LEADING ARTISTIC DIRECTORS OF DANCE COMPANIES ADDRESS SYSTEMIC RACISM IN BALLET
2020 has been a year like no other. We faced a pandemic that changed every sector of global society, economic turbulence, and a long overdue racial reckoning. All of this, and much more, led to a number of events that ushered in an international outcry to reevaluate the ongoing problems with racial equity and civil rights that the world continues to face. As a response, a group of leaders in the classical ballet and dance fields assembled to discuss and address how we could affect change in our art form. Over the course of several months, we turned the lens on our organizations to evaluate our practices and policies, to brainstorm and share, and to listen and learn from one another. In our highly competitive art form it is unique for ballet leadership to gather collectively on such a regular basis, but over time our commitment to change increased, our group grew and we expanded our discussions. What became clear was that our art form, born of imperial courts of northern Europe, is in need of an overhaul if it is to move further into the 21st century. We come together as a collective to initiate change and to foster greater trust in how our organizations are run.
The exquisite beauty of ballet must be relevant if we are to survive. This will require a vision that is more inclusive, that is capable of acknowledging and respective of the diversity of human culture. This group of artistic leaders are all committed to building broader diversity and greater equity. And as we work in our own organizations to address any inequities, we agree that a first step is to open opportunities at the educational level. Our mission is to foster trust in our organizations and embrace a broader vision of cultural inclusion in classical ballet.
The companies in this group have agreed to an initial step designed to create equal access and opportunity for all young artists, and where aspiring young artists of all colors and race feel welcomed into the art form. Participation, collaboration and involvement by all will shape and define the ballet of the future. With this commitment to the future of our art form, we are unveiling our first collective initiative.
Each company will devise a program that will create access for more young artists of color to participate in America’s classical ballet and contemporary dance companies. This initiative will provide the young artists free online experiences with the companies.
Each dance company will create a two-hour virtual visit that will be specifically designed by each individual company to best represent their vision, culture, artistic philosophy and to get a sense of the community they create at their companies. The two-hour virtual experience may include:
- A chance for young artists, their families, and teachers to virtually visit the organization’s facilities.
- An online, live ballet or repertory class with the company’s leadership and artists to experience each organization’s unique style and approach
- The opportunity to be seen, to be heard, and be assessed dancing in class
- The opportunity to learn and be coached in company repertoire by the artistic directors, rehearsal directors or company members
- The chance to interact with and ask questions of the organization’s students, professional performers, production team and administrators
In this time of COVID-19, virtual visits present an interactive opportunity to look inside the unique environment of each company. At the same time, it allows young artists, their families and teachers to experience each company’s vision, culture and community, and ask questions of their leadership.
This initiative is the first in a number of action steps and reforms we will implement over time to move ballet forward and truly become an art form for everyone.
Kyle Abraham, Artistic Director, A.I.M
Peter Boal, Artistic Director, Pacific Northwest Ballet
Jodie Gates, USC Professor. Artistic Director, Laguna Dance Festival
Virginia Johnson, Artistic Director, Dance Theatre of Harlem
Julie Kent, Artistic Director, The Washington Ballet
Edwaard Liang, Artistic Director, Ballet Met
Lourdes Lopez, Artistic Director, Miami City Ballet
Mikko Nissinen, Artistic Director, Boston Ballet
Desmond Richardson, Artistic Director, Complexions Contemporary Ballet
Dwight Rhoden, Artistic Director, Complexions Contemporary Ballet
Adam Sklute, Artistic Director, Ballet West
Jonathan Stafford, Artistic Director, New York City Ballet
Helgi Thomasson, Artistic Director, San Francisco Ballet
Stanton Welsh, Artistic Director, Houston Ballet
Ashley Wheater, Artistic Director, Joffrey Ballet
Wendy Whelan, Artistic Director, New York City Ballet