ABT corps members Rachel Richardson (left) and Zimmi Coker in rehearsal with choreographer Gabrielle Lamb. Photo by JJ Geiger, Courtesy ABT.
"I feel like you want to move one more thing," says choreographer Gabrielle Lamb, her head cocked slightly to the right as she watches American Ballet Theatre corps dancers Zimmi Coker and Xuelan Lu work through an intertwined movement sequence. "My hip," answers Lu, who stands with her right leg extended, foot flexed, her hand on Coker's head. Both are in socks, and in the background music plays softly, providing atmosphere rather than counts and cues. It's week two of ABT Incubator, a new choreographic workshop spearheaded by principal dancer David Hallberg that was held earlier this month. Lamb is one of five choreographers, including New York–based dancemaker Kelsey Grills and ABT dancers Sung Woo Han, Duncan Lyle and James Whiteside, who were chosen to participate through an audition process.
Gemma Bond, an ABT corps member, prefers choreographic opportunities over starring roles. Photo by Jim Lafferty for Pointe.
If you've been keeping up on developments in the ballet world, you've probably had cause to ask: Where are the female choreographers?
“I get asked to do interviews a lot because of that question," says Emery LeCrone, a freelance choreographer and dancer based in New York City, “instead of just to talk about my work."
The skewed ratio of male to female ballet choreographers has long been established, inspiring countless distraught—and necessary—conversations and articles (including in this magazine). The reasons for this imbalance—why more men than women are making work at top companies like New York City Ballet and American Ballet Theatre—run deep, rooted in an ethos of conformity that follows female dancers from their first ballet class to the white acts of Swan Lake. Men, being a rarer breed in ballet, tend to get more specialized treatment from a young age. And at the professional level, women often rehearse longer hours (think of all the story ballets with multiple scenes for the female corps), giving them less time, energy and mental space to make their own work.