Imagine for a second that you are a female dance student at any dance school across this country, throughout Europe or anywhere else in the world. The chances are what you would see on any given morning was a studio where the majority of your peers are the same gender as you. Within the school as a whole there will almost certainly be, statistically speaking, an even greater gender gap among the enrolled students.
Even before you arrived at dance school to start your studies the workshops, classes, courses, youth training programmes and performance projects you would have attended would have been dominated by female participants. From a young age and into adulthood the majority of people that take part in dance are female. We don't need a long term study to prove this particular point, it's perfectly obvious almost everywhere you look in dance from the week to week community classes, the advanced training programmes and the rosters of students in dance schools. The wider world of dance is dominated by females.
That is until graduation comes along and the whole profession, for reasons that are not entirely clear, isn't dominated by females any more.
Scene Two [Interior]
Imagine again, if you will, that you are a female dance student at a dance school and almost every day of the week you hear about the following happening in the very profession that you want to be a part of, an equal part of.
British Dance Edition, a dance festival for international promoters that should have been consigned to the dustbin a long time ago because it costs too much money and has almost zero practical value, recently announced its line-up of participants. There are 24 male dance makers featured alongside just 10 female choreographers and only one of the publicly available shows is being presented by a female dance maker. From the "male dance maker pool" there are a large number of the usual suspects; Akram Khan, Hofesh Shechter, Russel Maliphant, Protein, etc, etc.
In February Benjamin Millepied, celebrity director of the Paris Opera Ballet in France, announced his new season for the company because ballet companies are so pompous they "announce" these things. As reported by the always fawning Judith Mackrell from the Guardian;
"Alexei Ratmansky, Christopher Wheeldon, Wayne McGregor, Justin Peck and William Forsythe, who has been appointed associate choreographer. It's a wonderfully ambitious list, and its showpiece will be a new Nutcracker, whose five scenes will be choreographed individually by Arthur Pita, Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, Liam Scarlett, Édouard Locke and Millepied himself."
Mr Millepied's commissioning list is a veritable sausage fest. A good old boys club with lots of slapping on the back, bawdy jokes and beers at the bar after rehearsals. OK, it's probably not going to be like that with this lot, especially when Mr McGregor and Mr Forsythe start arguing about who really did invent "improvisation technologies" and Arthur Pita starts giggling about 'Little Match Girl 2 - Revenge is a Dish Best Served Cold'. Not so much testosterone fuelled as it is; have some warm milk and be in bed by 9pm.
If you think it's only the big stuff, then think again. The National Rural Touring Initiative recently selected a bunch of dance companies for their touring programme and shortlisted a few others. Of the nine companies on that list seven were male led and two were female led.
Finally, there is the case of Sadler's Wells Theatre in London and their new commission for ballet darlings (stop laughing at the back) Natalia Osipova and Sergei Polonium (pretty sure that's Polunin! Ed!) All three of the dance makers commissioned to make the new work on the dynamic duo are not only male but also have existing connections to the theatre itself, which is also led by a man. Again, we have Russell Maliphant, Arthur Pita and Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui. You may recognise all of those names from just two paragraphs ago.
The London theatre told us a tale about why the choreographers were chosen, Ms Osipova has her preferences apparently, and then listed lots of female led companies who will be or have appeared at their theatre in one way or another. It's almost like they wanted a round of applause for not being totally appalling when it comes to working with dance makers sporting the wrong kind of chromosome pairing. It is of course a complete coincidence that all three commissioned for that project are either associate artists of the theatre or have strong ties to those associates. As any good psychiatrist will tell you, there is no such thing as a coincidence.
A Matter of Talent
Let's make one thing perfectly clear. This piece has got nothing to do with talent. Trying to measure creative talent in this business is like trying to measure the distance between the Earth and Mars using an Olympic sprinter, a stopwatch and some two way radios you bought from Amazon for cheap. If you tell us you like Sidi Larbi's work then we really do believe you and more power to you good sir/madam. If you get your kicks watching Ms Osipova and Mr Polonium (come on! Ed!) over and over again, doing the same show, then that's between you and your credit card company.
However, something is very rotten in the state of Denmark and the powers that be, such as they are, can opine all they like with the innumerable excuses put forward concerning the lack of opportunities for women in commissioning and prestigious jobs in the wide world of dance, but none of them hold any water. It is simply not believable, given the sheer weight of numbers, that women are being treated as equals within dance. It is simply not believable that dance companies like the Paris Opera and our very own Royal Ballet are not commissioning female dance makers because they can't find any.
Women in this profession are being asked to do the same as the men while wearing a 50Kg pack on their back as they walk up a very steep hill. Here in TheLab™ we don't care whose fault it is or how dance got into this kind of mess but it needs to be fixed and the sooner the better. The only solution we can think of is to bulldoze the whole mess to the ground and re-build. Kicking the people responsible for perpetuating this nonsense to the kerb would probably be a good start, in fact it would probably solve about 90% of the problem. This is not the first time this issue has come up on Article19 and if things don't change it won't be the last if the same people who hold the same attitudes are allowed to remain in charge.
Dance in its current state is sexist, it's that simple.
Top Image - A young dancer takes part in Dance Camp held at Mysen in Norway as part of 'Tilt' by Panta Rei Danseteater - Photo by Article19