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21st century women as dancemaker/leadersan endangered species?


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#1 bart

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Posted 01 July 2006 - 12:35 PM

Here's Clive Barnes, from his July column in Dance Magazine [not posted on their website]:

I got a press release from Barnard College announcing an initiative to assist women dancemakers, with the clear implication that they were an endangered species. I could scarcely believe it. Why was such a thing necessary? Surely here was a gender battle that was long over, if it had ever even started. So what on earth were Barnard College and its estimable dance dpeartment complaining about? And then I thought a little more.

Barnes lists numerous women who led the field in modern dance in the 20th century. Then he lists all the innovative and influential women who were leaders in 20th century ballet: Rambert, de Valois, Littlefield, Chase, Franca, van Praag, etc. etc.

But, as Barnes says,

That was the 20th century. Fast forward to the 21st. ... OK, Monica Mason and Brigitte Lefevre are doing fine. But had not two other women directors of classical companies, Maina Gielgud, late of both the Australian Ballet and the Royal Danish Ballet, and Anna-Marie Holmes, late of the Boston Ballet, encourtered unusual difficulty with heavily male-oriented directorates .. [And] how many women choreographers in modern dance have really hit the international big time over the past half century? Twyla Tharp, Pina Bausch, Trisha Brown certainly, perhaps Sasha Waltz, and Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker; the list is neither enormous nor even indisputable."

Barnes has his own theories. But what do YOU think? Are women leaders -- in the ballet world, at least -- an endangered species as we enter the 21st century?

#2 Farrell Fan

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Posted 01 July 2006 - 06:28 PM

One of the greatest dancers of the 20th century has already established herself as one of the leading ballet company artistic directors of the 21st. This month she is taking her company to one of the landmark sites of dance in America, Jacob's Pillow. And in September, her company will make its first international appearance, at the Edinburgh Festival. She's bringing Balanchine's "Don Quixote," which many had considered unworthy of revival, and which she, along with the National Ballet of Canada, triumphantly restored to the repertory last year at the Kennedy Center, the home base of her company. I'm talking, of course, about Suzanne Farrell and the Suzanne Farrell Ballet.

#3 drb

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Posted 01 July 2006 - 07:00 PM

Altynai Asylmuratova heads the most important school in the world, the Vaganova Academy. Judith Jamison runs Ailey, probably the most popular modern dance company in the world. Nina Ananiashvili has resurrected ballet in Balanchine's hometown. Still, at a time when the number of great women dancers dwarfs that for men (except, perhaps, at one local ballet company), I'd agree with Barnard that there's an extreme imbalance of power.

#4 Mel Johnson

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Posted 01 July 2006 - 09:49 PM

I'd say give the 21st century some time. It's only just got started and some of the leaders may not have even been born yet!

Consider the difference between the turn of this century and the turn of the last. At the latter, there were zero women leading viable companies.

#5 bart

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Posted 02 July 2006 - 08:05 AM

But Barnes argues that there's been a decline in the leadership positions of women in ballet since the MID-20th century -- in other words, a slipping backwards.

Is there a new and developing gender gap in dance? I'm honestly not sure. But certaily that press release from Barnard gave me more pause for thought than I would have expected.

And, for those who might agree with this, there's the issue of WHY? Here's Barnes's stab at a possible explanation:

Male dances are possibly today a bigger performing attraction than women -- largely because nowadays more men are attracted to dance as a profession. Moreover (and this is not male chauvinism asserting itself) the male physique, just as in sports, enables men to be quantitatively supeerior in sheer physical strength. But simply, they can jump higher, spin faster, etc. Audiences find this exciting. So is there a new and developiong gender gap in dance?



#6 Helene

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Posted 02 July 2006 - 08:24 AM

The women that Barnes cites almost all pioneers outside of the four ballet countries that started institutionalizing ballet from the 16th to 19th centuries and/or provided ballet masters and dancers to them -- France, Russia, Denmark, and Italy. Most are from English-speaking countries, where ballet was new and/or unestablished in the late 19th and early-mid 20th centuries. Where there was little money and little prestige.

Now that ballet has been institutionalized in England, the United States, Australia, Canada, and South Africa, the institutions are run primarily by men, on the board, and at the highest levels of management.

#7 Alexandra

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Posted 02 July 2006 - 08:31 AM

Barnes is absolutely right about mid-late 20th century. The era of Martha Graham and Doris Humphrey, Sophie Maslow (who just died), Anna Sokolow -- not to mention Isadora, who didn't need a company :jawdrop: -- when women were the creative LEADERS is quite over. Women were also the founders of many of the companies started in the 20th century: Virginia Williams in Boston, the Littlefields in Philadelphia, many others -- not to mention Ninette de Valois. de Valois, a woman of her time, once said that women were the ones to build a company, but when it achieved a certain stature, it was time for the men to take over. I'd have a different take on that: women will work 80 hour weeks for nothing -- often, during the 30s and 40s, because they were married and "their men" supported them financially. They're also willing to scrub the floors, sew the costumes, choreograph the ballets, fundraise, hire the dancers -- in short, be a one-woman band, making the start-up of a company quite cheap. Men are less likely to be in the same situation, or be willing to take on ALL the jobs, the grunt work as well as the high-profile aspects. (It's always a shock to the male DCA presidents when they find out they're expected to run the meetings, plan the conferences AND stuff the envelopes and make the phonecalls :shake: Now, now, some of my best friends are men....

