At the end of the last century,ballet hit its death point..
Five of its greatest choreographers (Balanchine,Antony Tudor, Frederick Ashton, Kenneth MacMillan and Jerome Robbins) had diedand no successors of their status were in view. 21st-century ballets haveentered international repertory and ballet regained most of its health back.From the great roles in romantic ballets initiated by “La Sylphide” (1836), to”Giselle” (1841) to the classical creations of Marius Petipa in late 19thcentury “The Sleeping Beauty”, feminine beauty was the climate in which the manlooked, traveled, and found love. Those ballets are classic examples of the malegaze. In the 20th century, Balanchine created what many consider to be the mostbeautiful female role in the repertoire. However, to a large extent, they werealso variations of the 19th century theme, based on the combination of thepower and beauty of women and the ability of man to worship and serve.
Theworld of Balanchine is penetrated with modern consciousness, where his women donot always live for love, and their fates are rarely limited by the men theyrely on. The individual freedom in conflict with the sexual intimacy is thecentral theme of Balanchine’s pas de deux, which is often dramatized from awoman’s point of view; for it is the man who sees and follows and it is thewoman who acts and guides. In many of his ballets men tend to be cavaliers andpartners, while his women, wives, and trapped by their society. For Balanchinethe men is the artist, the woman is his muse, and the roles may not change orbe reversed. He proclaimed “Ballet isWoman, is a purely female thing; it is a woman -agarden of beautiful flowers, and the man is the gardener.” Women are symbols ofballet, performing demanding steps created by men.
The initial tendency in thisstatement is to link women to the natural world and men with the forces ofcivilization and cultural progress. Inmost major dance companies, when it comes to choreography ballet remainsoverwhelmingly a man’s world, and this view is often crafted by men. Women areunderrepresented in many positions of power in the arts, whether as director,orchestra conductors, opera composers, but the lack of female choreographers atmajor companies is stunning, given the importance of women in the ballet, andthe way pioneering female choreographers helped shape ballet during the 20thcentury. The large part of the ballet dates from imperial Russia or France fromthe 19th century, but it just does not explain the lack of works of femalechoreographers in large companies. In recent years, there has been an explosionof a new choreographers – but for large companies, most of them are men. Choreographicworks by women are far less represented by those developed by men. In a recentaccounting of choreographic works by major American ballet companies showedthat only 25 ballets out of 290, where choreographed by women, and performed in2012.
This image clearly states that ballet is manipulated by men; directorsare not choosing women choreographers as a part of their program. “In classical dance, female choreographers arerare indeed,” states Luke Jennings (2013). The only choreographicworks with a worldwide recognitions are those of Twyla Tharp who began herchoreographic carrier in the 60’s, and to present the work of a choreographerlike Twyla Tharp is not seen as taking a risk, as she is one of the most widelyperformed female choreographers, who has had success in many genres — moderndance and dance for Broadway, films, and ballet, beginning with her 1973crossover work “Deuce Coupe.” In 1988, toward the end of Mikhail Baryshnikov’sterm as artistic director of American Ballet Theater, he appointed Ms. Tharpthe company’s artistic associate and resident choreographer, and eventhough this position did not last, her relationship with the company continuedand has given premieres of more than a dozen of her works.Theopportunities for new male choreographers are much different, Alexi Ratmansky,Christopher Wheeldon, Justin Peck and other men have established careers in thepost-Balanchine era. The reason for this may reside in the fact that men withinthe dance company have more free time to creatively develop, explore andexperiment with choreography, and because the competition is not as intense asit is for the women.
Among more established directors, Peter Martins at NYCBcan simply insert himself into the role of choreographer, who has produced manyworks for NYCB even though many of his works are not widely commissioned byother companies. The companies are not taking a risk on anything, they are notinvesting time or giving a chance to someone who is in the corps de ballet,letting them work with students to develop their choreographic skills. If they would give the attention towomen as they give to men, it will change the course and absence of womenchoreographers, today. In the chart above we seethe commissions for the year 2014, but in 2015-16 New York City Balletperformed 58, including seven world premieres and not one was by a woman andthe same goes for Royal Ballet in London, where they haven’t commissioned a newwork by a woman for the main stage. In Moscow, the Bolshoi danced more than twodozen ballets this season, but only one was by a woman, and only partially:”Short Time Together,” by the team Paul Lightfoot and Sol Leon, and American Ballet Theater presented just one ballet by a woman”The Brahms-Hayden Variations “by Twayla Twarp. Recently there have been new ballets by choreographer such as ChristopherWheeldon, Jorma Elo, Mr.
