Jane Coulston and Holly Noble, both professional dancers and choreographers, are about to step in to the melee with the Female Choreographers Collective an organisation that is looking to reverse the apparent skewing of opportunities toward male dance makers.
Here in TheLab™ we have published many pieces highlighting this very problem so just exactly how will the FCC push back?
Article19: What is the FCC?
Holly Noble: the FCC came about [because] Jane and I have worked together a lot. Basically I started a company called AD Dance Company about 3 years ago and when I first started it was really difficult to get my work shown. I found people were judgemental about it, it doesn't fit into the contemporary world. I'm very neo-classical in what I do and out of that I had decided to start my own platform which I called Platform AD and I used to run them at the Actors Church in Covent Garden.
I worked with Jane and she came on board. We've had other people come and do the platform, people like James Finnemore from Hofesh Shechter, Joss Arnot [has] done it, basically lots and lots of people.
Jane and I continued working together and after various conversations, I think from a female perspective, being in the dance world and being choreographers you just feel like you are up against it all the time and so we just thought, "do you know what? lets just go at this on our own and see what happens."
So, just in the last week the response [to the launch] has been ridiculous. Our aim with this [the FCC] is to promote female choreographers, get their work shown. We want to run a women's platform regularly, hopefully three times a year, maybe more. Our idea is also that we would run seminars and workshops and give people advice about how you deal with Arts Council, how you try and get funding, how you get things out there.
[It's about getting] female choreographers out there, because I just don't think that we get the same breaks as the men.
Article19: Have things happened in your career that lead you to believe the response to your work was negative because you are female?
Talking to a lot of people, a lot of female choreographers, and especially reading the responses we've had as well, it seems to be the same thing. They don't feel that they are taken seriously or that their work is good enough. For some reason I feel that the big dance agencies and other well known platforms tend to gravitate more towards men and I don't know why that is. I don't know what it is about female work that people are not drawn to which I find interesting.Article19: Do you think there is sexism in dance?
Holly: I find it weird because I think if you look at the bigger organisations, everyone I'm talking to, it's all women, within the higher powers (so to speak). A lot of the responses we get from within the Arts Council, it's women who are the dance people there. Also with independent dance managers, it's women there. So, we're in these positions, yet as choreographers that doesn't seem to happen.
Article19: How do feel about the recently reported situation with Monica Mason at the Royal Ballet not hiring any female dance makers?
Holly: Really angry, actually!
Jane Coulston: It makes you wonder where she's looking, if she's looked at all because it implies that she's not looking at any of the female work out there at the moment.
Holly: I think, looking at the Royal Ballet and what they're doing, a lot of the choreographers are in-house people. They don't seem to be going outside of the organisation, to bring [new] people on-board. I don't agree that there aren't women of a high enough calibre who could create work on the Royal Ballet.
Article19: Do you feel like your fighting an entrenched "in-crowd"?
Holly: Yeah you do quite a lot of the time and it seems to be that once someone is successful and it tends to be, as I said, the male dominated arena, they suddenly get everything, regardless of what they have actually done or what work they've put forward. it's the other thing that I don't quite understand
Jane: I had the experience of working with a co-director, who was a male co-director, and sometimes it makes me wonder if they're investing money in male dancers because of scholarships.
The co-director I worked with had a scholarship because they wanted to encourage more male dancers into dance itself and it seems that that kind of support continues because they've invested time and money in them already, it continues after they have graduated as well.
Article19: Are projects specifically aimed at encouraging young men to dance still needed, is the stigma still there that dance is "just for girls"?
Holly: No I don't think it is at all. I think the onus that we must get more men into dance, I think there are plenty of them, there are as many boys coming through as there are girls coming through, I don't think there is the same [problem] of "we don't have any boys what are we going to do!"
Jane: Especially if you're auditioning you'll notice, even in the last five years or so, that the amount of male dancers that are coming through, really strong male dancers, you're getting a larger amount in each audition and of a better standard so I don't think there is as much a need to push that anymore like there was 10-20 years ago.
Article19: In the past we have published pieces where people like Assis Carriero and Alistair Spalding have said that women struggle with family and with assertiveness with regard to their careers, do you agree with that?
Holly: I think it's ridiculous. Everything that I have done so far has been basically through me getting up off my own arse and going and doing it and not waiting for it to be handed to me on a plate.
There are some women who want to go and have families and that's fine but I don't see why that means you can't be a choreographer and have a child at the same time. As for not being assertive, I don't know, maybe they should spend a bit of time with myself and Jane and [they'll] see what assertive is! [laughs]
I founded my own company, I've founded a platform, we've now launched the FCC. These are things that we're doing on our own, without any help, any funding , any support, nothing whatsoever. [We haven't] graduated and been given it all on a plate, it's been hard graft basically.
