atm711

"Ballet is like porn"

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The aforementioned quote is by Tamara Rojo--in her role as director of the English National Ballet--she says "male dominated choreography shapes the way you look at things" www.dailymail.co.uk -----(-with my limited internet expertise I cannot forward the article).....should make an interesting discussion......

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Thanks, atm711. What an inapt comparison by way of making an interesting point. Is she saying that male choreography for women is essentially about sexual desire, as pornography is? I'm not sure that needs rebuttal. And would that apply to choreography by gay men? That makes no sense period.

The article is here, and she makes an assertion I haven't seen before:

Miss Rojo said that men often approach dance choreography in a ‘more physical’ way by starting with the steps, rather than women who often begin with the ‘emotional landscape’.


She told Time Out magazine: ‘Female sensitivity is different. And there are issues that I want to see on stage approached by women.

'Very often we see relationships approached from a male perspective.

[ . . . ] it shapes the way you look at things. It tends to be a more physical approach. Men start with the steps. I find women start with the emotional landscape.

‘They say, “This is the situation, let’s find a language for it”. With men, it tends to be, “this is the language”, and then you try to work out the situation through the steps.’

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all for PR and it's working. Last time she used the term S-E-X to refer to her mixed bill that included Petite Mort. I'll give her credit for piquing the media's attention and getting her all kinds of free PR. Wayne Eagling certainly wasn't doing it!

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Thanks for posting, atm711. In context what Rojo is saying is that historically ballet has been dominated by the vision of male choreographers as most pornography has been created by men for men. And as with pornography, this isn't only about sex; it's about power. Women wield power as performers, but in roles and landscapes that are mostly not of their making, driven by male power and male fantasy (in ballet, gay or straight). I would quibble with the way Rojo herself flirts with stereotyping (women are more emotional, men just want to cut to the chase), but her central point is a fair one, and I'm not going to argue with what she says she sees in the rehearsal studio.

As Jayne says, this may also be related to Rojo's choice of titillation as a marketing device. From what I read of the mixed bill I gather the results were....mixed.

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Didn't Balanchine say something similar? Or was it someone else? I'm remembering some discussion of the ballet at the time of the revolution...

hmmm... here it is in Taper's Balanchine biography, p.51... but it's not Balanchine, who says it.. but a dancer answering Fokine's questionaire about the definition of ballet...

http://books.google.com/books?id=fztBS9mc-Q8C&pg=PA51&lpg=PA51&dq=Balanchine+pure+pornography&source=bl&ots=mVZJU713t5&sig=Um3QlpUcZZC8hGDpuaA2Mgsv_sA&hl=en&sa=X&ei=hDDoUbfGM43siwKkrYGICw&ved=0CCwQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=Balanchine%20pure%20pornography&f=false

"Pornography, pure and simple"

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Men have dominated many fields and catered their own gender in so doing, but that doesn’t make that domination pornographic. The use or even abuse of power alone isn’t enough to make something pornographic - the erotic element is needed for that. Balanchine, for one, may have created ballets that were to one degree or another erotic, but I’ve never heard anyone say they go see his ballets to be turned on. Those works aren’t primarily erotic; their primary function isn’t to stimulate desire. Balanchine also made Serenade and Symphony in C and on and on, and even Agon and the like were very much to the taste of women, whom I understand are – or at least used to be - generally repelled, not stimulated, by pornography of the kind driven by power trips. Perhaps Rojo was trying to titillate. Anyhow, the metaphor is in my opinion tasteless and greatly overblown.

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Thanks, atm711. What an inapt comparison by way of making an interesting point. Is she saying that male choreography for women is essentially about sexual desire, as pornography is? I'm not sure that needs rebuttal. And would that apply to choreography by gay men? That makes no sense period.

The article is here, and she makes an assertion I haven't seen before:

Miss Rojo said that men often approach dance choreography in a ‘more physical’ way by starting with the steps, rather than women who often begin with the ‘emotional landscape’.

She told Time Out magazine: ‘Female sensitivity is different. And there are issues that I want to see on stage approached by women.

'Very often we see relationships approached from a male perspective.

[ . . . ] it shapes the way you look at things. It tends to be a more physical approach. Men start with the steps. I find women start with the emotional landscape.

‘They say, “This is the situation, let’s find a language for it”. With men, it tends to be, “this is the language”, and then you try to work out the situation through the steps.’

