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ABT launches Project Plié

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WSJ just sent out a story about the new initiative: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10014241278873392204579071071121764480.html

Project Plie will promote diversity in ballet, featuring Misty Copeland. I'm really pleased to see them partnering with the Boys and Girls Clubs of America. My brother-in-law worked in related non-profit sectors much of his life and B&GC has a stellar reputation among the many groups working with underprivileged youth. Denzel Washington is one of their many "alumni."

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Dale   

From the company:

AMERICAN BALLET THEATRE LAUNCHES PROJECT PLIÉ:

A COMPREHENSIVE INITATIVE TO INCREASE RACIAL AND ETHNIC REPRESENTATION IN BALLET

PARTNERSHIP WITH BOYS & GIRLS CLUBS OF AMERICA ANNOUNCED

Payless ShoeSource® to Serve as a Leading Corporate Sponsor of Project Plié

American Ballet Theatre (ABT) has announced the formation of Project Plié, a comprehensive initiative to increase racial and ethnic representation in ballet and to diversify America’s ballet companies. Project Plié seeks to combine training and support of ballet students and dance teachers from communities previously underrepresented in American ballet companies with the creation of a nationwide partner network of professional ballet companies who are committed to diversity. In addition, Project Plié will include a new partnership with Boys & Girls Clubs of America to introduce participants to ballet and identify children for future training.

Payless ShoeSource® is a Leading Corporate Sponsor of Project Plié.

“In launching Project Plié, American Ballet Theatre aims to take an important step toward helping the classical ballet profession better reflect the racial and ethnic diversity of our country’s population,” said Rachel S. Moore, CEO of American Ballet Theatre. “This initiative can assist ballet students from diverse backgrounds in reaching their full potential by providing them with the support and active engagement of teachers, mentors and current professional dancers. We sincerely believe that diversifying the art form at its training level will strengthen and broaden the pipeline of future artists and help ensure ballet’s continued relevance and excellence in the 21st century.”

To achieve its goals, Project Plié will take a multi-pronged approach to increasing diversity. These efforts include:

  1. Selection of scholarship recipients for dance training;
  2. Recruitment of dance instructors to receive certification in ABT’s National Training Curriculum;
  3. Establishment of a formal Project Plié partner network with professional ballet companies and ABT Certified Teachers across the U.S. to collectively work toward the goal of diversification;
  4. Establishment of a new partnership with Boys & Girls Clubs of America to introduce ballet in member clubs, identify talent and support future training;
  5. Broadening of ABT’s current internship program to support emerging arts administrators of color;
  6. Formation of a Project Plié Advisory Committee consisting of experts in the fields of education, culture and dance to advocate for and raise awareness of

Project Plié’s goals and mission.

Scholarships

Beginning Fall 2013, Project Plié will award the following annual scholarships to promising students, aged 9-18:

  • 15 Full Scholarships to attend the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School at American Ballet Theatre Children’s and Pre-Professional Divisions
  • 15 Full Scholarships to attend ABT’s Summer Intensive Programs, five of which will include housing stipends
  • 10 Full Scholarships to ABT’s Young Dancer Summer Workshop in New York City, a two-week program for young dancers, aged 9-12

Scholarship recipients will be identified through auditions conducted throughout the United States and nominations made by ABT Certified Teachers during the Company’s 25-city Summer Intensive audition tour and at master classes held in all five boroughs of New York City. Project Plié scholarship recipients will be eligible to receive comprehensive training in classical dance; financial assistance for uniforms, shoes and travel; and access to academic tutoring, health assessments, career guidance and mentoring from ABT’s dancers and teaching staff.

Teacher Training

Project Plié will launch a national recruitment initiative to identify, train and support ballet teachers who have demonstrated service to underrepresented areas across the country. Recruitment personnel from a network of over 1,100 ABT Certified Teachers will look to attend regional and national competitions and conduct master classes in key areas around the United States. This national recruitment effort will seek to provide five teachers with scholarships to attend ABT’s National Training Curriculum (NTC) teacher training courses. ABT’s NTC Director will work with these teachers to creatively and collaboratively address barriers to young dancers’ participation in their communities.

Project Plié Partner Companies

To increase the dialogue about diversifying America's ballet companies, American Ballet Theatre has established partnerships with professional companies around the U.S. who have embraced the goal of diversity. Project Plié partner companies include current partners Ballet San Jose and Orlando Ballet, as well as Ballet Austin, Cincinnati Ballet, Oklahoma City Ballet, Ballet Memphis and Richmond Ballet. Project Plié partner companies will collaborate on the identification and development of effective strategies for working with communities of color and create a mentoring network for professional dancers and teachers of color to share information on professional opportunities.

