Georgina Pazcoguin as Hippolyta in Balanchine's A Midsummer Night's Dream. Photo by Paul Kolnik, Courtesy NYCB.
In January, when news broke that Peter Martins had retired from New York City Ballet amid allegations of sexual harassment and physical and verbal abuse, I was sitting with my mother, a former dancer and teacher. We stared at the headline in shock, wondering what this meant for the future of ballet as a whole: In the wake of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, cultural shifts were stirring, and conversations about feminism and workplace equality plunged into ballet. Some of my favorite dancers started sharing their statements and stances on Instagram, and their comments sections were bursting with dancers and ballet fans all struggling to define what feminism and equality in our art form would look like—or if it is even possible. Especially since female dancers have historically been considered muses to be seen and not heard, to perform but not lead.
Feminism isn't just possible in ballet—it's necessary, and the biggest part of that is an artistic advantage, too: empowering dancers to have and use their own voices.
Jackie Nash and Ben Needham-Wood in "Wandering." Photo by Chris Hardy, Courtesy Imagery.
Jackie Nash left an indelible impression as a member of Amy Seiwert's Imagery during this summer's performances at New York City's Joyce Theater. In Seiwert's Wandering, Nash, an Atlanta Ballet dancer during the regular season, demonstrated a keen technical sensibility that grounded her in the detail-rich, contemporary movement. But where the petite powerhouse shone was in her navigation of the challenging music, Schubert's rich, dramatic Winterreise cycle. She danced along a razor-thin line between allowing the breadth of the sound to overpower her movement and resorting to melodrama to match its feeling, succumbing to neither. An instinct for nuance lent maturity, visible in a movement as simple as an arabesque that did not strain to meet the space but instead swelled effortlessly to fill it. One can only hope that Nash might find her way to New York City stages more often.
Imagery in "Wandering." Photo by Chris Hardy, Courtesy Imagery.
Amy Seiwert in rehearsal. Photo by Scot Goodman, Courtesy Seiwert.
When Sacramento Ballet's board announced that it would not be renewing the contract of longtime co-directors Ron Cunningham and Carinne Binda after the 2017–18 season, the news upset many in both the Sacramento community and the dance world. The husband and wife duo, who have run the company for 30 years, told the Sacramento Bee that they were being let go unwillingly, while several company members publicly criticized the board's decision. In a move that would give them greater protection, the dancers voted to join the American Guild of Musical Artists in March.
Last week, Sacramento Ballet announced that choreographer Amy Seiwert, a former company member, will become the company's new artistic director in 2018. And it seems to be smart move. Seiwert, who directs the San Francisco–based contemporary ballettroupe Imagery, danced for eight seasons under Cunningham and Binda. "One of the reasons I decided to go for this was to honor the legacy of Ron and Carinne," Seiwert said in a recent phone interview. "They are in my artistic DNA. My choreography, when you look at my aesthetic choices, when you look at my approach to technique, that comes from them. It's a position I want, but not the situation I want it in, because there's a lot of heartbreak."
Katherine Wells and Ben Needham Wood, of Amy Seiwert's Imagery. Photo by David DeSilva, Courtesy Seiwert.
Emery LeCrone, a prolific New York City–based freelance choreographer, and Amy Seiwert's Imagery, directed by San Francisco–based Amy Seiwert, will both have their Joyce Theater debuts in August as part of its Ballet Festival.
In 2013, the Joyce ended its summer season with an eclectic festival featuring chamber companies and dancers' projects. The program, which traditionally favors the small, new and inventive, returns this summer.
How long has the “ballet is dead" movement been plaguing us? How long have we swatted away such a preposterous conceit, much as we might swat a pesky mosquito? This obituary has been inflicting annoyance at least since the late 1950s. But the assertion has always come as a surprise to the thousands of dancers who have raised technical standards to unimagined heights a generation ago. The statement has always astonished ballet company directors around America who have watched their audiences grow over the decades. No corpse has ever seemed giddier.
Even Jennifer Homans, who famously declared ballet a doomed art in her 2010 book Apollo's Angels, is reconsidering her position. Her announcement this fall that she has founded The Center for Ballet and the Arts at New York University suggests that she is prepared to question ballet's viability and to restore life to the art form.