In New York, the snow outside my window is thick like feathers and falling aggressively like bricks. In Atlanta, my brother is stranded in his apartment with a bag of pretzels and only the ingredients for a Bloody Mary (he’s not complaining). Extreme weather gives permission for extreme reading. This weekend, consider adding the following two articles to your reading list: One is an articulate exploration of the long-time problem of gender inequity in dance, the other a snapshot of a celebrated dance community caught in a political bind.
In the Huffington Post a few weeks ago, Emily Coates, the director of the dance curriculum at Yale University, weighs in on the lack of female leadership in the dance world, particularly on the ballet end of the spectrum. She writes:
I learned something surprising while preparing my lecture notes for a unit on the Ballet Russe: the last name of the great Russian dancer-choreographer “Nijinsky.” passes spell check. The last name of his sister Bronislava “Nijinska” — an important choreographer in her own right — does not. That glaring red underline, spell check’s mark of non-recognition, is a metaphor for how the women in ballet history tend to be viewed.
Coates has a 20-year dance career under her belt with some of the world’s most acclaimed companies, she knows firsthand the complicated relationship between female dancer and male mentor and the lack of opportunity or even encouragement for female dancers to transition into leadership roles. I suspect we all sense this imbalance, but it takes a reminder and call to action like this to give the issue continued visibility.
Meanwhile, on the Mediterranean coast… This article from the prominent Israeli newspaper Haaretz (to which I also contribute) is a compelling look at another difficult issue. The Israeli dance scene has been globally celebrated in the past decade and the Israeli government has proudly supported and showcased its companies, heralding them as ambassadors of Israeli culture.
Many of the dancers in these companies are not Israelis – they’re foreigners from the United States, Germany, Taiwan, etc. who flock to that special something Israeli contemporary dance has going on right now. But in a state with super strict visa and residency requirements, they’re not always welcome to stay.
Rachel Osborne, an Australian, has been dancing with the Batsheva Dance Company for over a decade. Having watched the company for years (I lived in Tel Aviv for three), it’s hard to think of anyone else who embodies Batsheva’s intensity, intelligence and fierce sensuality more than she. Last year, without reason, the Israeli government refused to renew her visa, essentially kicking her out. Shir Hacham writes:
[Osborne] feels that she contributed to the cultural scene in Israel and when she travels the world as a dancer and teacher, she doesn’t identify as an Australian but rather as a product of Batsheva and of Naharin − and therefore as an Israeli.
Dancers have long danced without borders. This situation raises questions about who represents a “national company” that becomes a cultural export and how those individuals are valued and protected by a foreign government. At least in this case, it appears not so much.