Partnership with Boys & Girls Clubs of America

Project Plié, in partnership with Boys & Girls Clubs of America, will introduce ballet to a broad array of children by conducting educational and activity-based master classes in member clubs across the United States. These classes, conducted by ABT’s educational staff, will serve to identify gifted children and connect them with ABT Certified Project Plié partner teachers and schools in their community.

Gifted students who successfully participate and complete one year of training will be eligible for a full scholarship to ABT’s two-week Young Dancer Summer Workshop in New York.

Arts Administration Program

To further the aim of Project Plié, American Ballet Theatre will extend the reach of its college internship program in the fields of arts education and arts administration with the goal of recruiting a more diverse pool of internship applicants. These efforts will seek to establish relationships with college career centers in the U.S. and to provide financial assistance to students to participate in ABT’s Internship Program, as well as career guidance and support. For more information on applying to ABT’s Internship Program, please contact internships@abt.org.

Project Plié Advisory Committee

American Ballet Theatre has formed an advisory committee of experts in the fields of education, culture and dance to advocate for and raise awareness around Project Plié. Advisors will offer support and mentoring to ABT and Project Plié partners on issues of access, barriers to participation and the need to diversify the ballet field. Project Plié advisors include Virginia Johnson, Artistic Director, Dance Theatre of Harlem; Nigel Lythgoe, Executive Producer, So You Think You Can Dance; Jennifer Homans, author and dance historian; Aaron Dworkin, Founder and President, the Sphinx Organization; Yvette Campbell, President and CEO, Harlem School of the Arts; Misty Copeland, Soloist, American Ballet Theatre; Frank Sanchez, Vice President, Sports and Entertainment, Boys & Girls Clubs of America; Susan Fales-Hill, author; and Gilda Squire, President, Gilda Squire Media Relations.

For more information on Project Plié, its activities and offerings, please visit www.abt.org/projectplie.

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angelica   

While I applaud this initiative, I think someone in the marketing department could (should) have come up with a name more exciting than Project Plié.

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Now, I know nothing about his skill and talent as a dancer, so I cast no aspersions whatsoever, but I think this "initiative" has something to do with very new corps member Gabe Shayer being highly visible in the second cast of Tempest this fall, and why we are seeing more of Calvin Royal.

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Now, I know nothing about his skill and talent as a dancer, so I cast no aspersions whatsoever, but I think this "initiative" has something to do with very new corps member Gabe Shayer being highly visible in the second cast of Tempest this fall, and why we are seeing more of Calvin Royal.

Many of us commented on what a great job Calvin Royal did in the second cast of the new Ratmansky ballet Piano Concerto #1, partnering Christine Shevchenko (who also did a fabulous job, filling in for an injured Gilliam Murphy) in the 2013 Met season. Presumably, Ratmansky decides the casting for his new ballets. It would be such a sad and unfortunate result of this initiative if audience members start to think that the only (or primary) reason why somebody is being cast in an important role is to improve diversity for the new initiative.

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Misty Copeland is not cast in any ballets during the Koch fall season.

Yes, but all we're seeing (at least on the ABT site) are principal roles. Has she ever done the lead in, say, T&V? She's one of several soloists just aching to get promoted.

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This is such a wonderful idea! (And so much better than any of the things I imagined the 'new initiative' was going to be). Congratulations to ABT for taking a lead on such an important issue.

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bart   

Thanks, Dale, for reproducing the text of the press release.

The name may be, ( agree with angelica) a little silly, but this impresses me as an ambitious program that actually has a detailed plan for carrying out its objectives. ABT has, arguably, the biggest name recognition of any U.S. ballet company (among young dance students, especially). Coincidentally, I was just watching a a video interview with Daniel Ulbricht in which he admitted that his original goal in moving to NYC for training was to dance with ABT, not NYCB where he eventually landed.

The scholarships (15 full scholarships to the Onassis School, 25 to ABT summer programs), teacher training provisions, willingness to utilize the large network of ABT-certified teachers, the alliance with the Boys and Girls Clubs of America, the arrangements with seven serious regional ballet companies -- this is all good news. So is the funding from what I assume is a donor with the potential for deep pockets, Payless Shoes.

When it comes to trying to ballet more inclusive as to race and social/geographic origins, has an American company ever attempted anything on this scale -- and with this complexity of organization -- since the Ford Foundation grant to NYCB back in the 60s?

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sandik   

Pacific Northwest Ballet's Dance Chance program has been running since the mid 90s. It's certainly not as large as ABT's proposal, but it's brought many kids of color into a ballet studio and several of their grads have gone on to work professionally.

