Breaking Glass 

Ask any female artistic director. The Glass Slipper Ceiling is no joke

click to enlarge victoriamorgan.jpg
“There is a joke that ballet companies are run only by white men with accents,” Victoria Morgan, the Cincinnati Ballet's artistic director, says.

But she isn't laughing.

As a part of the statewide arts event, Minds Wide Open (which celebrates Virginia's women in the arts), the Richmond Ballet and the Richmond CenterStage Foundation will co-sponsor a seminar called Glass Slipper Ceiling on April 28 at CenterStage. The agenda? To dissect the joke and find out why there are so few female artistic directors at major ballet companies, and to discuss the changes that are taking place both in the arts industry and within society.

The discussion panel will consist of five women artistic directors. This will include Morgan, Stoner Winslett of the Richmond Ballet, Suzanne Farrell of the Suzanne Farrell Ballet of Washington, Celia Fushille of Smuin Ballet of San Francisco, Andrea Snyder of Dance/USA, Dorothy Gunther Pugh of Ballet Memphis, and former New York Times dance critic Anna Kisselgoff, who will moderate the panel.

The inspiration behind the seminar came from a widely appreciated 2007 New York Times article in which Claudia La Rocco described how women dominate the stage when it comes to ballet but how the decisions are still made by men. She cited the example of Suzanne Farrell, one of the participating artistic directors in the seminar, to illustrate exactly how women are cast aside when it comes to executive decision-making. 

The 2007 article detailed the statistics of female artistic directors, citing a 2002 study that found that 86 percent of all of the 43 ballet companies in the United States with budgets of $2 million or more had men in the driving seats; whereas, a mere 5 percent of those 43 companies had female executives. 

“It is very interesting because if you look at students and teachers of ballet companies, they are mostly women. But in the executive level there are more men”, Dorothy Gunther Pugh says. She further elaborates and says that organizational structure of companies is predominantly patriarchal.

“There has not been a lot of deep thinking done about why things are the way they are”, she says in reference to the seminar. “People are not encouraged to ask questions or question the tradition.” She thinks the seminar will be a great platform to start asking questions and really think about why the ballet companies have not been able to break away from male-domination.

Anna Kisselgoff will facilitate the panel, directing questions that will open discussion. During the last half of the seminar, the panel will take pre-submitted questions from the audience.  

Stoner Winslett, for one, is very enthusiastic about the program. “Most ballet schools and companies teach dancers to be robots”, she says. “Every production should uplift and awaken human spirits, and not just be concerned with the profitability.”

The Glass Slipper Ceiling will be held on April 28 at 10 a.m. at Richmond CenterStage, 600 E. Grace St. Admission is free. For information, go to www.vamindswideopen.org or e-mail glass.slipper@richmondballet.com.

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