I agree - the comparison doesn't really work well. What I found curious, and more interesting, was her talk about how male choreographers work VS female choreographers. Which is just interesting, but it doesn't preclude one or the other, and doesn't make one approach superior. I guess she would be more comfortable with the "this is the situation, let's find a language for it" approach. In reality, each choreographer will be a bit different from the others, especially given the fact that there is no agreed upon method, no formula, for creating choreography that will just work for all artists.

all for PR and it's working. Last time she used the term S-E-X to refer to her mixed bill that included Petite Mort. I'll give her credit for piquing the media's attention and getting her all kinds of free PR. Wayne Eagling certainly wasn't doing it!

Agreed - I just see this has her obvious way of drawing attention to the company. It just happens to be kind of lame to have to resort to talking about "Porno". So much for art and any notions of 'nobility'.

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Rojo’s intent may have been provocative, but I think her intent was serious, and she wasn’t invoking the comparison frivolously.

Here’s commentary – also to be found in the Links – from Judith Mackrell in The Guardian:

……Rojo's argument, if you read below the screech of headlines, is a serious one, directed at the differences between male and female choreographers and the reasons why so few of the latter are working in ballet. Yet with one effortless flick of a porn reference, she's spun this rather specialist issue right into the middle of the media's attention.

What I found curious, and more interesting, was her talk about how male choreographers work VS female choreographers. Which is just interesting, but it doesn't preclude one or the other, and doesn't make one approach superior.

Without discounting Rojo’s observations, pherank, I’d not put too much stock in the generalization. As Mackrell observes, the sample size for female choreographers is still quite small and some, like Tharp, take a very different approach. It’s possible also that Rojo’s conclusions are colored by expectations.

Amy, I’m also reminded of the famous quote about Agon – as I remember it, "if the cops knew what was going on in here, they’d shut the place down." In Bugaku, particularly, Balanchine’s intent is remarkably explicit – I think Robert Garis compared the imagery to that in Japanese pornographic prints.

(We should probably also note that when we speak of the lack of female choreographers, it's mainly ballet we're talking about - Tharp came from the world of contemporary dance, which has historically produced many women as makers of dances and leaders of companies.)

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I wouldn't say that the Daily Mail is the sharpest knife in the drawer - in fact it is a paper I would not be seen dead reading in public; come to that, I don't read it in private either. They have a way of twisting things into something quite different, rather poor journalism. Always beware of a newspaper that has a busty blonde on page three! yucky.gif But I feel sympathy with Rojo's argument - still in this day and age it is much more difficult to achieve something as a woman.

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Thanks for posting, atm711. In context what Rojo is saying is that historically ballet has been dominated by the vision of male choreographers as most pornography has been created by men for men. And as with pornography, this isn't only about sex; it's about power. Women wield power as performers, but in roles and landscapes that are mostly not of their making, driven by male power and male fantasy (in ballet, gay or straight).

I think that Rojo's statement was made at least partially to garner attention, but I agree that there are several very interesting elements here. Pornography is indeed partially about male power and the male gaze (to borrow a term from the analysts). In the romantic era, the combination of changing dance technique (especially the image created by the new pointe work), institutional developments in theaters and schools, and literary and aesthetic sources used in choreography; all within that cultural context; created an intensely male-controlled art form. Yes, some artists like Taglioni had significant independence as what today we would call "independent contractors," but they are in many ways the exception that proves the rule.

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"Very often we see relationships approached from a male perspective."
"She added that the lack of female choreographers is partially down to women taking breaks to have children and that they are ‘not aggressive in self-promotion’."

If only what Rojo said was half as interesting as some of the implications that people seem to be finding. I can't actually find an explicit 'argument' in Rojo's statements. She makes an observation, yes, and I think a valid one. It's obvious to me that males are going to be creating any art from a male perspective (although I would add, an 'individual' persepective as well). Even if it is a male trying to truly understand what it might be like for a female, he isn't experiencing anything as a female, so there you go.

RE: ballet choreography being weighted towards men - What do people propose to change, and how, and what will be the presumed benefits? That would be interesting to know.

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I think the proposed change is to bring in more female choreographers and the presumed benefit would be to ballet and to its audience. No one is saying there's anything wrong with the individual perspective as colored (or not) by sex. Balanchine presented a gallery of female portraits with few parallels in any art form. Rojo is suggesting that when the perspective is coming mainly from only one-half of humanity, it can get a little skewed. And as sandik points out, these issues are as much institutional as personal.