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Ray   

[...] It would be such a sad and unfortunate result of this initiative if audience members start to think that the only (or primary) reason why somebody is being cast in an important role is to improve diversity for the new initiative.

Well yes and no. You could also say that it's sad and unfortunate that the primary reason people are being cast is because they are white. And it would be good for people to know that such an initiative exists (finally) and that it's effective. Business as usual is just not working.

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Not to mention -

http://www.bostonballet.org/community/city-dance.html

Citydance is one of Boston Ballet’s gifts to the city of Boston. Established in the fall of 1991, Citydance is a scholarship dance program which reaches nearly 3,000 third-grade students in the Boston Public Schools annually. Designed to educate and introduce public school children to a variety of dance forms, the program provides students from all socio-economic and ethnic backgrounds with a chance to dance!

Citydance classes represent a cross-section of the Boston Public Schools' diverse population, with boys accounting for more than 50 percent of the students – a unique figure in the world of dance. Boston Ballet’s Citydance alumni have gone on to dance professionally with companies across the country including Boston Ballet, Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet, Sarasota Ballet and Eugene Ballet. Watch Citydance alumnus and current Boston Ballet company member Isaac Akiba's story here. Because of its broad scope and commitment to excellence, Citydance has expanded to our North Shore studio in Marblehead and become a model dance education program for institutions across the country.

In 2011 Citydance celebrated 20 years. Watch the video below to learn more!

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sandik   

[...] It would be such a sad and unfortunate result of this initiative if audience members start to think that the only (or primary) reason why somebody is being cast in an important role is to improve diversity for the new initiative.

Well yes and no. You could also say that it's sad and unfortunate that the primary reason people are being cast is because they are white. And it would be good for people to know that such an initiative exists (finally) and that it's effective. Business as usual is just not working.

Indeed. I don't want to steer this conversation into a strictly sociological discussion, but anything that opens up opportunities to study dance to the widest possible group of people is nothing but good for the ongoing health of the art form.

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I'm glad to see the reports others have posted about long-standing programs in Seattle and Boston. I should note that the Colorado Ballet has had something comparable in place for over 12 years: http://www.coloradoballet.org/education/vision

The existence of these well-established programs (and I assume there are others that haven't been mentioned) might help explain the selection of cities for the ABT program: http://www.abt.org/education/projectplie/partnercompanies/ But ABT's choice of language was perhaps not as diplomatic as might have been hoped:

To increase the dialogue about diversifying America's ballet companies, American Ballet Theatre has established partnerships with professional companies around the United States that have embraced the goal of diversity.

By implication, other companies don't "embrace the goal of diversity"? No, others have already been quite active in embracing that goal. Still, as Sandik notes, anything that promotes ballet to diverse communities is a good thing and I'm glad to see the ABT program, especially the corporate sponsorship and the partnership with Boys and Girls Clubs.

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Ray   

I'm glad to see the reports others have posted about long-standing programs in Seattle and Boston. I should note that the Colorado Ballet has had something comparable in place for over 12 years: http://www.coloradoballet.org/education/vision

The existence of these well-established programs (and I assume there are others that haven't been mentioned) might help explain the selection of cities for the ABT program: http://www.abt.org/education/projectplie/partnercompanies/ But ABT's choice of language was perhaps not as diplomatic as might have been hoped:

To increase the dialogue about diversifying America's ballet companies, American Ballet Theatre has established partnerships with professional companies around the United States that have embraced the goal of diversity.

By implication, other companies don't "embrace the goal of diversity"? No, others have already been quite active in embracing that goal. Still, as Sandik notes, anything that promotes ballet to diverse communities is a good thing and I'm glad to see the ABT program, especially the corporate sponsorship and the partnership with Boys and Girls Clubs.

My personal opinion is that most companies pay lip service to this idea, at best. I cannot substantiate that observation, however. What is crystal clear to even the most casual onlooker, however, are the abysmally low numbers on non-white dancers in any big ballet company today: they just don't support the effectiveness of any kind of "embrace." I say the time for mere incremental changes, including "diplomatic language," is long past.

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bad feet   

The Royal Ballet has been running it's 'Chance to Dance' program for over 20 years, apart from Tyrone Singleton BRB and Shevell Dynot EN I dont think it's made any noticable diffence.

Ballet reflects it's audience. Training black and ethnic kids to be dancers must go in tandem with actively attracting a more diverse audience, otherwise it risks being yet another exercise in political correctness. Talented black kids will spend years in training only to find that they are bypassed by the latest Russian sensations because they are the one that fill the theatres.

