artistic directors whose work has risen to prominence and receives considerable local, national and international attention. I asked them what they are doing to keep their companies afloat and invited them to speak about their perspectives on dance, ballet, digital dance offerings, and the state of the art.
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