Today in ballet, there are very few company directors. Farrell has her own company but it's quite small and with a small budget. When I did the first Ballet Alert! newsletters, one of the most eye-opening (in many ways) tasks was to compile the company season calendars. In doing so, I looked at every American ballet company's web site and found a huge gender divide. Small companies, very small companies, civic companies, are nearly all directed by women. Mid-size to large companies nearly all have male directors. Follow the money :(

Another anecdote regarding perceptions of gender. When Baryshnikov began to stage ballets at ABT, he had two assistants (one man, one woman). This was considered natural -- and, in fact, is. Nearly everyone who stages a ballet needs assistants; there just isn't enough time for one person to conduct every rehearsal, and besides, it's good to have another eye. Often one person is detailed to the corps, another to principals, a third to crowd scenes, etc. (Guess who gets to direct the corps.) When Makarova staged a ballet for ABT, I was in a discussion with several American critics, all men, who were downplaying her achievement, saying, "She can't do it alone. She needs an assistant." I had one of those famous Ms. Magazine "clicks" and asked why when a man staged a ballet with assistants this was right and proper and when a woman had an assistant she was thought incapable of doing it on her own. Being extremely intelligent, sensitive and sensible men, they all said, "That's a good point!'

#8 2dds

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Posted 22 July 2006 - 07:11 AM

Glad to see this thread. I agree with the endangered label and welcome the Barnard initiative. I also agree that there has been backsliding and that given their overwhelming majority as dancers, women's representation on the leadership side is too modest.

Thank you Alexandra for cutting through the appearances to the realities behind the numbers and the few exceptions.

I respectfully disagree with Mr. Johnson's recommendation to be patient about the 21st century, and while no one admires Ms. Farrell more than I, I hope her, still relatively new company, will go on to achieve greater heights. Then it would become a much more powerful counter example. Also, despite the prominence of Alvin Ailey, it is a modern company, and on that side of the divide (as usual) things are not in quite as dismal a state as in ballet.

I would be curious to see the corresponding info for successful leading female choreographers (including not just talent and desire, but level of funding/exposure) as I think this would be in many cases connected to leadership of companies down the road. Many male company leaders also have a life as choreographers. To the extent female choreographers find themselves underrepresented or disadvantaged, this may carry over into leadership deficits.

#9 winky

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Posted 22 July 2006 - 08:45 PM

..

#10 redbookish

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Posted 23 July 2006 - 01:44 AM

What an interesting topic, and fascinating & thoughtful replies. To me, Alexandra's hit the nail on the head, with her observation that small to medium companies are often headed up & led by women and their vision, but whewn we get to big companies, status, and what sociologist of culture, Pierre Bourdieu, would call "cultural capital" it becomes a "man's job."

That's the pattern here in the UK, where through my job, I come into contact with a lot of contemporary & experimental dance makers, most of whom are women, whose companies operate on shoestrings of project-based fiunding - I'm thinking, for example, of the extraordinary work of Charlotte Vincent, with her Vincent Dance.

But the telling thing to me is that the question is still able to be posed and able to be answered. Try reversing it, and it's a bit silly - we rarely pose the question of whether men as dancemakers are a threatened species! As the marvellous judge in the US, Patricia J. Williams argued in her Reith Lectures (BBC, 1997), the main privilege of whiteness is not having to think about race issues - by analogy, the main privilege of maleness is not having to think about gender!

This is changing slowly, but meanwhile, some old patterns are repeated. And one of them in dance seems to be that women excel as "nurturers" - teachers, assistant ADs (I'm thinking of Janet Vernon's role as co-Director with Graham Murphy in the SDC, for example), coaches, etc - while men are the "leaders" with vision. I suspect that Maina Gielgud didn't fit that model, and trouble ensued, as someone has remarked in this thread already.

#11 Ray

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Posted 07 August 2007 - 03:59 AM

I'd like to add to the mix Claudia La Rocca's Aug 5 piece in Sunday's NY Times about the dearth of women in leadership positions in ballet and modern dance companies: http://www.nytimes.c....html?ref=dance

I especially like this passage with words from Emily Coates:

"For Emily Coates, artistic director of the World Performance Project at Yale University and a former City Ballet dancer, the real problem is ballet's lack of self-reflection, which means that norms are passed from generation to generation unchallenged. She cited a number of men who have risen to artistic director recently: 'You think: "What is the 20-year-old soloist going to think? What will she be looking at?" She'll be seeing the men advance and the women retire, often into teaching positions. And there's another generation that will not know that it can aspire, even aspire, to rise into that.'"