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No one is saying there's anything wrong with the individual perspective as colored (or not) by sex. Balanchine presented a gallery of female portraits with few parallels in any art form. Rojo is suggesting that when the perspective is coming mainly from only one-half of humanity, it can get a little skewed.

True, but in pornography the perspective is skewed because women are used and abused. Not so in ballet. The male perspective of women in porn is pernicious. Not so in ballet. Granted, as you say, Rojo isn’t really saying that male choreography has an unfortunate view of women, but that makes her choice of comparison a poor one.

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Not so in ballet.

Rojo's point was that the lack of female voices does make a difference, hence the need for change.

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And the scarcity of female choreographers in ballet has been a topic of conversation recently, especially in the British press.

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Rojo's point was that the lack of female voices does make a difference, hence the need for change.

I’m not arguing that point, just her way of making it. A change would make a positive difference, but it wouldn’t be a change away from an abusive norm and a hostile perspective, because those don’t exist in Petipa, Balanchine, Ashton, et. al., so “like in porn” is a bad simile. Welcome idea, terrible way of stating, it in my opinion, and potentially misleading to anyone who doesn’t know ballet.

Also, in regard to Bugaku (which is a very atypical example anyhow), I don’t think an explicit work of art deserves likening in any way to a performance staged for the purpose of arousal and without regard for artistic merit.
What I did find intriguing in Rojo's remarks that (quoting the writer, not Rojo directly)

men often approach dance choreography in a ‘more physical’ way by starting with the steps, rather than women who often begin with the ‘emotional landscape’.

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As Tamara Rojo said, “You can’t have female choreographers just for the sake of it. Ultimately, it’s not about gender or nationality--it has to be about talent.”

And I sort of agree, sort of. Mostly the very talented rise to the top, but also artists that play the people game well and network, make connections, and market themselves successfully rise to the top. But for a real shift to take place in attitudes and opportunities, it is definitely about the numbers. If ballet culture truly wants more female choreographers - at least as many as there are male choreographers - aspiring female dancers have to be introduced to the art as part of their regimen. Education about, and exposure to, choreography as an art form can make a big difference.

As part of a 'well-rounded' education in the world of ballet, dancers need to be learning about more than ballet dance technique. There are many components to what makes ballet, and there is a history behind, and thus a reason for, things being the way that they are. But it seems the average young dancer knows little about the world they have stepped into. I'm often surprised to learn just how little the dancers understand about the ballets they are performing in, the people who originally created them, and the music they are dancing to.

So here's my trial balloon (and I confess I don't know to what extent this already exists at large ballet schools): my thought would be that as part of the general training process Advanced Level dancers need to take the following (and I'm thinking in this order):

1) If it doesn't already exist, a class in Ballet History and Aesthetics

2) A class discussing Music and Composers associated with dance. What makes for good dance music (in any genre)? This class would be both music history and music appreciation 101 as it relates to dance.

3) A class in the teaching and tutoring of dance technique to lower level students. The dancers learn basic teaching methodology, and are assigned one or more pupils for tutoring/mentoring in, say, specific dance techniques. [The Adv. Level dancers would have to be supervised in their tutoring.]

> There's nothing quite like being forced to convey information and think about why one does things in a particular manner to get the brain looking at everything in new ways, and learning so much more. Teachers often like to say that they learn more from the students than the students learn from them.

> When dancers learn about the art of choreography, they will need to be able to work with others in a respectful, open, orderly and efficient manner. They will need to decide whether they will be collaborating, or dictating to other dancers, how to decide between the two approaches, and how to do that in an effective (not frustrating) way. Therefore they need to know someting about the teaching process.

4) Finally(!), a beginning level class in the fundamentals of choreography and dance composition. [including selecting music, costumes, props]. I do wonder if this necessarily should be a mixed class (both sexes), or if many girls will learn best in an all-girl class (and perhaps the same for some of the boys).

5) There should be an option to continue on with Choreography Workshops, if the dancer has the interest and aptitude.

And if this all sounds a bit like a college study program, well yeah! Give them college credits for these studies if it involves actual classwork. But I'm thinking these classes would have to begin with lecture, round-table discussion and journaling. Nothing more involved than that. Obviously only the largest ballet schools are likely to get funding for such studies, but it would be a start.

