Gender Progress in Ballet

Dana Genshaft’s, Chromatic Fantasy set to the music of Dave Brubeck’s Chaconne from Chromatic Fantasy premiered Friday night at the NYU Skirball Center. Ms. Genshaft was looking – actually squinting – at the sun one day and saw all the colors of the rainbow wavering before her. The ensuing ballet and her search for the right music sprung from this moment. Six dancers – three men, three women – from the ABT Studio Company dressed in different chromatic colors weaved in and out of the music, at times with it and at others at a contrapuntal rhythm. Pairs swapped with ease and trios emerged only to dissolve quickly. The dance propelled, though there were quieter sections, and the colors flowed. A work of beauty and energy resulted.

This work is Genshaft’s first for ABT. Kevin McKenzie, the artistic director of ABT, to his and its credit, is making a concerted effort to commission new works by female choreographers. Last fall it premiered Jessica Lang’s, Her Notes, set to the music of Fanny Mendelssohn, sister of Felix. It was a total success and has been added to the ABT repertoire. Other commissions by female choreographers are in the works at ABT, which is determined to smash the glass slipper. Genshaft more than proved her chops on a program that also featured such luminary choreographers as Frederick Ashton, Helgi Tomasson, Kenneth MacMillan and Liam Scarlett. That she was the only female choreographer is worthy of note only because usually there are none on the programs of any American ballet company. Genshaft was previously a soloist at San Francisco Ballet and teaches choreography in the school there. She is richly deserving of more commissions, including from her home company, which has yet to recognize her home grown talent. Kudos to Kevin McKenzie and ABT for doing so. And kudos also to ABT for commissioning its star, Marcelo Gomes, who gave the New York City premier of his ballet set to Kabalevsky Violin Concerto.

The gender disparity starts early in ballet. The Saturday afternoon performance was family friendly and there were, by my guess, over 100 children in attendance. I counted three boys. The rest girls. Change needs to come at all levels of ballet.

Note: the author is a trustee of the Virginia B. Toulmin Foundation, which funds commissions of choreographic works by emerging female choreographers.

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