Article by Isabelle Vail, DDP Research Partner
In June 2016, the New York Times published a piece, “Breaking the Glass Slipper: Where Are the Female Choreographers?” The question was bold and elicited great discussion in the dance community. Two years later, the DDP is publishing its initial findings, with a clear disparity between female and male representation amongst choreographers featured by companies.
There has, however, been some exciting change in the past 10 months, with two major female initiatives occurring over the summer months and into the fall dance season, along with major highlights of female works in festivals and these initiatives. The programs are both led by principal dancers of New York’s leading companies. American Ballet Theatre’s Isabella Boylston, the joyful ballerina, who swam through ABT’s ranks to a promotion in 2014, led Ballet Sun Valley, with programs presented in her hometown featuring dancers from the Royal Ballet, to freelance artists, to those from her new hometown of NYC. Boylston’s curation of the project is partnered with fellow ABT dancer and choreographic visionary Gemma Bond. A world premier by Bond was commissioned by Boylston, who told the New York Times, “I want to say that I picked Gemma because I like her work, not just because she’s a female.” Bond’s work has been featured at the Guggenheim and was also an element of great acclaim during the Joyce Ballet Festival. A recent fellowship grant from the New York Choreographic Institute, along with this initiative has greatly grown Gemma Bond Dance, and she is slated to create on the Washington Ballet this spring.
From New York City Ballet, Sara Mearns has yet to present her collaboration with hip hop dancer Honji Wang and choreographer Sebastien Ramirez. The emotive dancer has broken ballet barriers in the past year, working with Isadora Duncan Dance Company this summer and performing in a collaboration with Jodi Melnick in the fall of 2016. Her most recent work, though a collaboration with a male choreographer, sets the example of a female expanding her horizons in the dance world, leading others to pursue similar opportunities outside the confines of ballet. Ms. Mearns’ work with the Duncan company and Melnick’s “Works & Progress” are far from classical, but the move for female initiatives and features is at their core. Perhaps it is only a matter of time before the dancer can stay at his or her home company with the female choreographer bringing in a work by that company’s initiative, and not the other way around.
A third initiative that harnessed female leadership was within the Joyce Theatre’s Joyce Ballet Festival in July. Gemma Bond’s “Then and Again” and “The Giving” were featured in this program, along with pieces by Cirio Collective, a dance group directed by brother-sister duo Jeffrey and Lia Cirio, “Wandering,” by Amy Seiwert, pieces by Claudia Schreier & Company and Emery LeCrone DANCE. The female-domination of the festival was appreciated by critic Gia Kourlas, but only “Then and Again” by Bond was acclaimed by the critic as the only of the 21 dances with “freshness and musicality.” Despite the mixed review by New York Times, this program represents progress for female choreographers and initiatives. Perhaps the dance world can embrace Ms. Boylston’s philosophy, choosing works that are well-liked, and just happen to be female-choreographed. Not all seasons and initiatives need to be a 50/50 split, but open-mindedness and representation is missing, and it is time for companies, directors, and grants to follow suit with these three initiatives. Give the women a chance.