Ballet legend George Balanchine famously proclaimed, “ballet is woman.”
But then consider the statistics.
According to research by the Dance Data Project (DDP), an independent research initiative that promotes gender equity in the the dance industry, girls outnumber boys 20-to-1 in ballet schools. And, at least in the U.S., ballet’s audience and donor base is 70% women.
Yet, ballet’s creative leadership is overwhelmingly male. Across history, DDP found that of artistic directors at the 50 largest companies in the nation (which includes Ballet Austin) only 29% have been women. Some 71% of ballet company artistic directors have been men.
And for the 2019–2020 season, DDP estimated that again, in the top 50 ballet companies in the U.S., a stunning 79% of the dances presented were choreographed by men.
With “Her Story,” Ballet Austin offers a corrective, at least for one production. Ballet Austin artistic director Stephen Mills invited three female choreographers to set new work on the company.
Each women heads her own company. Jennifer Archibald is the resident choreographer of the Cincinnati Ballet and leads the New York-based Arch Dance Company. Jennifer Hart is the artistic director of Austin’s Performa/Dance (She is also serves as curriculum director at Ballet Austin Academy.) San Francisco-based Amy Seiwert leads Amy Seiwert’s Imagery.
Seiwart is re-working “Traveling Alone,” set to the music of Max Richter, a piece she originally created for Colorado Ballet.
“Because of the lack of agency that women are sometimes given in the (ballet) training process, there’s a feeling that your voice, your story, doesn’t matter,” she said in a taped interview.
Archibald’s “The suffering of one is the suffering of the other” is inspired by Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh. The dance asks the question “can we coexist harmoniously,” Archibald said.
“We have a lot of young female dancers coming up in this industry who are not seeing females in the front of the room, who are not seeing Black female choreographers in the front of the room” she said. “The more opportunities we can give women to lead is going to create a generational change in the dance industry.”
Set to haunting violin music by Luca D’Alberto, Hart’s “Dream Stories” reference the experience of dreaming of another life beyond the pandemic.
Role models speak louder then word, Hart says when it comes to gender equity in ballet. “Until you have role models that show you what you can be, you’re not going to believe what you can be.”
“Her Story” runs April 1-3 at the Long Center for the Performing Arts, balletaustin.org