Black in ballet: Coming together after trying to 'blend into the corps'
The First Art Newspaper on the Net    Established in 1996 Tuesday, July 23, 2024

Black in ballet: Coming together after trying to 'blend into the corps'
Robert Garland, the resident choreographer, and Misty Copeland at Dance Theater of Harlem during a rehearsal of “Stare Decisis” in New York, Aug. 15, 2021. Garland’s new work brings together an extraordinarily rare gathering of Black dancers from New York City Ballet, American Ballet Theater and Dance Theater of Harlem for its eight-member cast. Malin Fezehai/The New York Times.

by Brian Seibert

NEW YORK (NYT NEWS SERVICE).- Last year, in the wake of the killing of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and the protests that followed, American ballet companies started talking a lot more about race. About the issues of diversity, equity and inclusion that organizations of all kinds were addressing, but also aesthetic assumptions, implicit biases and long-standing practices particular to ballet and its history.

“There were innumerable panel discussions,” said Robert Garland, the resident choreographer of Dance Theater of Harlem. “But I felt that for the younger Black dancers, it was a heavy burden to be responsible for all of that.”

Garland wanted to help them, and in the way that he knows best: by making a dance for them. That work, “Stare Decisis (To Stand by Things Decided),” has its debut on Wednesday as part of “NYC Free,” a monthlong festival at Little Island, the new public park on the Hudson River.

The most significant feature of “Stare Decisis” is its eight-member cast: an extraordinarily rare gathering of Black dancers from New York City Ballet, American Ballet Theater and Dance Theater of Harlem. Misty Copeland — Ballet Theater’s first Black female principal dancer and one of the most famous ballerinas in the United States — is among them. (Little Island asked her to present a program.)

She isn’t dancing, though. Instead, she is a narrator, reciting a collection of quotations about democracy and the effort of defending the common good, drawn from the Declaration of Independence and the likes of Thurgood Marshall, John Lewis and Barbara Jordan.

“I’m at a point in my career when I feel the opportunity to pass the torch,” Copeland said after a rehearsal in a Dance Theater of Harlem studio on Sunday. “Anytime I can give a Black dancer an opportunity and bring Black dancers together, that’s what I’m trying to do.”

Recalling her own experience of being the only Black dancer during her first years with Ballet Theater, she added: “Anytime I got the chance to be around people who looked like me, I jumped at it. It’s important for us to be around each other, supporting one another.”

That’s what the cast seemed to be doing at the Sunday rehearsal — relaxing in one another’s company, trading stories. Rachel Hutsell, a City Ballet corps member, likened the whole experience to therapy. Kennard Henson, also with City Ballet, called the environment “crazy,” because this kind of cross-company collaboration “doesn’t happen” and “just being around people you can relate to makes a big difference.”

But it isn’t only the people who make a difference. It’s also Garland’s choreography, which deftly mixes classical ballet steps with moves and attitude from at least a century of Black popular dance.

Keeping the classical vocabulary high in the mix is important to Garland, who said that classically trained Black dancers are too often seen as suited only for contemporary works. But it’s also important to Garland that the young dancers know their Black history, which is why he asked Preston Dugger, a Dance Theater of Harlem alumnus who is serving as DJ, to layer some Gil Scott-Heron and Aretha Franklin over more up-to-date hip-hop beats.

“In Mr. Garland’s work, we get to show who we are through our movement,” said Alexandra Hutchinson, a Dance Theater of Harlem member. “It’s so freeing to be able to do that onstage, because oftentimes we’re told to tone it down.”

Because of the pandemic, the dancers have been rehearsing mainly with members of the same company. That’s reflected in the work’s structure, with representatives of each troupe performing as separate units before everyone mingles in the finale. Then, as the Ballet Theater corps member Erica Lall put it, “We get to groove together.”

On Sunday, that grooving was glorious — joyful, buoyant, liberated. Afterward, Garland, Copeland, Hutsell, Lall, Hutchinson, Henson, Kouadio Davis (Dance Theater of Harlem) and India Bradley (New York City Ballet) all sat down to discuss the experience of making “Stare Decisis” and the meaning of dancing together. (Another cast member, Melvin Lawovi of Ballet Theater, was absent.) It was a conversation that quickly became a wide-ranging discussion of being Black in ballet. Here are edited excerpts.

KOUADIO DAVIS: I feel like maybe we’re entering a new era as Black dancers. I’ve often felt competitive with the other Black people in the room, because there’s so little space [for us]. But this has been an opportunity for me to get it into my body and mind that I need to root for the other Black and brown people in my community.

INDIA BRADLEY: Growing up, I was always in a class that was completely white. And I never really thought about it. I feel like you go through that phase where you don’t really think about it, and then you have a moment where you realize it. And it’s usually not because of you realizing it. It’s somebody showing you.

RACHEL HUTSELL: Working with Mr. Garland has been especially fun because he’s trying to draw more out of me. I’ve been told before — even fairly recently — that my excitement takes away from my technique.