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kfw   

Ballet reflects it's audience. Training black and ethnic kids to be dancers must go in tandem with actively attracting a more diverse audience, otherwise it risks being yet another exercise in political correctness.

True, but making ballet training more widely available to minority kids will likely bring more minority families to the theater, as well as some of those minority kids once they're old enough to buy their own tickets.

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dirac   

Talented black kids will spend years in training only to find that they are bypassed by the latest Russian sensations because they are the one that fill the theatres.

A lot of talented white kids have found themselves in the same boat, so they'll have company. :)

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Jayne   

I think the issue has to be tackled from all sides - but I do think diversity is increasing in ballet - but most Americans are blind to any minorities that are not African American. If you're Latino/a, Pacific Islander, Filipino, Japanese, Chinese, Indian, Vietnamese, Cambodian, Thai, Mongolian, Arab, Turk, First Nations, or other group, then it's not recognized by the great score-keepers of race that your company is diversifying.

Ultimately, I think when more parents of African heritage fully back their kids in ballet, then we'll see a jump.

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Ray   

I think the issue has to be tackled from all sides - but I do think diversity is increasing in ballet - but most Americans are blind to any minorities that are not African American. If you're Latino/a, Pacific Islander, Filipino, Japanese, Chinese, Indian, Vietnamese, Cambodian, Thai, Mongolian, Arab, Turk, First Nations, or other group, then it's not recognized by the great score-keepers of race that your company is diversifying.

Ultimately, I think when more parents of African heritage fully back their kids in ballet, then we'll see a jump.

Jayne, I'm not seeing a lot of non-whites of any ethnicity in my viewing. Certainly not anywhere near reflective of the general population.

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It's risky to try to identify people by race or ethnicity. The U.S. Census for the last several 10-year censuses has used self-reporting rather than having the census taker decide which race/ethnicity to count (as they used to do). Especially in major metropolitan areas, names, appearances, place of birth, etc. don't necessarily tell you anything. This is even more so now with increasing interracial marriage. I assume ABT has figured out how to handle this (probably some kind of self-identification).

Promoting "diversity" is a good thing and I think most of us have a general sense of where we hope we are headed, even if we might disagree on precisely what that means. When I look at the rosters of several companies, I see a wide range of names, appearances, and skin tones, but we all hope it gets better.

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sandik   

I think the issue has to be tackled from all sides - but I do think diversity is increasing in ballet - but most Americans are blind to any minorities that are not African American. If you're Latino/a, Pacific Islander, Filipino, Japanese, Chinese, Indian, Vietnamese, Cambodian, Thai, Mongolian, Arab, Turk, First Nations, or other group, then it's not recognized by the great score-keepers of race that your company is diversifying.

Ultimately, I think when more parents of African heritage fully back their kids in ballet, then we'll see a jump.

Jayne, I'm not seeing a lot of non-whites of any ethnicity in my viewing. Certainly not anywhere near reflective of the general population.

Not reflective of the general population, no, but it is improving.

California is correct in saying it's very risky to try to ID people by race, but I went through the rosters of three companies on the West Coast. I know the PNB dancers, so that's not a stretch -- I looked at the bios for Oregon Ballet Theater and San Fransisco Ballet. PNB has almost 16% of its roster "non-white," OBT is 28%, and SFB just over 11%. For all of these companies, Asians and Asian Americans outnumber other ethnicities.

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dirac   

I think the issue has to be tackled from all sides - but I do think diversity is increasing in ballet - but most Americans are blind to any minorities that are not African American. If you're Latino/a, Pacific Islander, Filipino, Japanese, Chinese, Indian, Vietnamese, Cambodian, Thai, Mongolian, Arab, Turk, First Nations, or other group, then it's not recognized by the great score-keepers of race that your company is diversifying.

Ultimately, I think when more parents of African heritage fully back their kids in ballet, then we'll see a jump.

No doubt the "great score-keepers of race" are conscious that other ethnicities are out there. African-Americans face special challenges because they endured centures of slavery and de facto slavery in this country. From the stats sandik quotes, I don't see any evidence of diversity that the "score-keepers" are somehow missing. Like Ray, I don't see a lot of it up there on the stage, although it is better than it used to be.

Individual support systems are important (and I expect "parents of African heritage" are as supportive as any), but these problems are increasingly institutional and structural.

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sandik   
Individual support systems are important (and I expect "parents of African heritage" are as supportive as any), but these problems are increasingly institutional and structural.

Your comment about institutions is a pointed one today, especially after hearing the public radio report about ongoing discrimination in the panhellenic system at the University of Alabama.

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