October started out in a bang! I attended Kaleidoscopic Arts’ meeting discussing “how to be a successful female choreographer” with guest speaker Julia Gleich. (It was actually in the end of September, but for some reason it really fit with everything happening in October). The discussion was lively, interesting to say the least. As a female choreographer, I am relieved to hear many others feel the exact way as me when it comes to tackling choreography as a female in the UK, and most importantly in London. The frustrations are shared and impressions of the current scene are similar.
A similar discussion topic was addressed only yesterday at Rambert as part of Rambert revealed. I was in a fortunate position of working with Birmingham Royal Ballet this week, thus unfortunately could not attend the discussion. I did however, catchup on Rambert Live (God thanks for the Internet generation in this case) this morning.
There were some great panellists; Judith Mackrell, Charlotte Vincent, Tamsin Fitzgerald, Mark Baldwin to name a few. Each briefly presented their views or should I say questions surrounding the issue of female choreographers, and though all very valid and notable points, I found myself feeling a bit hopeless as to how to change things.
The issue of female versus male is an ongoing debate across the border and society. Many things have changed for women in the past century but it seems to me, we fail to embrace the fact that men and women are different to the core. Our minds work differently, we operate in a different manner, biologically we are different and the pressures we feel are very different to those of men. That is not to say one is better than the other, or women should not fight for more or that they should try to be more men to make a name for themselves.
Charlotte Vincent raised a good point saying ‘I’m bored of having the same discussion. I wonder how to stick a rocket up people’s arses to change things.’ As graphic as this statement is, it really nails the situation at present. The discussion, though an attempt to make some progress just seemed to raise the issues we all knew. And while high profile female choreographers have managed to find a way to work the system, it seems independent artists like myself are at a disadvantage.
Sally Marie of Sweetshop Revolution was the first and only female to win the New Adventures Choreographers Award. She singlehandedly managed to organise a tour and raise money for her show, and that’s something to be applaud for. Yet at the discussion yesterday she commented about the situation. She’s tired of doing a full time admin job, to make a tour happen, at the expense of her creative work. And let’s face it. The woman has connections! She was a performer for many renowned choreographers, and has received some excellent reviews. She has been in the industry for many years and knows people that could help her. Yet, it seems that even for her she cannot not get the support much needed to take yourself to the next level.
While it is noted that male choreographers of the same experience as her or even less, seem to be snatched up by an agent, a manager, a publicist, and can somehow gather the team to help them out with the administration and managerial tasks of running a company, female choreographers do not share the same luck.
Adding to this frustration, even women amongst themselves do not support each other as much as perhaps we maybe should. Numerous were the occasions where I found myself speaking with a more established female choreographer, arts manager or programmer, who reaction to me introducing myself as a choreographer was their upbeat facial expression dropping 20 feet under! Maybe I have something on my face that says ‘don’t like me’ (AKA resting bitch face)! But if that’s the case then apologies for making others uncomfortable, and shame on you for judging me before giving me the chance to present myself properly. (It’s a classic case of ‘if I were a guy… You wouldn’t think of me that way’). For all you know I could be the next best choreographer of the world!
There is a misconception that women ask and need more mentorship and support, but I believe they ask for it because it is not as easily available to them. In a previous discussion with other female choreographers, what has been noted is the feeling of isolation whilst working. We find it difficult to gather support for our work, persuade people to preview our work, find collaborators that are willing to work with us not just on one project, but develop that ongoing relationship. Further, it is somehow perceived, and expected that a female choreographer will only create work for a certain amount of time whilst a male choreographer will persist making work indefinitely. This is automatically at our disadvantage, when collaborators – including dancers – are not willing to demonstrate the same level of commitment to female choreographer as they would for a male choreographer.
Takin all this in consideration, I firmly believe that the only way forward would be a case of launching more schemes that support female choreographers – both at emerging and mid-career stages. I believe it is important to establish a support network for female choreographers, perhaps a directory of establishments open to supporting female work, so that we can make dance more equal in terms of gender.
I also believe we need to acknowledge the fact that women might need to take a break to have children -if that is their choice – and accept that as a reality of the situation. We need to be able to support this possibility and not condemn women for doing so, but simultaneously we women need to accept that we cannot do everything and that the choice of having a family could slow down our progress in our career path like any other woman in any other job.
No one can have it all and let us not get ourselves wrapped up in the illusion that we can. As the ancient Greeks said ‘everything in moderation’. After all balance is key, that’s what life is about. In the meantime, let’s focus on making the dance world less hostile place for women by supporting our own gender’s work and collaborating to create more opportunities for women to make and present work.