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Lucinda Childs on Alastair SpaldingModern-dance pioneer re female ballet choreos.


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#1 Ray

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Posted 10 June 2009 - 10:48 AM

I recently received an e-newsletter from the Fisher Center at Bard College, which is presenting Lucinda Childs's work July 9-12. In this newsletter (which I will post once I figure out how), Childs responds to a recent article in the Guardian called "Dance world 'failing to celebrate women'" (posted on Ballet Talk on May 11). Here's the interviewer's Q and Childs's provocative A:

"Q: Several weeks ago, when Alistair Spalding [the chief executive and artistic director of Sadler’s Wells, the U.K.’s most important contemporary dance venue] announced the upcoming year’s commissions, not a single woman was on the list of choreographers. When Charlotte Higgins, the Guardian’s chief arts writer, asked him to comment about this fact, Spalding responded, 'It is something to do with women not being as assertive in that field. It’s not that I don’t want to commission them. . . . Choreography is still male dominated. It is something I am aware of, but I can’t make the program representative for the sake of it. I have to choose the best.' What is your response to Spalding’s comments?

Childs: The artistic choices and considerations of any sponsor overlap with concerns about box-office appeal and fundraising. There are very few female choreographers that have the kind of household name that accommodate this aspect of presenting—Twyla Tharpe, Pina Bausch, to mention a few. But the ballet world has continued to promote lesser-known male choreographers rather than female, with very few exceptions, for reasons that would involve considerable speculation on my part. As for being less assertive, that’s Mr. Spalding’s opinion. I consider myself to be assertive as a choreographer because I work hard and I know what I’m doing."

(I posted this under "writings on ballet" b/c she is addressing the ballet context directly.)

#2 dirac

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Posted 11 June 2009 - 05:41 PM

Thanks, Ray. It is interesting that modern dance, which traditionally has been the place to find women acting as independent creative forces, now seems to be less hospitable towards them.

My initial reaction to Spalding’s comments when the article was first published was, “What a hopeless wanker.” First he says that he wants to hire more women, but they’re not ‘assertive’ enough and then goes on to say that he can’t choose more women because ‘I have to choose the best.’ If the women are inferior, it’s hard to see how encouraging them to increase their assertiveness quotient is going to help, unless Spalding is asking to be set upon by hordes of untalented pushy broads. Urrrrgggghhhh.

On the other hand, you have Charlotte Vincent in the same article claiming that women are too powerful:

"One problem is that we are not bold, muscular creatures fawned over by the women who run the dance world. I am not suggesting there is sexism but there is something that does not celebrate women in the way men are celebrated. Within the field there is an obliviousness to the problem."
In other words, women – presumably company directors panting over their hunky proteges, in this view, – are part of the problem?

But the ballet world has continued to promote lesser-known male choreographers rather than female, with very few exceptions, for reasons that would involve considerable speculation on my part.


I , too, am curious about this. You might think that ballet, with its Madams and Mims and powerful ballerinas, would produce more active female choreographers than it does. Instead the ballerinas tend, with some exceptions, to get shunted off to the school, and while they may run companies, they often don’t create ballets for those companies.

#3 Ray

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Posted 12 June 2009 - 03:22 AM

But the ballet world has continued to promote lesser-known male choreographers rather than female, with very few exceptions, for reasons that would involve considerable speculation on my part.


I , too, am curious about this. You might think that ballet, with its Madams and Mims and powerful ballerinas, would produce more active female choreographers than it does. Instead the ballerinas tend, with some exceptions, to get shunted off to the school, and while they may run companies, they often don’t create ballets for those companies.


Well the original Guardian article notes that "Julia Carruthers from the Akram Khan company also blames the press in an article in Dance UK News: 'We all know that the press respond quite differently to men and women, particularly … dance critics and writers. Men are clever, sexy, and charismatic; women don't seem to be.'"

This is consonant with my experience in the profession: men excite ADs and boards (gay or straight) in a way women often don't. And for reasons other than their choreographic acumen.

#4 GoCoyote!

