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"Where are the Women in Ballet?"

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2 hours ago, Helene said:

Like when Lilac Fairy wore heels?  The children's roles in many Soviet and Russian ballets or the bugs in Balanchine's "A Midsummer Night's Dream" or Angels and Polichinelles in"Nutcracker" where the girls are in ballet slippers?

 

To refer to anything as classical ballet or not without looking at the content of the work is meaningless.  

 

I think it's a mistake to depend on a tool (the pointe shoe) as the primary indicator of ballet.  It might be a good exercise to take the definitions apart (Classical v Romantic?  Ballet -- contemporary or what do we want to call it?  Russian or English or French or American or Danish or ...  Classical v Neo-classical), but it's a big kettle of fish stew (mixing my metaphors here!), and honestly, for every hard-fought definition we create, there is a shiny exception to that rule.  I love talking about dance, and talking about how we talk about dance.  As a critic, I really care about language, and work hard to find terms that will convey my ideas without confounding my readers.  Sometimes I do a good job, and sometimes not so much -- I could almost always do better.

 

Defining ballet is, one level, an academic exercise -- unless you are a gatekeeper (this is ballet and that is not) it can help you clarify your own point of view, but you're still looking at a landscape that is full of all sorts of things.  Lately I've been grappling with what people mean by "contemporary ballet" -- is it work that uses the fundamental vocabulary but showcases the recent development in technique, is it work that combines ballet with other modern and contemporary genres, or is it work that responds in some fashion to the traditions of ballet, whether or not it includes any of those practices? (in the last case, you could claim that Yvonne Rainer's "Trio A" was a contemporary ballet because she insisted on rejecting the conventional approaches of her time.)

 

I love the traditional repertory, and am always thrilled to hear that someone is presenting a heritage work in its original form.  And I love the work that has come from those ballets, both those that continue to develop that style, and those that make something new in opposition to it.  When I need a definition, I strive to find one that is inclusive.  Your mileage may vary, as some folks say, but that's my point of view.

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For an October 10 article by Gia Kourlas in NY Times that Dirac included in Links-- "When two Men Fall in Love on the Ballet Stage and Why it Matters"--Ratmansky was asked to comment on the Facebook discussion:

 

"Mr. Ratmansky, whose work richly engages tradition, wrote in an email that he didn’t mean to offend or impose a ban. 'But there are gender roles in traditional ballet,' he said. 'In other words, men and women are of equal value but have different tasks.'

 

"He continued: 'Being passionate about ballet traditions, its present and future, I wanted to continue discussing gender roles in ballet, but hesitate now. There are so many things one could discuss around this topic. I agree that the rules are there to be broken, that’s how art evolves. And I myself have enjoyed playing with these conventions. But I personally choose to work within a tradition because I find it too beautiful and historically important to be lost.'"

 

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/10/arts/dance/same-sex-duets-justin-peck-lauren-lovette-new-york-city-ballet.html?_r=0

 

 

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Lauren Lovette with "Not Our Fate" has made Ratmansky's point somewhat moot.  As George Balanchine says in Solomon Volkov's Balanchine's Tchaikovsky,  "The feeling is important, not the object". 

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8 hours ago, DanielBenton said:

Lauren Lovette with "Not Our Fate" has made Ratmansky's point somewhat moot.  As George Balanchine says in Solomon Volkov's Balanchine's Tchaikovsky,  "The feeling is important, not the object". 

I am pleased to read all the praise for Lovette's work, and cannot wait to see it, but I think she is hardly alone right now. (I see a very limited range of works and I can still think of ballets by Scarlett and Peck that are ballet-based and absolutely changing the kind of sex/gender stories ballet tells and how it tells them. Including a very striking male/male pas de deux in the former's Vespertine.)

 

On FB people have recalled two men kissing in a ballet by Macmillan from decades ago and, speaking from my own experience, I believe Nijinska's Les Biches merits a mention in the pre-history of today's ballet choreographers' interest in moving beyond normative gender roles etc. [Edited to add: I'm sure people with more extended knowledge of choreography from around the world can give other examples, even restricting oneself to ballet.] This does not take away from Lovette's accomplishments and originality. But there is a context for it in the ballet world even if a minimal one.

 

There is also a context for the traditions Ratmansky wishes to honor--even if his words are not always as pertinent as his choreography. Balanchine has plenty in common with those traditions too ("ballet is woman")...It's great for ballet to extend beyond Balanchine's preoccupations--but his career as a whole (and I think he is the greatest choreographer of the 20th century) does not exactly cut against many traditional balletic ways of handling gender--onstage or off. 

Edited by Drew

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Bejart once said the opposite I believe, that dance was man.  Jorge Donn dancing his Bolero in the midst of a corps de ballet of men remains one of the most sexually charged things I've ever seen.

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7 hours ago, Mashinka said:

Bejart once said the opposite I believe, that dance was man.  Jorge Donn dancing his Bolero in the midst of a corps de ballet of men remains one of the most sexually charged things I've ever seen.

 

"Dance" isn't ballet.  And women often had little to do in Bejart's company (although Farrell danced Bolero and I think other women did as well).  Both Ashton and Balanchine in their time were creatively preoccupied primarily  -- not exclusively -- with women.

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Ballet is dance though and although Bejart gave prominence to the males the females in the company were all strong personalities in their own right.

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The conversation about these issues becomes very different when you focus on ballet (which is dance, but not just dance) and on ballet tradition--certainly that is what Ratmansky cares about...

 

I care a lot about the specificity of ballet and its traditions too, so I am sympathetic to Ratmansky -- without necessarily thinking there is not the potential for more capaciousness within ballet than his first facebook post allowed.

Edited by Drew

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The conversation about these issues becomes very different when you focus on ballet (which is dance, but not just dance) and on ballet tradition


 

 

Thank you, Drew, you said what I meant to say and much better.  I also am in fundamental sympathy with what Ratmansky is getting at, even if by his e-mail he does seem to be feeling plenty of sympathy for himself. :) 

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Ballet is dance though and although Bejart gave prominence to the males the females in the company were all strong personalities in their own right.

 

 

 
Still, it was very much a man's company. When Farrell joined, Mejia asked Bejart over dinner what she was going to dance since he didn't see much there for her, and Bejart said he wanted to make new pieces for her (which he did).
 
 

 

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Rebecca King Ferraro and Michael Sean Breeden interviewed Lauren Lovette when they were all in Vail last summer for their podcast, "Conversations on Dance."  In it she talks a lot about becoming a choreographer, women in choreography, and how she came to make her latest work in Vail.

She also talks about becoming a vegan, which interested me as a skating fan, since one of the buffest and most dynamic female pairs skaters, Meagan Duhamel, is also vegan.

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9 hours ago, Helene said:

Rebecca King Ferraro and Michael Sean Breeden interviewed Lauren Lovette when they were all in Vail last summer for their podcast, "Conversations on Dance."  In it she talks a lot about becoming a choreographer, women in choreography, and how she came to make her latest work in Vail.

She also talks about becoming a vegan, which interested me as a skating fan, since one of the buffest and most dynamic female pairs skaters, Meagan Duhamel, is also vegan.

I found that statement about being a vegan interesting. She spoke about her increased stamina since changing her diet. Quite a contrast to Megan Fairchild who, in a podcast, expressed the opinion that meat was needed as part of a dancer's diet. I remember that because I'm a vegetarian and thought she was ill informed!

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Pacific Northwest Ballet teacher Eva Stone, who has taught a young women's choreography classes to the summer program students in 2017 and 2018, will start teaching the course year-round to upper-level students at Pacific Northwest Ballet School:
http://www.kuow.org/post/pnb-launches-program-foster-female-choreographers

I'm very glad this program is being expanded, so that the students can learn and experiment over a sustained period.

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I'm very pleased to see this program and think that Eva S will do an excellent job with these young women.  I'm looking forward to a day when we don't need to make a special place for women in this endeavor, but we aren't there yet.

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Posted (edited)
On 4/26/2017 at 10:47 AM, Helene said:

Victoria Morgan at Cincinnati Ballet. 

 

Tharp has done three new works for PNB between 2008 and 2013: Opus 111, Afternoon Ball, and Waiting at the Station.  She did a one year artistic residency in Seattle.

 

Her availability is limited when she's working on her own projects, like Broadway work that subsidizes other work.

 

However, the chances that she would have gotten ballet commissions at ABT or NYCB had she not had success as a modern choreographer with her own company I think are slim to none.

Interesting conversation on the dearth of opportunities for women choreographers in ballet. I've been enjoying reading it, even though a lot of it is over a year old. I couldn't find the Alastair/Luke Jennings twitter thread. That seems to have disappeared.

Tharp got her commissions at ABT and NYCB because of her work for the Joffrey. Deuce Coupe, specifically. She got the Joffrey commission because of her modern dance work. I point that out to say that I believe commissions from ABT and NYCB were even harder for modern dance choreographers to get then. Tharp's success paved the way for a lot of people, even if the path remains restrictively narrow.

While I appreciate some of the traditional aspects of classical ballet, I don't see them as a reason to deny women choreographers commissions. Women can still dance on pointe, men can carry them around (if the choreographer says so), and women can choreograph it all. I don't see how any of Ratmansky's comments provide any reasoning for denying commissions to women choreographers, even if he might see the reasoning.

Edited by BalanchineFan

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You're right when you point to Tharp's work with the Joffrey and Deuce Coupe as her open door to the next part of her career -- Joffrey, who took Diaghilev as a role model when it came to repertory development, was looking for the newest work he could find, and Tharp represented the downtown world to him.

If I remember the discussion about Ratmansky correctly, his objections were more about gender roles in performance than they were about who stands in the front of the studio in rehearsal.  He had some fairly lame things to say about breaking traditional roles in ballet ('men should lift the women and women should get the flowers' was a part of it), but I think the strongest evidence against what seemed like a slapdash comment is his own work, which often reaches far beyond the 19th century conventions.

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I just noticed this while reading about Northern Ballet's touring mixed program:

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Morgann Runacre-Temple was choreographer in residence at Ballet Ireland for six years creating five full length ballets including Cinderella, Romeo and Juliet, Carmen and Coppelia. She creates dance films and recently choreographed the award-winning Curing Albrecht with English National Ballet and Manchester International Festival.


 

 

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