News: Women, dance and inequality issues

Wednesday 20 January 2016 by Carmel Smith

In a brief interview with The Stage (12 Jan) choreographer Akram Khan said “I don’t want to say we should have more female choreographers for the sake of having more female choreographers.”
His comments, coming a few days after an Open Space event on gender and inequality (organised by Cloud Dance Festival’s Chantal Guevera) and last October, a debate on ‘levelling the field for female choreographers’ at Rambert, have been the focus of much discussion and dissent on social media.

In an article earlier this week (18 Jan) Luke Jennings, the Observer’s dance critic told Khan he is wrong. “…you are choosing to disregard a gender imbalance so egregious, and of such long standing, that it shames the British dance establishment. In the contemporary sphere, female choreographers are routinely passed over for commissions in favour of less experienced men. The more large-scale and high-profile the commission, the smaller the probability that it will be awarded to a woman. In classical dance, female choreographers face even greater discouragement; no woman has been commissioned to choreograph a main-stage ballet at the Royal Opera House since the 1990s”.
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Over 400 dance professionals signed a letter addressed to Akram Khan, which was delivered to him earlier in the week and then published on The Stage’s website (22 Jan). Whilst acknowledging that press stories can take quotes out of context and that the letter was not intended as a personal confrontation they say: “you, and others in positions of power, must be aware of the context and responsibility of your position, and the damage that you can inflict… It is our obligation to address our concerns publicly as well.”

Akram Khan responded with a letter to The Stage on 22 January, saying that his remarks had been taken out of context. “This is clearly a debate which needs to be had…”
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Meanwhile The Spectator’s dance critic, Ismeme Brown, in a blog post headed ‘I’m having trouble finding an anti-woman conspiracy in dance’ – says that she is ‘bemused’ by claims that women are held back in dance by ‘institutionalised sexism’ as many of her dance highlights of the last couple of years have been the work of female choreographers (Crystal Pite, Rosie Kay, Annabelle Lopez Ochoa, Cathy Marston, Shobana Jeyasingh). Read more

The outcomes of Cloud Dance Festival’s Open Space event, attended by dance artists, producers, academics and journalists, along with plans for future action, are available here:

As part of International Dance Festival Birmingham, 2Faced Dance’s programme The Bench, a new initiative supporting the development needs of female choreographers, is holding a one day event on 17 May – and has a call out for speakers.
More details here

Find out more about The Bench in this video – including interviews with Kate Flatt, Rosie Kay, Charlotte Vincent and Sharon Watson

Updated: 22 & 27 Jan

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