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Posted 12 June 2009 - 06:32 AM

I wonder if current trends in modern choreography are at the moment tending to suit male choreographers better than female ones. When I imagine the championed modern dance at places like Sadler's Wells over the last few years, if I had to give it a gender it would definitely be male. Or if you were to collect all the adjectives from all the reviews they would probably describe something very male orientated ..... Certainly not female anyway.... androgynous or asexual at best! (although I have been a little out of touch with dance in London the last couple of years, but that certainly has been my impression up until then).

It could be that men are setting up trends by simply being better and more successful than women ... but I'd say it is more likely that they are finding it easier to align with an already pre-set agenda in the arts at the moment - an agenda and aesthetic set (rather unfortunately) by the wider 'culture' / media which in turn is now dominated to a great extent by the fantasy/ celebration of humans' assimilation with, and domination by technology. I just think men (who have tended to be the inventors of all this technology anyway) find it easier to (or want to) choreograph dance about all this kind of theme.

Then you have theaters like Sadler's Wells wanting to be seen as 'relevant' and wanting to fill seats, favouring these kinds of styles/ themes/ aesthetics wherever they occur in new dance, helping of course in the process to further define quality and excellence as well as this kind of aesthetic in new dance along those very lines more suited to male choreographers.

I am trying to be careful with language because I freely admit it can be 'dodgy territory' to start defining or generalizing choreography as being either male of female. But at the same time I think it is stereotyping which is the danger rather than acknowledging the vast and wonderful differences between men and women - reflected, inevitably (one would hope!), in their art.

I am not sure if I have explained myself very well - and to be honest I am kind of just thinking out loud anyway, as usual....

I do feel that, along with no doubt many other factors, it is also femaleness-in-choreography (in art?) which is being discriminated against/ devalued here - perhaps it has always been the case ...... Femaleness-in-choreography being distinct of course from choreography focussing on females!

In fact I do sometimes think there is so little femaleness-in-choreography (and you could say in art, politics, business etc as well) that we (the audience, choreographer, promoter, whatever) almost can't conceive of what it might look like. And that in so many cases what we see in the world is females working to 'male templates' when creating art (or becoming businesswomen, leaders etc) and that this can be (although not necessarily) a reason for them to remain second to men in these fields. Maybe the whole way in which dance is presented in theaters, including our idea of the theatre itself is very much a 'male orientated template' which could do with some expanding to accommodate (withstand?!) a more true and direct expression of female creativity and energy?

OK my browser's 'off topic' alarm has just started bleeping so I'll leave it there! :clapping:

#5 Ray

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Posted 12 June 2009 - 10:55 AM

I wonder if current trends in modern choreography are at the moment tending to suit male choreographers better than female ones. When I imagine the championed modern dance at places like Sadler's Wells over the last few years, if I had to give it a gender it would definitely be male. Or if you were to collect all the adjectives from all the reviews they would probably describe something very male orientated ..... Certainly not female anyway.... androgynous or asexual at best! (although I have been a little out of touch with dance in London the last couple of years, but that certainly has been my impression up until then).

It could be that men are setting up trends by simply being better and more successful than women ... but I'd say it is more likely that they are finding it easier to align with an already pre-set agenda in the arts at the moment - an agenda and aesthetic set (rather unfortunately) by the wider 'culture' / media which in turn is now dominated to a great extent by the fantasy/ celebration of humans' assimilation with, and domination by technology. I just think men (who have tended to be the inventors of all this technology anyway) find it easier to (or want to) choreograph dance about all this kind of theme.
[...]


GoCoyote I'm not going to express my disagreement with this at any length, as I know you are "thinking out loud," except to say that there aren't too many ballets I can think of that are about technology (although certainly many more dances, ballet and modern, use technology today). I'm going instead to insist that while the aesthetic/cultural issues are complex, the political/representational ones are sadly simple: women make up the bulk of dance practitioners yet they are in the distinct minority when it comes to positions of artistic or administrative authority--too small of a minority to be explained by any "aesthetic" reasons. Change needs to come from above as well as from below in altering this; presenters like Alastair Spalding need to look harder for/think differently about who they program and why. Sadly, most presenters are lemmings, following whatever gets labeled "hot" by other presenters they look up to as "eminent."

#6 Ray

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Posted 16 June 2009 - 09:05 AM

Trisha Brown weighs in on the topic on WNYC's Leonard Lopate show. She has lost her space in Manhattan while Mark Morris has his own building in Brooklyn.


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