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Dance…this is a man’s world

Last week was International Women’s Day and Mother’s Day. With females in the foreground in many other aspects of life, I am wondering where all the high-profile women are in dance?

The dance industry in the UK is overflowing with women – as dancers, students, interns and administrators – and yet the number of female choreographers that receive regular funding is tiny. A huge portion of the top dance companies are run by men,whereas women seem to be overlooked with regards to commissions, funding, practical support and public profiling.

It seems odd that the 20th century development of modern dance was pretty much a feminist movement, revolutionising steps, the use of the body and spirit of creativity – a rebellion and flow that opposed contemporary thinking. It was predominantly female and pioneered by women and we bow down to Isadora Duncan, Bronislav Nijinsky, Martha Graham and Pina Bausch for that.

Where are all the high profile female choreographers and/or artistic directors of the 21st century? Name one. One that’s not Shobanah Jeyasingh. Twyla Tharp doesn’t count, because she’s American. See what I’m saying?

The debate regarding the dominance of men in modern dance kicked off in 2009 when all the Sadler’s Wells new commissions were made by men. A debate raged, with Alistair Spalding commenting:

“It is something to do with women not being as assertive in that field.”

Julia Carruthers blamed the critics and Betsy Gregory, then artistic director of Dance Umbrella, offered the old adage:

“… it could be around women having other creative drives in their lives, like family.”

Why is there less regular funding and/or support for women? Why are opportunities so skewed? Theories abound, from feminine passivity to patriarchal dominance. Family reasons, sexualisation and ego issues have all already been raised.

But questions arise that probe deeper – are women too insecure, not pushy enough to get a date with a producer or commissioner? Is women’s work too small, emotive and sensitive, and not good enough to storm the box office? Do women take fewer risks? Are men more interested in technical aspects of the show, which make them sexier to watch? Are there more critics attracted to men than there are to women, who give them better ratings?

The problem is even more pronounced in the world of ballet, with 13 years going by at the Royal Opera House, since a main stage work was created by a woman, and critics have been wondering why for years. In ballet, it’s thought that the skew starts young, as boys are considered “trophies” in class because being fewer in number makes them more of a curiosity.

They are encouraged while girls, who fill up the corps de ballet are dispensable, who should be seen and not heard, concentrating on physical perfection and fitting in, leaving no room for creativity and thinking outside of the box. Competition is rife and independence discouraged. But the boys, who were perhaps more driven and determined to even enter such a profession to begin with, going in against the female stereotype, can be more individuals from the get-go, focusing on creativity outside the ‘normal’ female steps – in a way that a female member of the corps de ballet – who must couru in line or be kicked to the kerb, can not.

Now, four years on there is a (growing) list of female choreographers making work – you can see it here [1]. But the dudes are still dominating the press – Wayne McGregor, Matthew Bourne, Akram Khan, Russell Maliphant, Hofesh Shechter…

Sadler’s made good last year when it offered a £20,000 grant for new work to choreographer Liv Lorent, who will use the funds to collaborate poet Carol Ann Duffy. And in October 2012, Holly Noble and Jane Coulston launched The Female Choreographers Collective (FCC), aiming to promote female choreographers in the UK, with a focus on support not segregation.

2009 started an important debate, but it’s one that should be continued. The launch of the FCC is a good step in the right direction, but even so, there are more questions than answers at the moment. As there are here. I’d like to know the answers, I really would. Any theories, you know where to find me @katiecolombus.