Author Archive for John Butterfield


The State of Queer Film

The history of queer film and characters can be traced back to and before the Haze code as we have seen in the documentary The Celluloid Closet. In many ways we have progressed from these early portrayals and in many ways we have not.


Television has actually led the way with how we see queer folk. In the late 90s and 2000s it was the territory of soap operas before these dramas all but vanished in the U.S. and are still alive in some form abroad. In the U.S. queer storylines could be found in Days of Our Lives, and As the World Turns. In the UK we had queer characters in Hollyoaks, Eastenders, and Emmerydale. Wales gave us People of the Valley. Germany gave us Verbotene Liebe, Spain The Heart of the City, France Les Bleus, Argentina Botineras, New Zealand Shortland Street. When we compare the examples of those made almost everywhere else the U.S. falls short with what they felt they could display on screen. How long did it take queer couples to finally kiss on the U.S. soaps?


However, I wonder if they they paved the way for Sense 8, Brothers and Sisters, Transparent, Six Feet Under, Orange is the New Black, and Greys Anatomy?


Traditional American media is very much one step forward two steps back, it is the pay-to-view channels that are taking greater risks. With all of this in mind what is happening with actual film and the cottage queer film industry?


In the last few years we have had two stand-out queer films take on the mainstream market; Carol and Moonlight. Runners up include Tangerine, a low budget film with a very nonromantic view of life as a trans girl of color trying to survive in LA−an unflinching perspective made on an IPhone with a brilliant sound track.

We also had Grandma with Lilly Tomlin, an out actor and theatre maker and The Danish Girl, which was problematic as to accuracy and casting.


When you scroll through one of the major carriers of queer film, TLA, we have an abundance of gay Rom-Coms, weird thrillers, and poorly made comedies. There is an endless supply of coming out stories and an endless supply of queer teens involved with prostitution and drugs. The voices are primarily male; primarily white and cis gender identifying.


Moving to Wolfe films we at least have categories for Gay, Lesbian, and transgender.

Breaking Glass Pictures website looks to carry primarily foreign queer films usually the strongest of the lot.


We still have a shortage of female voices, people of color, queer people over 30, and a plot line worthy of a full-length film.


Yes we have a ways to go to catch up with the amount of films out there representing queer themes, people, history and so on. Not every film can be Moonlight but do we have to have 6 sequels of Eating Out?


We started out with some amazing pictures in the renaissance of queer film. The UK took off with My Beautiful Launderette, Beautiful Thing, 4 Weddings and a Funeral, as well as Bedrooms and Hallways, and Another Country. The list is quite long.

Merchant and Ivory brought us Maurice, a major film with an A-list cast written by a queer icon E. M. Forester and brought to us by queer filmmakers.

Films dealing with the queer experience seen through race, Looking for Langston, Young Souls Rebel, Paris is Burning, the Watermelon Woman.


The films of Almoldovar not all queer themed, but always with a nod to queer culture and always through a queer lens. The Canadian films Lilies, and I’ve Heard the Mermaid Singing.


These were stories, ideas and performances that were worthy of the praise they have received and still hold up after all this time. There are some beautiful small films coming out of Spain, France, Germany, Mexico and the UK.


Where are the American Queer films worth watching?


We have a plethora of gym toned self absorbed white boys running around having some of the most superficial crises ever brought to film. These scenarios worked for the heyday of the Hollywood films driven by banter and personalities of the 30s and 40s. Most of the performances we get from these gay men are dead from the neck up. Bitchy isn’t a replacement for banter or wit, and if we wanted porn we would be watching it.


There have been some exceptions. Beginners deals with a man who is recently widowed and finally comes out to his adult son. Sordid Lives is a comedy whose main character is defiantly over 30. Also worth mentioning is Big Eden, and The Business of Fancy Dancing addressing what a queer native experience has been.


Topics that are being addressed in the bulk of American queer films is relationships and how the queer community navigates open relationships, and our own definition of family, that in many ways is a good thing. How we conduct our lives is different than the hetero-normative and we should be exploring this within our films and work


What this says is far more telling about queer culture in the U.S. The queer media, film, publications, and advertising are geared to white men of a certain age and financial demographic. This focus is on a group that looks to assimilation as some form of equality. Within these films we continue to minimalize those who do not fit the definition of passing in the hetero world: queers of color, lesbians, and trans, anyone over the age of 30 and certainly no gender fluid, gender queer folk.


As to age it’s not just the queer community that disregards anyone over the age of 30 as having a sex life, dreams and aspirations, or anything interesting to say it’s the media in- general’s approach to everyone.


