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21st century women as dancemaker/leaders

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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!'

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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.

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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.

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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.com/2007/08/05/arts/dan....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.

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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

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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.

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

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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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Thanks, ray, for reviving this topic. I was rather surprised, when reading the NY Times piece, to come upon the following:

Several elite female leaders, like Monica Mason, who directs the Royal Ballet in Britain, and the star ballerina Nina Ananiashvili, who runs the State Ballet of Georgia, called it “more natural†for men to lead.

Men are “more assertive and more competitive,†Ms. Mason said, adding, “It’s more natural to them, and women very often view themselves in an assisting situation.†Ms. Mason, like Ms. Ananiashvili (handpicked by Georgia’s president), said she never saw herself in a leadership role, even though the Royal was founded by a woman.

"Natural"? What is going, when something like this is said by two of the women who actually have gone the furthest in expanding their dancing careers into poewrful leadership positions?

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Thanks, ray, for reviving this topic. I was rather surprised, when reading the NY Times piece, to come upon the following:
Several elite female leaders, like Monica Mason, who directs the Royal Ballet in Britain, and the star ballerina Nina Ananiashvili, who runs the State Ballet of Georgia, called it “more natural†for men to lead.

Men are “more assertive and more competitive,†Ms. Mason said, adding, “It’s more natural to them, and women very often view themselves in an assisting situation.†Ms. Mason, like Ms. Ananiashvili (handpicked by Georgia’s president), said she never saw herself in a leadership role, even though the Royal was founded by a woman.

"Natural"? What is going on, when something like this is said by two of the women who actually have gone the furthest in expanding their dancing careers into poewrful leadership positions?

Well, perhpas these women are old enough to have been shaped by an era that, in Cargill's words, was part of "a much more male-dominated culture." [Not sure about this; Ananiashvili was born in '63--perhaps a cultural thing?] I can remember dealing with more than a few female dancers (and male too, to be sure) who really genuflected to a man in a position of power--very irritating during union negotiations!--no matter how idiotic and boorish he might have been. Perhaps it should not be surprising that ballet, with its traditional onstage roles for men and women, breeds a culture that believes in them offstage as well.

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"Natural"? What is going, when something like this is said by two of the women who actually have gone the furthest in expanding their dancing careers into poewrful leadership positions?
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.

I doubt if Ananiashvili and Mason meant that this is the natural and immutable order of things, although you could certainly read it that way. Things have changed a great deal since 1950, but certain attitudes and behaviors are still alive and well. In many ways it is still very much a man’s world (and 4mrdncr’s post was to the point in that respect). I don't think that 'blaming the culture,' as long as it's not done hamfistedly and without nuance, is out of line.

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Thanks, dirac, for reminding us of 4mrdncr's post on the previous page. In it, she says the following:

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.
We have not really addressed that second point: the relative lack of female classical choreographers. (The lack is more noticeable if you leave out those women who have mounted their own versions of classics created originally by men.)

Given the long history of women's leadership in the creative side of modern and contemporary dance, I wonder why this is the case with classical ballet.

Is there something in classical ballet itself -- the training, the gender stereotyping in much of the 19th century ballets, differences between the way women and men jump, lift (or don't), use their feet, etc. -- which might explain this?

Or, if there are plenty of potential classical female choreographers, why have they not not given the opportunities offered to their male counterparts?

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Thanks, Alexandra, for that Link. And for the interesting information on women choreographers in the early days of classical ballet. Do any of their works survive today, even in part?

I wonder who Evil Imp can be.

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I don't know who the Evil Imp is, but I'm a fan :smilie_mondieu: I love that site.

Re women choreographers. There isn't anything much left from the 18th century. Prevost's "Les Caracteres de la Danse" (a huge hit in its day, a solo where she took the parts of many contrasting characters, as Barayshnikov did in "Vestris") has been reconstructed. I don't think Taglioni's "Le Papillon" (choreographed for Emma Livry, who burned to death during a dress rehearsal) nor Grahn's ballets in Hungary have survived.

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Here's another contribution to our conversation about women in leadership roles (actually we've been highlighting some British women, so this fits right in): a news story about Lynn Seymour from the Greek publication Kathimerini (June 8):

http://www.ekathimerini.com/4dcgi/news/content.asp?aid=84294

From text (but the link has a hat):

Classical dancer Lynn Seymour served as artistic director at the Greek National Opera Ballet.

Lynn Seymour, the world-renowned Canadian classical dancer who served as artistic director at the Greek National Opera Ballet for the past year, has resigned from her post.

Commenting on her decision, Seymour noted that her "artistic objectives could not be reached under specific working conditions," while adding that changes she had proposed "could not be implemented in the near future."

The Greek National Opera Ballet, which has accepted Seymour's resignation, said that ties between the two sides remained amicable.

Edited by carbro
Edited the quoted article, which had been posted in full.

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In the context of this discussion it should be clarified that Lynn Seymour's difficulties and resignation had nothing to do with her being a woman (according to all reports at least). Mr Stefanos Lazarides, the National Opera director who had invited Seymour to head the ballet, was let go by the Board just a few days after she resigned (this despite having just completed a commercially successful and critically acclaimed first year on the job).

Both had to go against a deeply rooted bureaucracy, interested in maintaining the status quo and vested rights. This unwillingness to adapt affected the ballet as well as the opera. To give just one small example: the dancers of the company were contracted to work for about 20 hours per week. One has only to watch them on stage to see how sorely they need more time in the studio. Seymour was pushing to increase rehearsal time and to add one more day of work per week. She was reportedly very frustrated by dancers working "with their eyes on the clock". Unfortunately she was not given the financial resources to implement this.

I'm grateful for Lynn Seymour's short time in Athens - a lot has changed for the better: For the first time there was live music at the National Opera Ballet (Alan Barker conducted the Solitaire performances I watched) Evelyn Hart, Truman Finney and Irek Mukhamedov were invited as teachers. At least some of the dancers appeared revitalized by the changes.

But at the same time the repertory became almost exclusively contemporary. This was a very unexpected disappointment. The only non-contemporary work was McMillan's Solitaire. Ashton's Les Rendezvous was also initially announced but the plans were scrapped after a while and instead we got a very flat Afternoon of a Faune by Yannis Mantafounis (he's a young Forsythe dancer who choreographed, very predictably, in late Forsythe style). [The turn to contemporary was not only unwelcome but also entirely unnecessary as Greece has a very lively contemporary scene with two major festivals (Athens & Kalamata) and more than 50 dance groups. Meanwhile, performances of neoclassical ballet (say Balanchine) come 2 or 3 years apart of each other. One would hope that the National Ballet would step in, fill the void and show diverse works from all eras instead of turning into yet another contemporary company]

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In the context of this discussion it should be clarified that Lynn Seymour's difficulties and resignation had nothing to do with her being a woman (according to all reports at least). Mr Stefanos Lazarides, the National Opera director who had invited Seymour to head the ballet, was let go by the Board just a few days after she resigned (this despite having just completed a commercially successful and critically acclaimed first year on the job).

[. . .]

Thanks for all of this, Chris. I debated whether or not to put this post in this thread because, as you rightly point out, her resignation didn't directly involve her gender. It is, though, news of a ballerina who has gone onto the directing track (derailed temporarily), so I thought it was pertinent. (Should we instead create a space for Greek National Ballet in "European Ballet Companies, and put these posts in it?)

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