MISTY COPELAND: A lot to unpack there.

HUTSELL: It has to do with literally looking different onstage and “try not to draw too much attention to yourself because you look different.” So it’s taking me a mental minute to realize that I can actually go for it, because my excitement adds to my technique and it’s being asked for and it’s needed.

COPELAND: There’s so much disguised language that we’re left to decipher. Nowadays we’re in a place where we can step back from ourselves and see that we don’t have to take it personally. But it’s about something you can’t control: your skin, your personality, “excitement.” To me, it’s like they’re saying, “Don’t be you.”

BRADLEY: You look different, but we’ll put you in the brochure.

HUTSELL: Oh my gosh, yes. They won’t cast you in anything, but you can be on the billboard.

BRADLEY: For a lot of people in charge of ballet companies, white is the classical beauty standard.

HUTSELL: My sister, who just got into the Birmingham Royal Ballet, sent me a meme that said, “When did you realize you weren’t ugly, you just weren’t white?” That explains it perfectly.

ALEXANDRA HUTCHINSON: I feel we had a lot of time this year to reflect because we were stuck at home. I had time to think, “Oh, it was because I was Black that I had that experience in the studio.” I’m not the type of person that says it was because of the color of my skin. But sometimes you have to realize, no, it was because I’m Black that I was treated that way, and it’s not OK.

HUTSELL: And nobody comes up to you when you are 14 and says: “At a certain point, you’re going to be every little Black girl’s idol. Get ready. You now have to carry the weight of all that on your shoulders.” You have to take the responsibility of making sure people coming up after you are OK, and you’re not OK.

BRADLEY: We could talk about this topic for weeks and still not get to the bottom of it.

ERICA LALL: But I think it’s important for audience members to see all of us onstage together, in the spotlight, and not just trying to quote-unquote blend into the corps.

HUTCHINSON: It’s definitely nice just to be yourself.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

Today's News

August 19, 2021

Smithsonian acquires photos from first African American studios

Hiro, fashion photographer who captured the surreal, dies at 90

Denmark now has two Little Mermaids. The famous one is suing.

Tomb of Marcus Venerius Secundio discovered at Porta Sarno with mummified human remains

This brain remained intact in a 310 million-year-old fossil

Exhibition features a selection of new paintings and works on paper by Robert Nava

Gladstone Gallery exhibits Bruce Nauman's Microphone/Tree Piece

Steidl announces U.S. release of 'William Eggleston: The Outlands'

Bodleian Libraries reach the milestone of 1 millionth image online for public access

Wichita Art Museum awarded $161,200 competitive grant to conserve 80 important artworks in the collection

White Cube announces representation of Minoru Nomata

Make room for the 2021 Designer Show House at the Western Design Conference

Bicoastal exhibition pays tribute to The De Luxe Show, the landmark 1971 exhibition at the DeLUXE theater in Houston

Rebooting a part of tech history: Rare, hand-built Apple-1 will hit auction block in November

Singers in the dark: Syria 'power cut video' goes viral

Frederick Fisher and Partners designs new hilltop Ojai Valley School Upper Campus

Chucky Thompson, hitmaking producer, is dead at 53

Pink Siifu, a shape-shifting musician with one demand: Don't box me in

Black in ballet: Coming together after trying to 'blend into the corps'

Stack's Bowers Galleries sells finest known 1804 silver dollar for record $7.68 million

'Prince Philip: A Celebration' display opens at the Palace of Holyroodhouse

Taymour Grahne Projects opens virtual summer group show curated by Othman Lazraq

MW Editions publishes Mulholland: An artist's love affair with the legendary Los Angeles road

Historic embroideries back on display after epic 10 year restoration

A complete guide to wearing coloured contact lenses

How to Choose the Best Online Casino?

Celebrities and Artists that Gamble Online

Poker and Art: Inspiration from Gambling

Things To Do When Playing Slots

Museums, Exhibits, Artists, Milestones, Digital Art, Architecture, Photography,
Photographers, Special Photos, Special Reports, Featured Stories, Auctions, Art Fairs,
Anecdotes, Art Quiz, Education, Mythology, 3D Images, Last Week, .


Ignacio Villarreal
(1941 - 2019)
Editor & Publisher: Jose Villarreal
Art Director: Juan José Sepúlveda Ramírez
Writer: Ofelia Zurbia Betancourt

Truck Accident Attorneys
Accident Attorneys

Royalville Communications, Inc
Founder's Site. Hommage
to a Mexican poet.

The First Art Newspaper on the Net. The Best Versions Of Ave Maria Song Junco de la Vega Site Ignacio Villarreal Site Parroquia Natividad del Señor
Tell a Friend
Dear User, please complete the form below in order to recommend the Artdaily newsletter to someone you know.
Please complete all fields marked *.
Sending Mail
Sending Successful