We are smarter, wittier and much more creative than this. Especially now as we see the rise of the right again we need to stop navel gazing and start making work that looks outward with a queer perspective. As queer artists we need to be asking bigger questions of our audiences and ourselves. The time of making films just for the community is rapidly coming to an end. We need positive representations out there but at the same time we need to start addressing the things that create turmoil and disturbance within our own community. We should be brave enough to look at our failings in diversity and inclusivity. Where does this come from and what are doing or not doing about it? That would be a film I would go to see.






So I have responded to two blogs on this subject and felt like I needed to hash things out on my own turf. The subject has come up regarding several different productions and plays that I have either seen or directed myself.

First I want to address two Shakespeare works that Jeremy Cole addressed in his blog. I like Jeremy we have worked together before and I have seen several of his directorial works. He speaks of two works Shrew and Merchant. He states that both need to be shelved.

As to Shrew I have only seen it twice live and once in film. The first was back in the golden age of American Conservatory Theatre ACT in San Francisco, this was back when they had a in house repertory company and the work reflected it. They did the work in the Commedia dellàrte style, everything was exaggerated and physical, at the time I thought it was very entertaining I was much younger then. I saw the film with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton; this was really more about their own volatile relationship then anything else. Then an all women’s cast which felt electrifying and subversive.

While at the helm of my own company Butterfield 8 Theatre, now B8 Theatre, we never produced this work, although several company members continued to push for it to be done. By this time in my life I could look at the work through very different eyes, here I agree with Jeremy I cannot find a way into the work and I cannot get past the perceived message of the work. I see it as misogynistic, no matter what spin I was approached with it still left a bad taste in my mouth.

I understand the argument of historical placement, cultural and so on, what does it say to an audience in 2017? I have yet to be convinced on any level that what we leave with isn’t what I want to put forward with my work.

As to the Merchant of Venice my view is quite different. I can only relate to how we as a company approached it. The work has so many different opportunities to frame the questions asked. What is the real cost of love, what are you willing to sacrifice?

I have always seen Shylock as the victim in the work; a man trapped in a world that on one level reviles him and the other uses his services. He is trying to keep his family and faith intact under a constant onslaught of violence and prejudice.

What is the true relationship between Bassanio and Antonio? Bassanio has always struck me as a player, but becomes a different person when he is faced with the fact a man he has used and most likely slept with will die because of the debt he caused him to take on. We had them kiss in the street scene after the courtroom and verdict release Antonio. Not as brothers but as what they had been, lovers.

Portia is an educated woman trapped in her own way to the verdict of her fathers decree. She is smitten with Bassonio but in the end does she realize that she may have picked the wrong casket? Her humorous rant about the ring in the last act has a sting of truth to it. The scene is playful but perhaps now she sees Bassanio as he truly is. In the script she exits alone, not on Bassanio’s arm, or even with him. Where as Nerissa and Gratiano leave together a more down to earth, no nonsense couple with less at stake.

This leaves Lorenzo and Jessica the two who have sacrificed the most to be together. Jessica has given up the most, her culture, family, friends, religion to be with this man. Lorenzo has gone against his culture, standing, and although not mentioned most likely the will of his family. They will never be truly accepted nor will their children. They have only each other.

The only thing we changed was Portia’s line about Shylock when she hands the pair the document giving them all Shylock’s wordily goods at his death. We changed it so that Shylock is in fact dead. I cannot see a point where Shylock chooses to live as a Christian.

This was, and still is my interpretation of the work. However the one point of view I cannot see it through are the eyes of some one who is in fact Jewish. Many feel that it is a stereotype and an overdrawn version of what it is to be Jewish.

My pale comparison is that of my own reaction to the series Will and Grace. Many straight friends, allies, and many queer folk love this show, think it is great and feel it changed perceptions. I find it to be the queer equivalent of Step and Fetch it. Broad stereotypes are paraded throughout the work and celebrated. If at the time of the work we had equal rights and representation across all media then perhaps there would be room for this form of humor. We didn’t and still don’t. This show was in no way ground braking.

So on some level I get it.

Next we come to Melissa Hillman a woman I hold in the highest regard for her writing and work in theatre. She recently posted on the upcoming production of The Glass Menagerie at Cal Shakes. First off it is an all black cast, the work is about family relationships and memory no race or culture holds a monopoly on these themes.

Secondly they have cast an actor who is physically handicapped as Laura; here is where I have a problem.

This echo’s the current production playing in New York; bellow is the New York Times review.

Review: Dismantling ‘The Glass Menagerie’ – The New York Times


For me this is the will of the director imposing his or her vision onto a work that cannot hold it. “My way no matter what cost” has never been a go to for me in directing. Will the text support your idea? If not find another text or devise your own.

