Despite the disproportionate number of girls and boys signing up to take ballet as young children, men have dominated positions of power in the ballet world for decades. This is not breaking news. Dance Data Project revealed that among the 50 biggest ballet companies in the U.S., fewer than 1/3 of the artistic directors are women and female artistic directors are paid 68 cents on the dollar that men make in the same position. Choreography is not much different. Male choreographers tend to dominate the field and continue to make big names for themselves in major ballet companies (Alexei Ratmansky, Justin Peck, Christopher Wheeldon, etc). Luckily, ballet companies across the U.S. have recognized the underrepresentation of women and have taken initiatives to correct this imbalance. In an effort to celebrate the trend of giving more opportunities to women in the ballet world, we’re highlighting five prominent female choreographers, past and present, who have been influential in the dance industry.
Bronislava Nijinska (1891-1972) - Dancer and choreographer for Diaghilev’s iconic Ballet Russes, Bronislava Nijinska set the stage for a departure from 19th story ballet to the use of modern, minimalist steps to revolutionize abstract works in the 20th century. You can see an excerpt from her legendary work Les Noces performed by the Mariinsky Ballet here, https://youtu.be/RDGl6bcVqSM.
Agnes DeMille (1905 - 1993) - Agnes DeMille came from a family of famous Hollywood directors (her father was William C. DeMille; her Uncle was Cecile B. DeMille) and achieved success in ballet, Broadway, and film. Her breakout work, ‘Rodeo,’ originally choreographed on American Ballet Theatre in 1939, continues to be performed to this day. She went on to choreograph legendary Broadway shows such as Carousel and Brigadoon and the film rendition of Oklahoma in 1953. (https://youtu.be/ZqbxVjF1jwM)
Twyla Tharp (born 1941 - Present) - Similar to Agnes DeMille, Twyla Tharp has had continued success across multiple mediums for nearly fifty years. She’s choreographed on nearly every major ballet company in the U.S., in addition to four Broadway shows and six Hollywood films. She’s received a Tony, two Emmy Awards, the 2004 National Medal of the Arts, and a 2008 Kennedy Center Honor. Her eclectic repertoire draws from nearly every discipline of dance. Learn more about her innovative process in her inspiring book The Creative Habit, https://www.amazon.com/Creative-Habit-Learn-Use-Life/dp/0743235266.
Crystal Pite (born 1970 - Present) - Crystal Pite is a Canadian choreographer who began her career as a dancer at Ballet BC before joining Ballett Frankfurt under renowned choreographer William Forsyth. Pite went on to create work on the world’s most prestigious companies such as Nederlans Dans Theater, the Royal Ballet, Paris Opera Ballet, and the National Ballet of Canada. Pite is known for her beautifully sweeping group choreography — a stark contrast from her wildly popular piece The Statement, https://youtu.be/rragD1P34NA.
Camille A. Brown (born 1979 - Present) arguably the most in-demand choreographer in the U.S. right now, Camille A. Brown has revolutionized opportunities for both women and people of color. She’s created work for Alvin Ailey, Complexions, and Ballet Memphis. Brown’s theater credits including Once On This Island, Choir Boy, and Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert! She made her debut at the Metropolitan Opera in 2019 as the choreographer for critically acclaimed Porgy & Bess. Camille A. Brown is currently part of the developmental team for the revival of Disney’s Aida on Broadway. (https://youtu.be/Czeq5IMC2Dc)
Female choreographers are clearly capable of creating exemplary work — it’s just a matter of giving them a voice. Finally, ballet companies have begun to take steps to do so. Boston Ballet created ChoreograpHER to help empower and invest in future female choreographers. American Ballet Theatre vows to hire at least three female choreographers per season. Abroad, The Australian Ballet established an initiative to give an emerging female choreographer an artistic residency at Sydney Opera House in conjunction with creating work on the company. Let’s hope that these programs will continue to help women thrive and that the term ‘female choreographer’ will become a thing of the past.
Author: Danielle Schulz