Article19: How do you think banding together as a collective will help?
Holly: I don't think it's something that's going to be quick or easy! [laughs]
Jane: No, not at all but I think, even just on the basis of strength in numbers and binding together as female choreographers who've experienced similar things within the industry will help.
We're not in a position where we're looking to compete with each other we're there to support each other in the different work that we make and I think with a group of people keeping an eye on what's going on with female choreographers in the UK, working together to create opportunities to showcase work for the people, we [basically] need to see the work.
I think the main problem we've talked about before is the trouble getting people through the door to see [the work] in the first place and hopefully that is one of the major things we can change. [We] really want to hound people into coming to see some of these female choreographers to see what they have to offer.
Holly: I think the other thing we would like to find out, and this might be something that we put to a wider audience not just to the women that join the FCC, is what do people think about female choreography that people don't think is as good as male choreography.
Why will they buy a ticket to go and see someone whose work they have never seen before who is male rather than go and see something that is made by a female choreographer, what's the difference?
Also, why is it that the dance world as a whole tends to go more towards male choreographers, with some of them having little or no experience, as we've seen with 21 year olds and 22 year olds getting these jobs over a woman who is 31 and has been in the industry for [most] of her life and has a broader sense when she's creating work, an emotionally broader background.
Why will Saddler's Wells support them and not the 30 year old woman?
Article19: How will you counter the inevitable criticism that a lot of what you are trying to counter-act is subjective opinion?
Holly: It's been interesting, as I say, that over the last week, the responses that we've received and who we've received them from. For example; Mathias Sperling has emailed and said he's really interested in what we're doing and could we keep him abreast of what's going on.
We've had a management company contact us and say that they are really excited about what we're doing and they would like to work with us and do press and PR and find us venues.
That's really interesting to us because Mathias Sperling is, obviously, male and the management company is run by man. I know that Donald Hutera has forwarded information to people as well to speak to us about. that's been interesting to see the feedback from them.
It's just gonna have to be about proving everybody wrong. In the past, this has been tried before, Dance Umbrella brought it up, Betsy Gregory brought it up but I think it got to a point where nothing was ever done after that.
We're a little bit like terriers in that once we've got a hold of something we're not gonna let it go and if people want to be mean then that's fine but it doesn't mean that we're going to stop doing what we're doing.
Jane: I'm sure we're gonna have some difficulties along the way but we're highlighting a lack of women creating work at a certain level in the dance industry and we're not here to comment on every individual choreographer and their individual merits. We're highlighting something that is apparent, opening it up for discussion and offering opportunities to potentially change attitudes.
Article19: How important is it that you get the input from current female choreographers and directors like Jasmin Vardimon, Stine Nilsen, Shobanan Jeyasingh, etc?
Jane: We would be interested to hear [about] their experiences particularly, for example, Jasmin Vardimon, because she had children relatively recently. It would be really interesting to have their insights and we hope that they would be willing to have an interview with us and share their experiences [of] working in this industry.
What we take from that and what we discover from that is as yet unknown but it would fantastic to have those higher profile female choreographers/directors talk to us.
Holly: We don't want to come across as these completely bonkers militant females on a mission. I just think that there is a valid reason for us to do this and at the moment I don't think that female choreographers are given the same amount of support or guidance or publicity as our male counterparts and I just don't agree with that.
Article19: What's the first step you are going to take?
Holly: The first thing is the launch on October the 13th of the women's platform called 'We Face Forward'. This has four performances that night. It's like a kick off, showing work by four female choreographers, very diverse work. Before that, in the evening we will open the doors slightly early and invite all the people that have registered with the FCC to come and have a chat and swap stories etc.
From there we will put everything together and take the next step.
Jane: At the moment we're [also] dealing with the great response from everybody that's been writing to us and there's more and more coming in every day.
Getting to know some of these choreographers is the first part. Finding out where they are, what they're doing and how long they've been doing it for and what their experiences are. That's the kind of stuff we need to start talking about. Broadening it out, we're looking to have bigger conferences and discussions that don't get forgotten and brought back up again in a couple of years.
If certain things come up like children or specific reasons why things happen then then we want to investigate those things further and find out if that's something that maybe just a few people have experienced or if it's a consistent problem.
I'm sure we will get steered in different directions as we go along based on what we're hearing from other choreographers, we only really know what we have experienced ourselves at the moment.
Holly: The most important thing we want to do is to promote work by using platforms, festivals, maybe we'll create our own Resolution but for female choreographers, who knows but we're in the process of having those meetings with people and seeing what we can do.
Jane: Working with other organisations [is really important]. For example the Southbank Centre have an event, next March, that they've been talking to us about. So there a lot's of different discussions we want to have with different people who would be interested in involving the FCC in what they do.
For further information about the FCC you can email them at: [email protected]