Williams is considered to be one of America’s finest playwrights, his work is subtle nuanced and poetical. With all the talk about respect for the playwright where is the respect to his work, where do we draw the line when it comes to interpretation?

What is the play about? It is considered to be autobiographical on many levels and is called a memory play. William’s own sister was mentally fragile and in life is destroyed by a botched lobotomy he dedicated much of his profits to make sure she had a comfortable life outside an institution. Laura,  the theatrical representation of his sister in the play, we are told suffers from a limp brought on by a childhood illness that has also left her mentally fragile.

Its beyond a leap of faith to go from a limp to being confined to a wheelchair or suffering from acute MS. It simply isn’t supported in the text anywhere. The play then becomes all about her physical impairments and not about the journey that Tom (Tennessee Williams) is on and what it reveals about him and his relationships.

This feels more like sensationalism then a well thought out approach

When a role calls for someone in a wheelchair go out and find an actor confined to a wheelchair, or deaf, one that is deaf, or blind. There are things that non-impaired actors simply cannot convey, as hard as they try. This holds true for trans characters as well. Its not about ability its about visibility and opportunity as well as having a visceral understanding to what is being asked.

So in the end my interpretation of this play does not see Laura so physically impaired that she cannot walk unassisted, no wheelchair, no walker, it pulls me out of the trajectory of the work, it is so jarring that I have lost what it is the work itself is trying to convey.

This also challenges me as an artist, what are the limits I put on interpretation and can I see past my own prejudice to view a work in a different way?








As this is actually Pride month I want to reflect on the state of the community, because some ugly truths are surfacing and we need not only to address them but also to grow up a wee bit. I promise to go back to writing about the theatre but this feels too important.


The truth is our tribe is made up of many different people. Some want to function and interact with the world they know, suburbia, middle class, house and kids and dog, others do not, nor do they live by these conventions. Several generations are now pushing hard on the binary system, as well as the western nuclear family model. A model used as a tool to deconstruct indigenous culture, and to control society.


No matter what path we take we will always be other, as hard as you try you will always be seen as outside the norm. Will this change? Possibly, but not in my lifetime.

So my request to other white male queer men, please step up and stop being a tool.

Pride has been turned into a safe event full of liquor stands and rainbow products. It is one giant corporate party. How did we let this happen?

Pride started as a riot, and in some ways should remain one. It has been about equality for all, not just those that pass. Remember, it is the black drag queens, trans women and dykes who threw the first brick, both at Stonewall and Compton Cafeteria in San Francisco. Stop treating fem men and the gender queer as pariah. Stop the blatant racism towards men of color; make room for the trans and gender fluid members whether or not you think they belong. The world puts them in our camp and it is our duty  to make room for them. Stop the ageist crap because you will all be in those shoes no matter how much surgery you can afford. Just stop and try to see the world through their eyes, and then let them speak. Do not speak for them. They have their own voice and their own words. Help them gain a platform for their voice and step back.


As a community we have gone through criminalization, to freedom, to the plague, to equal rights on marriage. The face and voice that has dominated these struggles in the media is that of the white gay man. Who, as time has passed, has consistently taken on an uber masculine front. “Look! We don’t behave like queer men, we are just as manly and, apparently obtuse, as the straight man”


Our difference is what sets us apart, it defines us. It is more than sexual attraction and love–it is in the way we view the world.


With the onslaught of AIDS we pushed a body image of strength, health, hairless and clean. There has always been body worship within the queer community, but we used to have room for many body types. Queer media pushes the buff macho man. The result of this has been a rise of body dismorphia and eating disorders in our young.


As to the response from a large part of the white queer world claiming it’s a “preference” referring to queer men and women of color being sectioned out of dating aps, it is about as transparent as it gets.

Whatever your personal opinions and your insecurities about homosexuality and the various liberation movements among homosexuals and women (and I speak of the homosexuals and women as oppressed groups), we should try to unite with them in a revolutionary fashion.

I say, ”whatever your insecurities are” because as we very well know, sometimes our first instinct is to want to hit a homosexual in the mouth, and want a woman to be quiet. We want to hit a homosexual in the mouth because we are afraid that we might be homosexual; and we want to hit the women or shut her up because we are afraid that she might castrate us, or take the nuts that we might not have to start with.”

These are the words of Huey P. Newton the founder of the Black Panther Party. He knew, as many of my white queer brothers have forgotten, that no one is free until we all are free.

Stop trying to be law-abiding citizens, the perfect community member. Do you think we would have achieved lower AIDS drug prices, the right to marry, the right to be without fear of arrest had we been polite?