I would say that a lack of self-reflection in re artistic practice is one of ballet's norms that saddens me the most. "Tradition" becomes a lame excuse for a lot of institutional inertia.

#12 cargill

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Posted 07 August 2007 - 07:33 AM

Ray, except that if ballet kept its 20th century tradition, there would be lots of female directors, following in the footsteps of de Valois, Franca, van Praagh, Lucia Chase, Rambert, etc. I think such facile statistical charts, like the NY Times ran, ignore the basic question, which is quality. It is easy to count, but obviously blaming the culture is a-historical, since the mid-20th century, when there were a number of female directors, was much a much more male-dominated culture. Mary

#13 Ray

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Posted 07 August 2007 - 08:10 AM

Ray, except that if ballet kept its 20th century tradition, there would be lots of female directors, following in the footsteps of de Valois, Franca, van Praagh, Lucia Chase, Rambert, etc. I think such facile statistical charts, like the NY Times ran, ignore the basic question, which is quality. It is easy to count, but obviously blaming the culture is a-historical, since the mid-20th century, when there were a number of female directors, was much a much more male-dominated culture. Mary



Good point--news organs tend to have a very shallow/stereotyped view of historical traditions, especially when it comes to the arts; in this regard, they often follow what's fed them by the sources. But while I think it's silly to tie quality to gender in any absolute way, I think the dance world is poorer at this juncture for having fewer women in charge. To generalize, women know more about dance, especially ballet, because they dance more and work harder--they have to. And--and this is my opinion--there are far, far more crackpot men than women in charge of dance companies, festivals, and presenting venues. Now of course that doesn't mean all women are capable of becoming choreographers or directors, or that there aren't some crackpot women out there, but fewer qualified women than men seem to have the opportunity to run the show or are disinclined even to try.

#14 Figurante

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Posted 07 August 2007 - 08:14 AM

Victoria Morgan.... Twyla Tharp... Jillanna? Valentina Kozlova?

#15 4mrdncr

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Posted 07 August 2007 - 12:46 PM

How did they know?! I have been dealing with this issue for nearly my entire life both in ballet and out. I, too, was struck by the lack of female AD's (NOT ED's) at the top companies, AND especially female choreographers for classical ballet--NOT contemporary/modern crossovers. I had also read the Times article, and was glad the Barnes article was posted--maybe it inspired the Times to look into it?

Professionally, I remember when the DGA sued the Hollywood studios because there was a lack of female directors (LOL now), and the CPB had a "Women Training Grant" to force PBS stations to hire women in the engineering/tech-production depts.--(again an LOL now.) Personally, I was the ONLY female director at the last 3 stations I worked at. "Dance in America" has NEVER had a female director since its inception till now. Women in film/tv production tend to get pushed behind a desk into administrative or producing positions, rather than the physically creative positions such as directing or DP. (They are making some inroads through editing.) Ditto dance: being an ED vs. an AD, or choreographer. And like most women directors or Studio CEO's, they came up through a financial or administrative position, NOT the creative/production position which never gave them the opportunity, or mentoring/advancement once they forced their foot in that door.

Suzanne Farrell could form her own company for the same reason Barbra Streisand could become a director--both were already famous (and had made enough money) to later fight the discriminatin and realize their dreams. So why are the ADs of the Big 3-4-5 companies former male dancers?! The Times had a point re (1) a lack of choreographic opportunities, (To say women aren't interested in choreographing is as bad as Mr. Summer's comments at Harvard re: women's supposed lack of intellect for science!) and (2) ingrained stereotypes of gender behavior by the aging generation who make up the Boards and funders today resulting in a lack of support for women.


Clive Barnes is 'out-to-lunch' regarding the popularity of male dancers today. It is for the same reason that action films are big at the boxoffice: Women are willing to appreciate and attend both/all genres, whereas men only go to their own...eg. an action film pulls in women + men (1+1=2), whereas the quieter romantic-intellectual (women's?) film attracts mostly women, and maybe those few men with an open mind (1+). In short, a larger audience for action films because BOTH genders attend.
The same happens in any classical ballet performance: (besides the fact more, higher calibre, male dancers = more notice, so possibly skewing results)... male dancers are appreciated because the audience is mostly women, who appreciate the dancing of BOTH genders. (Of course, the men who regularly attend do too, but those who attend only to appease girlfriends/wives, will most likely appreciate the women dancers more, because they still have hang-ups with male dancing.)
Barnes reasoning re: the above, that it was the physical abilities of male vs. female dancers attracting the notice, was LAUGHABLE!!! As others have said, women work harder, longer, have MUCH more competition, AND do it all on POINTE. (Apropos: Ginger Rogers comment about dancing with Astaire...(paraphrasing)she did it all while moving backwards in heels.) Yes, I love to watch male ballet dancers as well as female dancers, but NOT solely because they can jump higher or lift someone over their heads. Technique is technique whether performed by male or female.

Sorry for the ramble; both articles hit a button.


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