Peter Martins, Mauro Bigonzetti, Alexei Ratmansky andJustin Peck, a big diversity and all done by white males, and the critic’scannot complain about gender inequality in every review or feature. Thedirectors of the institutions who have the power to commission something newand fresh are men, and they do not run enough research to find diversechoreographers, male and female, they just go with the well-known malechoreographers.Alexei Ratmansky is celebrated around the world for hisnew ballet and reimagining of the old ones. Christopher Wheeldon has hadsuccesses with top ballet companies and on Broadway, where he directed andchoreographed “American in Paris, “and theyare all part of a new generation of very demanding group of choreographers thatincludes Wayne McGregor, Benjamin Millepied, Justin Peck, Liam Scarlett andothers.
Many have taken up residencies or other official positions with majorballet companies. But while the Royal Ballet has presented works by a number offemale choreographers in recent years, they have tended to be done at itssmaller Linbury Studio Theater, not on the main stage. It’s been 18 years since awoman was commissioned to create a main-stage ballet at the Royal Opera House,and the privilege was given to the Crystal Pite, a piece called “FlightPattern” alongside Christopher Wheeldon, with his older work “After the rain”and “Human Seasons” a new piece from David Dawson. When the Royal Ballet andthe National Gallery launched a collaboration named Metamorphosis: Titian 2012;out of the 15 artists and choreographers involved, none of them was a woman,and the irony is that the subject was the goddess Diana, the personification offeminine power. The lack of women having their work performed has becomea topic of conversation in London.
Gender inequality in dance is nothing new,and the issue still continues. In 1976, The Village Voice exploreddiscrimination in the dance world in an article “When a Woman Dances, NobodyCares” co-written by Wendy Perron and Stephanie Woodard where among otherthings they discuss, they also come to a realization that “male choreographersare getting grants way out of proportion to their numbers.” The Gender Project was formed in 1998, by choreographerand teacher JoAnna Mendl Shaw and other New York dance figures to study thisissue, to look at New York and national statistics and compare male and femalerepresentation, identify gender inequality in dance, explore the reasons behindit and provide support for individuals and institution in their effort tochange the pattern. One finding was that even in modern dance which waslargely invented by pioneering female choreographers, men were more likely toget their works performed than women. Overwhelming membership of women indance, especially ballet might be the problem for this issue. In balletschools, girls typically outnumber boys, who are sometimes persuaded to attendwith reduced or even free tuition. Women play a crucial role in manyballet companies and schools as teachers, ballet mistresses and répétiteurs,passing the steps to new generations to come, and some of them are prominentdance critics. The lack of men in the dance worldmeans less competition for openings for male dancers; women often take time offmid-career to have children or care for aging parents; and a lifelongsocialization process teaches men to be aggressive self-promoters and women tobe self-sacrificing and apologetic While changes in leadership and policymakingare important to ensure gender equality and opportunities, there are also criticalchanges to be made in society, but for this to work there has to be an equalopportunity for development for women as well.
This is not just a dance issue,it is a world issue and women need to be included in conversations where keydecisions need to be done. It might sound a bit like a feminist view, but thetruth is, it is a feminist struggle related to social and political factors. Regardlessof sex the dance world needs representation and quality choreographic works,and in the end the work must speak for itself and quality is the key. Within the framework of modernfeminism, its radical variant clearly outlines the question of male controlover culture, religion, language and knowledge. The basis of social repressionagainst women does not lie in social organization or physical dominance butthis male control of rapid culture and knowledge, limiting the ways in which wethink. Language, philosophy, political theory and common knowledge is based ona male paradigm that ignores or undermines women’s experience. From itsbeginnings, radical feminism has ambition and challenges the world organizedaccording to male values-patriarchy. In each society there are twocultures-visible, national male culture and female invisible culture and thesetwo cultures are formed on the basis of different experiences of men and women.
Even for radical feminists who regard gender as a social identity as a socialconstruction, the genesis of the overall cultural division lies precisely inthe sex of an individual understood as a biological factor. Gender determinesthe social position, life experience, physical and mental transformation, theinterests and values of the individual. The gender distinction originallydefined according to the pro-active function of the individual as the first andbasic task of social organization and further used to structure every aspect ofhuman nature and life. The patriarch imposes the male values of domination,force, and suppresses or ridicules the contribution of women’s values,emotions, intuition, and building close human relationships. The goal ofradical libertarian feminists is the vision of building an androgen culture.The goal of building a new androgenic culture is to transcend precisely theconstraints of the patriarchal cultural construction, to break the necessarybond and prejudice between the biological sex and the social identity of thegender, as well as to create conditions for combining male and femalecharacteristics that will reflect the most positive individual personality.