Does this make you uncomfortable? Good, because the fight isn’t even close to being over. Things to remember: the disgraceful and shameful petition put forward by queer white folk to exclude and disassociate from Trans people. This is a day that will remain a black stain on our community. (Look up Drop the T petition) started in 2014

Chechnya has installed death camps for queer men in 2017 and our government is not giving them asylum

Gay men in Chechnya are being tortured and killed … – The Guardian › Opinion › LGBT rights


The evangelical wing has poisoned much of the African nations and continues to spread and preach hate resulting in the persecution and murder of our brothers and sisters trying to live their lives.


How Uganda was seduced by anti-gay conservative evangelicals … › News › World › Africa


Why Africa is a hotbed of homophobia | World news | The Guardian › World › LGBT rights


The Christian right, as well as targeting women’s reproductive rights, are removing the rights we had fought for and marched for here on US soil.

Why President Trump Isn’t Anti-Gay Enough for the Religious Right…

We have all gotten way to comfortable. Time to sit up, band together, and make a stand. And if Citibank feels like their float isn’t the “message” they want to support, fuck them and their float, this is about our lives and our freedoms.






The perks of cross casting

So no its not a fad its been going on since theatre started. There are many arguments and stances about how we cast regarding gender especially concerning Shakespeare. The Globe wants to do what they refer to as traditional or historical casting of the female roles If they stayed true to historic accounts they would be casting boys no older than 17. We do not cast in this way so we say we are casting in the “spirit” of the Elizabethan theatre. Fine, and then do the same with an all female cast. The audience can come and see the work in two very different ways and find something new in each rendition.

What does casting in this way open up or allow the actor to experience? And again why not start to do it in reverse as several theatres have done and continue to do.


Shakespeare Trilogy review – Donmar’s phenomenal all-female … › Arts › Stage › Theatre

Smooth Faced Gentlemen: the all-female Shakespeare co.


How do we apply this concept to contemporary theatre? Currently the company that I founded and now is in the process of moving forward in a new space is about to launch an all female cast of Glengarry Glenn Ross by Mamet. The stipulation from Mamet is that they present themselves as women and not portray the characters to be men. So this is cross casting in a contemporary setting.

Keri Gudjohnsen the director has been wanting to do this project for more than just a little while. I asked why, as those who know me know my views on this playwright, her answer was very clear. “No one writes this way for women.” She is right no one does, there are some great women playwrights out there and some write very gritty and forceful roles for women but nothing to my knowledge of this veracity.

Viewing this world through a different gendered lens opens up a great deal of the content and relationships and brings fresh life to the work.

What does this accomplish? It gives us a window into how we view gendered behavior and what that says about us as a whole in society. Our self imposed gendered boxes get pushed out of shape for the evening and we have to listen and adapt to the work being offered.

The concept of a binary gendered system is being broken down by a new generation of human beings who do not see themselves or the world in a two-color palate. As artists we should be embracing this movement not only to keep theatre relevant to the world we function in, but also to challenge the actors to explore their craft with roles and concepts that challenge them and make them stronger artists, and hopefully people.

As to the production of Glengarry Glenn Ross I have great faith in Keri’s ability to bring this to life, she is driven to do so. I have had the great opportunity to work with her not only as a company member but also under her direction in film. She is focused and clear, I have no doubt the production will be as well.



What is our role?

As artists and builders what is our role in the current world order with fascism on the agenda for America and across Europe? Do we play our instruments and entertain as the ship sinks or we are marched to the camps?

There are many who do not want to cause trouble they see their role as entertainers and nothing more. They choose to be a distraction from the world’s ills I understand this position laughter can be a great balm in dark times and the need to escape even for two hours is a gift. Unfortunately this has been the thrust of American theatre locally and nationally.

Our national government collectively has never supported the arts with any real enthusiasm since the WPA movement. Now the NEA, a political bowling ball, will cease to be altogether and the US will be one of the few western nations that doesn’t support and encourage the arts as a part of their culture or national identity. This is nothing new we have seen the result in our education system and the toll it has taken, shameful doesn’t come close to describing it.

So what do we build, and to what end?

Build work that provokes, challenges, and above all sparks debate and discussion. We cannot continue to perform to the enlightened we need to entice both sides in and start a discussion. We need to make the work relevant to today’s world, even when we are reflecting something from the past. How do we draw the similarities and point them out to our audiences with out bashing them over the head with it?

This is our job.


