Who Run the World? ABT’s Outstanding Female Choreographers

Photo by Reuben Radding, courtesy of Bland

American Ballet Theatre artistic director Kevin McKenzie has announced the formation of the ABT Women's Movement, a multiyear initiative to support the creation of new works by female choreographers. ABT's fall performance program will feature new work by Jessica Lang and tapper Michelle Dorrance, and Le Jeune, by New York City Ballet's Lauren Lovette. Along with Twyla Tharp's In the Upper Room, which has long been part of ABT's repertoire, the ABT Studio Company will premiere a new work by choreographer Claudia Schreier.

"I am proud to be a part of this initiative," says Lang. "If we can ignite all imaginations to find creative potential, we can move from possible to probable that the future will have equality and be rich with inventive ideas and engaging art."

DT spoke with Stefanie Batten Bland, whose new work will be featured in ABT Studio Company's annual residency at Duke University in January.

Dance Teacher: What does it mean to you to be a part of the ABT Women's Movement?

Stefanie Batten Bland: We are being considered makers, and it's really about the work. I'm so aware of how the women's movement has come back. I just happen to be a part of this iteration of it. This movement has repeated itself because we haven't gotten it right yet. Maybe we will finally get to the point where we have equality. I'm honored to be alongside these women.

DT: Dance Magazine wrote an article questioning ABT's plan to provide female choreographers with "guidance and feedback," arguing they would never say that to a male choreographer. What are your thoughts on this?

SBB: For the types of grants and funding that I generally go for, feedback is a very natural part of the process. I am not finding gender bias in that. No one is able to participate in any type of residency without getting feedback from a mentor. Creating requires dialogue.

Mary Malleney, courtesy Osato

In most classes, dancers are encouraged to count the music, and dance with it—emphasizing accents and letting the rhythm of a song guide them.

But Marissa Osato likes to give her students an unexpected challenge: to resist hitting the beats.

In her contemporary class at EDGE Performing Arts Center in Los Angeles (which is now closed, until they find a new space), she would often play heavy trap music. She'd encourage her students to find the contrast by moving in slow, fluid, circular patterns, daring them to explore the unobvious interpretation of the steady rhythms.

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For Parents

Darrell Grand Moultrie teaches at a past Jacob's Pillow summer intensive. Photo Christopher Duggan, courtesy Jacob's Pillow

In the past 10 months, we've grown accustomed to helping our dancers navigate virtual school, classes and performances. And while brighter, more in-person days may be around the corner—or at least on the horizon—parents may be facing yet another hurdle to help our dancers through: virtual summer-intensive auditions.

In 2020, we learned that there are some unique advantages of virtual summer programs: the lack of travel (and therefore the reduced cost) and the increased access to classes led by top artists and teachers among them. And while summer 2021 may end up looking more familiar with in-person intensives, audition season will likely remain remote and over Zoom.

Of course, summer 2021 may not be back to in-person, and that uncertainty can be a hard pill to swallow. Here, Kate Linsley, a mom and academy principal of Nashville Ballet, as well as "J.R." Glover, The Dan & Carole Burack Director of The School at Jacob's Pillow, share their advice for this complicated process.

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Teachers Trending

From left: Anthony Crickmay, Courtesy Dance Theatre of Harlem Archives; Courtesy Ballethnic

It is the urgency of going in a week or two before opening night that Lydia Abarca Mitchell loves most about coaching. But in her role as Ballethnic Dance Company's rehearsal director, she's not just getting the troupe ready for the stage. Abarca Mitchell—no relation to Arthur Mitchell—was Mitchell's first prima ballerina when he founded Dance Theatre of Harlem with Karel Shook; through her coaching, Abarca Mitchell works to pass her mentor's legacy to the next generation.

"She has the same sensibility" as Arthur Mitchell, says Ballethnic co-artistic director Nena Gilreath. "She's very direct, all about the mission and the excellence, but very caring."

Ballethnic is based in East Point, a suburban city bordering Atlanta. In a metropolitan area with a history of racism and where funding is hard-won, it is crucial for the Black-led ballet company to present polished, professional productions. "Ms. Lydia" provides the "hard last eye" before the curtain opens in front of an audience.

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