In an area where theproportion of women with men is nearly twenty to one, it seems that men aremore likely to achieve ideal success in the form of artistic leadership of ahigh profile company. While this may be the case, it is important to recognizethat while men can be led by large modern companies, women have strongpositions in dance education and independent dance. The role of the artdirector is crucial in order to run a successful dance company. The artisticdirector’s responsibilities range from creative control over the selection ofthe repertoire to employment practices and financial decisions, which are keptin check by the administration and production staff that helps to balance thecreative choices with their economic consequences. The dynamics between artistic directors and dancersdiffers from company to company, but is often strongly hierarchical, and thisspeaks of the level of inequality within the company’s structure, in whichdancers, and especially female dancers, are numerous enough to be seen asinterchangeable goods.
However, such a structural hierarchy is key tomaintaining successful dance companies; dancers learn to understand theirposition in the hiking order from a very young age and to recognize thesignificant level of competition that surrounds the professional position as adancer. It is also important to realize that, beyond determining the directionof a season, artistic directors set the agenda for a dancing company in thelong run. Few female artistic directors and choreographers can result in adance sector that is less capable of meeting the needs of female dancers. Itcan also contribute to a culture in which women are considered less valuablecontributors to the creative and choreographic process, or in which stories ofwomen are less likely to be interpreted through the dance medium. The artisticdirector may be the most visible traditional leadership role in the dancesector, but the choreographer is just as important for the process of creatinga dance (it’s not unusual for a person to hold both positions in a dancecompany). There are no steps to put on stage without the choreographer. Traditionally,the choreographer takes responsibility for the unique creative decisions in thestudio, to seeing a unpolished rehearsal product to a polished stage product.
Thesame view we see with artistic directors, we see a division of gender inchoreography, also. Women are trying to gain traditional leadership roleswithin the dance sector, and when they succeed (often by setting up their ownchoreographer’s own companies), they have often struggled to retain thepositions or funding necessary to maintain the companies. As we have seen,there are exceptions to every rule and some important female success stories.However, it seems that sexism is endemic in an art form that is so closelyrelated to femininity. Due to the contradictory aspects of women’sparticipation in dance and their lack of representation in traditional power roles,the discussion of women’s leadership in dance of the 20th century must extendbeyond the typical work roles that have financial, creative or intellectualcontrol, such as artistic director and choreographer.
If we properly assess theimpact of women’s leadership in this industry, we must adapt the notion of”leadership” to enclose roles in performance, learning, mentoring, research andadvocacy of the art form, both in concert performance and in a largelyundocumented area of community practice. Dance leadership can include areas that are not recognized outside thestudio, and yet play vast roles in shaping the art form by influencing theartistic and creative practice of individual women. These are the areasdominated by women because they give out the roles of the choreographer andartistic director to contribute to the dance sector. As we think about women’sdance leadership in the 20th century, it’s clear that the dance story isessentially one of female self-expression. Even when their participation intraditional leadership roles within the sector is limited, women seek powerelsewhere, especially in the fields of research, advocacy, writing andteaching. The leadership of women indance has behind and in front scenes, one as in the creation of dancers and theother one as performers in a row of spotlights, till this day. Women also guidethe training of dancers in every genre of dance and the development of the artform, even though the dancers struggled to cope not only with gendered dancingassociations, but also with endless efforts to secure funds. From the point ofview of women’s leadership, it is clear that gender parity is not reduced oreven seriously considered in other areas of professional life, such asbusiness, politics and academia.
It seems that the acceptance of women in artform signals the collective turning of the blind to barriers to leadership. Tothis day, female dancers are vigorously aware of their value compared to theirmale counterparts; although it is not properly documented, there is a generalfeeling that men, dancers, administrators, choreographers and directors willalways be highly appreciated and even praised for their participation in a”female” art form. Men’s obstacles to leadership in dance are worthdiscussing further; we can assume that any social uncertainty about the sexualpreference and preferences of dancing men is successfully counterbalanced bytheir dominance in traditional leadership roles as well as the performance ofhetero-normative relationships on the stage.And women have continued to make changes when it comes torunning companies: Aurélie Dupont was recently appointed to succeedMr. Millepied as the director of dance at the Paris Opera Ballet; Ms. Rojo isthe artistic director at English National Ballet; Loudres Lopez isthe artistic director of Miami City Ballet; and Julie Kent was recentlynamed the artistic director of the Washington Ballet. Yet at many majorcompanies it is still rare to see works by women. The companies that presentmore contemporary dance is a field where female choreographers are moreinfluential.
The Paris Opera Ballet, which has made contemporary dance a stapleof its repertoire, included works this season by Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker,Pina Bausch and Maguyn Marin, while the English National Ballet for the firsttime set a whole evening by female choreographers.The danceexplosion is a logical form of expression following the cultural explosion inliterature and film. The public needs to identify itself. An artist has nochoice.
Viewing dance as political and universal. Culture has to find a way tocope with society, especially when society is in a state of change.