Here are some suggestions of works that can be brought forward with clear parallels made


Blitzstein’s The Cradle Will Rock

Behan’s The Hostage

Miller’s All my Sons and of-course the Crucible

Ibsen’s   The Enemy of the People

David Hare’s Plenty, Stuff Happens, The Absence of War, A Map of the World

Kushner’s Homebody Kabul, Angels in America

Rickman/Viner My Name is Rachel Corrie

Akhtar’s Disgraced

Brant’s Grounded


Build new work that touches local history, or the community around you and how it has changed. What are the biggest issues facing the community you live in and how can you bring them forward onto the stage? Be thoughtful don’t just show one side or bias the work to “send a message” use the work to provoke debate and engagement. The idea that we can do nothing is the first and largest hurdle we all face.


Lisa Drostova a former Butterfield 8 company member and fellow maker has this to say,


Political Theatre Today – Theatre Bay Area



The Guardian has several articles on where theatre stands today


Political theatre | Stage | The Guardian


The way we make now is vital, how we engage with the work and each other. Yelling at one an other gets us no where we have to listen to each other even when what the other is saying repels us we have to listen and discern what is at the heart of their argument, and address that. Above all go out and make some art and most of all make some trouble.



Drag in Theatre and Performance

What is the definition of Drag? According to Wikipedia it is as follows:

A drag queen is a person, usually male, who dresses in drag and often acts with exaggerated femininity and in feminine gender roles. Often they will exaggerate certain characteristics such as make-up and eyelashes for comic, dramatic or satirical effect. While drag is very much associated with gay men and gay culture, there are drag artists of all sexualities. There are many kinds of drag artists and they vary greatly in dedication, from professionals who have starred in films to people who just try it once, or those who simply prefer clothing and makeup that is usually worn by the opposite sex in their culture. Drag queens can vary widely by class and culture. Other drag performers include drag kings, women who perform in male roles and attire, faux queens, who are women who dress in an exaggerated style to emulate drag queens, and faux kings, who are men who dress to impersonate drag kings.


Do we consider cross -dressing in the theatre (plays and operas) as a form of Drag? I do not; to me drag is about creating your own persona and making something out of scratch not filling a role requirement in a some one else’s work.

Now to look at this question I am also not going to include ancient temple cross dressing priests or those who lived as the other gender that is another topic. Drag as performance is what I want to discuss and how we define it, and what it does. The world of what has been referred to in several ways as Drag or female impersonators. This tradition goes back to music hall days and has as many stars both renowned and infamous like Fanny and Stella who went on trail before Oscar Wilde and went on to continue their stage career after being acquitted.

This kept up through the 50s and 60s with clubs featuring “acts” Finoccho’s, Club My oh My and many others most performers would sing and dance, before the world of lip-syncing arrived


There is a lot written about the history of the art form, and yes I do consider it to be an art form.


The idea of a man shedding his power in a male dominated society and culture to dawn the manners and appearance of the opposite gender one that is viewed as weaker and less than is in fact an act of empowerment for them, we see this time and time again. Is it less for Drag Kings who are emulating the ways and manners of men? It’s possible as we view a man’s sexuality very differently than we view women’s sexuality. The rules for men are still fixed in the binary system. As to how doing drag affects the performer from everything we are told by these performers and artists they feel complete in a way they hadn’t before, as gender expression and playing with the binary system weather or not that’s what they are doing intentionally its what’s happening. The role of drag within the community has also changed as the fight for equality has shifted to conform to the hetro- normative model.


Drag queens, fems and non – conforming queer folk historically have been in the forefront of the fight for equality, they are not the queers who sit politely and ask permission as we look to our history it’s the drag community that started the riots in New York and San Francisco. It is this fight surrounding drag and gender identity within the community that continues the discussions of Hetro and Homo normative and how drag is viewed within our own community, how we wish to be perceived, and the idea of there no longer being room for non- conforming.


In drag the performer has the permission to say and do almost anything they want. It gives them a platform to tease and to say things they never would say (for the most part) to anyone who is in the line of fire.


Drag is a transformation; it is also a form of art where your body is your canvas. It has gone from presenting as the other sex to high performance art.

We go from the performative with in bars and nightclubs to the Ball culture of the 80s and 90s. More and more Drag queens and Kings are pushing the boundaries taking bigger risks and squewing our idea of what gender is suppose to resemble, sound like, and act like.

Looking at Rupaul and his sheer force of will, the first drag queen to be the face of a cosmetic, and liquor add campaign he has had several iterations of talk shows and now a game show on top of Drag Race.

With the sudo mainstreaming of RuPual’s Drag race I wonder what is the affect this show has had on the drag culture? We look to the contestants who have taken the crown; we see performers in the traditional sense with Del Rio, