Video - Panta Rei Danseteater 'Lullaby'
Norwegian dance company Panta Rei Danseteater, late last year, conducted a little experiment whereby three dance makers created two pieces with the same name based on the same idea, featuring three male dancers and two musicians, to see what the outcome was.
June 2nd, 2016watch now
When it comes to contemporary dance in the UK Article19 carries almost every audition that comes up from companies large and small. We also carry auditions from European companies and beyond if and when they come in. Over the last seven months though we noticed a trend.
During the first 7 months of this year Article19 published 78 auditions for professional dancers where the dancers would be paid for doing the work. Of those auditions 49 were mixed notices, that is, they either specified no gender or they were hiring both male and female dancers.
Female professional dancers were specifically requested in 5 of the notices and 24 specifically requested male professionals with just one of those offering multiple jobs within an all male dance company.
Over the same period last year, from January to July, Article19 published 73 auditions. Of those 46 were mixed, 11 were female only and 16 were male only. Two of the male only auditions were for all male dance companies (2Faced and Ballet Boyz). Going purely by the numbers we have an increase in the number of male only auditions and a small decrease in the number of female only notices. Mixed auditions remained roughly the same.
This large number of male only auditions caught our attention and the attention of several readers who contacted us wondering what was going on, so we decided to take a look.
We reached out to several of the choreographers who specifically advertised for male dancers to ascertain their reasons for doing so. In most cases it was a simple matter of the choreographer needing to cast a male dancer for a specific role or replace a male dancer who had moved on to work elsewhere;
One dance maker told us;
"The first job was an historical piece, between a man and a woman. So no choice there. The second one was piece already made partly about male friendship. It's a re-cast of a piece already made with not much time to re-rehearse."
They also mentioned that consideration had been given to re-casting the role with a female dancer but the cost of additional auditions (space and a good audition teacher) made this option impossible.
Physical strength was mentioned a couple of times by a couple of choreographers but it was not the key reason given for hiring a male dancer over a female dancer. We also posited the idea of gender flipping an entire piece of work to alter the balance between male and female dancers and what differences that might make to the finished piece.
One company director told us;
"The idea of flipping the gender balance is interesting. My current touring piece is 2 female and 4 male dancers. Flipping the balance would create many challenges, one of the main ones being that there is a lot of lifting work that would take a very strong dancer (male or female) to do, let alone do well.
I also find that my work sits a lot better on male bodies due to the sheer strength required (particularly upper body strength). With this said, the main dancer in the company is female and she does many things that very few male dancers could do, I guess it is swings and roundabouts!"
The new work from Manchester based Company Chameleon, "The Beauty of the Beast', is an all male work but the previous double bill by the company, 'Pictures we Make', was an even split of two male and two female dancers. With regards to strength and devising they told us this;
"Creatively, there would in the beginning of a process [a] marked difference in body strength, so male artists for example might generate movement material that includes lifts or movement that requires the support of the upper body that our female artists might take longer to achieve.
This is generally overcome in the process by the way we train, with a large focus on building strength in the upper body, planks, press-up, handstand drills etc. In my experience to date, I would say that generally, male artists have weaker classical technique (I refer here also to other standardised contemporary techniques such as Graham and Cunningham).
Taking things like this into account, training has to be varied to help performers develop in many different areas (assuming the work requires this)."Essentially, strength is a factor but training and preparation can make any physical differences moot as the devising process will naturally adapt to suit the dancers.
In The Majority
As the numbers above indicate the majority of auditions posted throughout any given year on Article19 are either gender neutral or request both male and female dancers. This would suggest a certain amount of gender blindness when it comes to hiring. We asked several of the NPO dance companies if they deliberately tried to create a gender balance in their company.
Kevin Finnan the AD of Motionhouse Dance Theatre told us;
"It would be my choice to have a company that is reflective of the society we live in. I would therefore choose to have a company as diverse as possible in gender, sexual orientation and race. This fundamental ambition is then tempered by the abilities of those who come to audition.
"Motionhouse always holds open auditions (I think we are rare in doing this). The dancers abilities are then paramount. In the past I have held auditions and I did not feel the male dancers were of sufficient calibre and we employed an all female cast. It is not cut and dried but if there are enough candidates of sufficient calibre I would have a mixed gender company."
Candoco Dance Company helmed by Stine Nilsen and Pedro Machado and currently touring a multitude of different works created by a diverse range of choreographers said;
"We look for the best dancer for the job, which means being part of a company and all that entails, including contributing to a variety and balance of skills and personalities."
Article19 also wondered if it was possible to specify the differences between female and male professional dancers, why hire one instead of the other? To which Candoco responded;
"It's hard to put into words without falling into unhelpful and unrealistic generalisations and stereotypes. [We] think differences between skills and personalities are more important. Gender is not a priority consideration for us in casting. At the moment for instance we have a male dancer learning a role created for and by a female dancer (and that includes wearing a dress)."
Anthony Missen from Company Chameleon expanded on this;
"Men and women bring a lot of different qualities and energies into both the rehearsal room and into performance, although both can display strength, vulnerability, grace, athleticism, beauty and a whole host of other things. You cannot escape the fact that when you watch a performance, you are either looking at a man or a woman, and there is a degree of bringing your own subjective experience to bear in how you view [a piece of work]."
Rosie Kay the AD of Rosie Kay Dance Company and creator of works like '5 Soldiers' and the all-female 'Supernova' explained her thoughts on male and female dancers on-stage.
"I think my company would be different if it were all male or all female. It can be interesting depending on the concept or individual work, but for my company there would need to be some kind of artistic justification, which I can't ever see being a permanent situation. I'm interested in human stories, human ways of moving and energy, not a single gender. In other companies it does seems to be leaning heavily towards all male rather than all female companies. Personally I love seeing strong women on stage."
How Many Jobs
Most audition notices do not state how many jobs are available for dancers, especially gender neutral notices, so it's not possible to tell if the number of opportunities for female professionals have declined from this time last year.
One possible reason for the high number of male only auditions (relatively speaking) could be directly related the greater number of female dancers in the profession to begin with. Although things have changed a little over the last few years the graduating classes from dance schools will almost always be predominantly female.
Independent dance makers may struggle to find male dancers suitable for their work because through training and then working they are more likely to know a larger number of female professionals they would want to involve in their projects. So instead of auditioning they just ask the female dancer to work with them while using the audition process to find male dancers.
If an audition requests a male dancer only it doesn't necessarily mean that a female dancer or dancers are not already working on the project.
Additionally, for most dancers working and touring within companies in the UK their abilities onstage are just one factor of their employment. In a modern company the dancer can take on multiple roles from rehearsal director, through class teacher all the way to administrator and fund raiser. To say nothing of the education work. These are factors that also have to be considered when hiring.
Ultimately however female dancers still face greater problems finding jobs in the wide world of dance because there is, very obviously, greater competition for the few job that are available for them. From the perspective of a recent graduate or a seasoned professional seeing a lot of auditions with "male only" in the description is probably more than a little frustrating.
There is also an additional point to make. Of the 131 auditions published by Article19 in 2013, 92 of them were for jobs in the UK. That's 92 job opportunities for professional contemporary dancers in a country with a population of over 60Million. Given the the paucity of discussion in the wide world of dance about job creation for dancers that's a sobering statistic and one very good reason for the UK to remain in the EU.
Examples of many of the works and companies cited in this piece can be viewed in our video section.
Scottish Dance Theatre in 'Second Coming' photo by Maria Falconer - Dancer Natalie Trewinnard