Femmes, a triple bill for a Canadian ballet company, highlights the need for the art form to rethink its attitude towards women
Last week the Montreal-based Grands Ballets Canadiens announced a triple bill called Femmes, part of its 2019 season. Femmes is a programme of ballets by three male choreographers (Douglas Lee, Marwik Schmitt and Mehdi Walerski) on the subject of “woman”, and, according to promotional material, the choreographers will “courageously meet the challenge of creating a work on such a powerfully charged theme”. Lee, a British choreographer, quotes George Balanchine, the founding father of American choreography: “Ballet is a woman.”
The problem with Femmes, apart from the sheer, kitsch ghastliness of the concept, is that it epitomises the lack of agency of women in classical dance. The reverence for the feminine implied by Balanchine’s quote has always been contingent on women knowing their place. Ballet relies on women to make up most of its performing workforce, but overwhelmingly reserves positions of artistic power for men. There’s only a handful of women working as directors and choreographers in classical ballet. (Tamara Rojo, director of English National Ballet, is a notable example.) And, as Femmes demonstrates, the attitudes that underpin this imbalance are deeply entrenched.