Monday, July 22, 2013

So You Think You Can Tell A Difference? {I got a little ranty on this one...}

No shock that I am, as millions of others are, an Über-fan of FOX's "So You Think You Can Dance?" I adore most all of the choreographers, both the ones that have been around for multiple seasons and the newer ones. If you are familiar with the show, you know that there are male and female choreographers. 

The other day I was on Facebook (or "book-facing" as my husband would call it) and I came across an interesting article;
Behind the "ballet is like porn" headlines... That'll get one's attention!

The quick and dirty of the article is about a comment made by a female artistic director, Tamara Rojo, about how the world of classical Ballet is dominated by male choreographers vs. female choreographers.

Just about any subject combined with the words "like porn" will cause a stir. The article does address that her comment was not necessarily omni-focused on the sexuality of specific choreography:

Rojo's use of the word porn, however, has a very different and specific slant. She claims that men and women tend to approach the art of choreography from opposite perspectives: while the latter start with the emotion they want to express, the former begin with the making of steps – an approach to bodies that Rojo suggests is parallel to the objectification of porn.

Hmmm....interesting. I teach in a small city, and as is fairly typical in communities like mine, most ballet instruction and choreography is done by women teachers and choreographers. But I have worked with male choreographers in the past. Bigger arenas do have a trickle down effect on the world of dance. I think that when its an issue of female choreographers being encouraged to produce works and pave new grounds, it's worth discussing.

From my own experiences, the male choreographers that were objectifying, or had a running theme of portraying female dancers as muse-like creatures reeking of poorly veiled sexual undertones, were kinda sceevy bastards any ways, and should in no way have access to young female dancers. The ones who produced work that had passion, depth and emotion were men comprised of, well, depth, passion and emotion. Any sexual undertones were shared among male and female dancers.

I have long considered many of the traditional tales of the classics of ballet to be somewhat misogynistic and degrading to women. "Giselle", to me is the worst among them. A handsome, young male aristocrat decides to go slumming for the afternoon in a village of peasants. He gets sweet on one of the pretty young ladies in the village, and bestows all kinds of promises on the naive Giselle. It is soon found out by all that he's a liar when his mom and dad catch up to him and his escapades. To Giselle's humiliation it is revealed that her new love is not who he said he was and that he is already engaged to another. And a woman of a much higher station than Giselle. Ouch. Giselle goes completely mental (clearly the works of Judy Blume and a copy of Go Ask Alice were missing at her local library). She eventually, although quite gracefully, dies of a broken heart. Right there in the center of town. And why wouldn't she? She is a young female, clearly incapable of any sort of resilience, and completely at the mercy of all that makes her the "fairer sex".
So Fancy Pants (he has a name. And no, it's not punk-ass punk. He is referred to as the Duke) does feel kind of bad after all. He goes to mourn at Giselle's grave late at night. That's when the Wilis come out (the spirits of young maidens abandoned on their wedding days, set on revenge. Oh, Hell hath no fury!). Queen Wili rolls onto the scene and breaks out the Official Girl Interrupted Rule Book. She commands that the Duke do what all men must do when they trespass onto Wili territory; dance till he dies! (okay, I will concede that she is a bit harsh). But Giselle comes wafting in (remember, she's a Wili now) and saves his sorry hide. She agrees to do half the dancing so Duke can do what it is he needs to do to stay alive. Carbo-load and cat-nap, I guess. Well, Giselle does get eternal peace in the end. She earns the privilege of becoming just worm food and not a spirit of nighttime torments. While Sir Spring Break gets to go on swiving the hired help and maybe tossing a thought or two about the pretty young village girl as he slowly hurls himself towards gout and sleep apnea. Yeah, its not my favorite story line.
Wow. I digress.
There are other story lines of the classics that have that equation of female empowerment = automatic sacrifice. No reaping the benefits of making strong independent choices, or having the opportunity to learn from one's mistakes and then building a strong sense of self. Think about where all those female villains come from in these antiquated tales. They are almost always a woman scorned, seldom a woman wisened.
Dang it! I went on another tangent.
One last thing before I make my way back to the beginning (what were we talking about?). Lest you think I have it in for dudes, don't. I'm frequently horrified at attitudes towards men and boys in our modern culture, and how we (as a society) punish them for behaving as if they have a male brain (um, hello?) while simultaneously punishing them for not exhibiting signs of having a female brain. Men are more than capable of being both strong and sensitive, as women we need to understand what sensitive looks like for a man. Just like how we, as woman appreciate being recognized for how we show strength.
Okay, seriously. I went in directions that I did not intend to when I started.

My original point for this post was going to tie the article about ballet and porn to having the opportunity to observe any stand out differences between male and female choreographers on SYTYCD. After reading the article I can't help but want to see if there are any stand out differences. Join me?

Paul Taylor is one of my all-time favorite choreographers. His male and female dancers soar not as objectified stereotypes, but as graceful artists and commanders of movement and space.

Have a look!

Paul Taylor's Esplanade Part 3/5

Company B is one of my all-time favs!

One last question. Was Degas a misogynist? Remember, he did all those paintings of ballerinas and women drying off after bathing. Here's an interesting article.

Thanks for hanging out! No, really! Thanks!

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Enjoy the dance that is life!


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