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For years now PNB has sponsored a choreographic workshop featuring choreography by dancers. For the first few years, it was held mid-Spring and company dancers performed. Recently, it has moved to after the regular season, with dancer/choreographers making work on the Professional Division students. Working within company-sponsored programs, even if they, like PNB's, mean a single performance and rehearsals scheduled around everything else the company and the PD students are doing, is critical in having the resources to learn the craft, even if the structure favors he choreographer having worked out the movement on him or herself to be prepared to use precious rehearsal time.

In one of the Q&A's in the last PNB program, an audience member asked why there weren't more women choreographers -- the three I remember offhand are Stacy Lowenburg, Margaret Mullin, and Chelsea Adomaitis -- and Ezra Thomson, one of the choreographers, said that the rehearsal period for the workshop coincided with heavy rehearsal schedules for the female corps in "Swan Lake" and "Diamonds" among other ballets. This coming season, it will coincide with "A Midsummer Night's Dream" and "Giselle." The 2011-12 season ended with "Carmina Burana" (which also used the male corps extensively) and "Coppelia."

The big ballets are critical to box office, and almost all of them, with the exception of the Tetley "Rite of Spring" that PNB no longer does, are ballerina-heavy, especially the spring/summer ballets. As long as the workshop is scheduled around graduation weekend, the women will be between a rock and a hard place in terms of participation.

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The big ballets are critical to box office, and almost all of them, with the exception of the Tetley "Rite of Spring" that PNB no longer does, are ballerina-heavy, especially the spring/summer ballets. As long as the workshop is scheduled around graduation weekend, the women will be between a rock and a hard place in terms of participation.

That's why I'm thinking the learning and exposure need to come earlier - not just at the professional level. It's almost too late then. Obviously not everyone makes it from Advanced Level to professional - many do not. But some of those students will continue to have an association with the dance world, and I have to think that anything they learn about the larger world of dance/ballet will make them feel a part of something important, and bigger than themselves. It will help to foster a lifelong interest.

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The full text of the original interview with Rojo, by Lindsey Winship for TimeOut, is now available online so Rojo's remarks can be read in their proper context.

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If starting from the physical to get to the emotional is her analogy of male dominated presentation, porn fails badly, because it's all about the physical and the visual. She doesn't say that male choreographers start with the physical and never get beyond it, and she sounds too direct not to say that outright if that's what she meant, but she could mean that at least some male choreographers do. A more accurate analogy would be to the film industry, but even films with that are mainly physical (including special effects/pyrotechnics physical) and with distinct lack of emotional complexity are mainly a commercial product with a target market of young males.

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They have different (opposing?) starting points, but do they reach the same point?

Does it matter?

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Rojo is pointing out that most porn is created by men for men, the women who perform function within a male-dominated context, and the end result can reflect that. I don't think she means that the goals or end results are the same.

Dance is also about the physical and visual - Mackrell touched on this in her commentary. Yes, porn is primarily for getting your rocks off and usually only that (although the Royal Winnipeg Ballet school student, Jeppe Hansen, who claims he was forced to quit the school for his work in porn videos, appears in pornography that reportedly has artistic aspirations - not the old sort, where they arbitrarily plugged in quotes from Hamlet to keep the cops at bay, but "serious" ones).

Thank you for that link, Jane. Very helpful.

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Rojo is pointing out that most porn is created by men for men to nearly the extent that porn is, the women who perform function within a male-dominated context, and the end result can reflect that. I don't think she means that the goals or end results are the same.

I would doubt that most choreography by men is created for men, or far more than half of its audience would be have vanished long ago. I think the analogy to film in general, most of the visual arts -- simply the visual arts if she wanted to stick to the physical and visual -- and theater, most of which are still male-dominated at the institutional level where Rojo spends most of her artistic life, would be more informed historically, but wouldn't generate as much discussion or capture as much attention.

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I was reminded of this thread while reading a NY Times article about Woody Allen, his latest film project - with Cate Blanchett, and how Allen writes his female characters:

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/21/movies/woody-allens-distinctive-female-characters.html

“People have criticized me for being narcissistic,” Mr. Allen said one June afternoon, over iced tea at the Bemelmans Bar of the Carlyle Hotel. “People criticized me for being a self-hating Jew, that’s come up. But not being able to create good women was not aimed at me very often.”

Mr. Allen may not wish to recall it, but his movies have also drawn charges of chauvinism and sexism, by detractors who have said they frequently depicted women as neurotics, shrews and prostitutes.

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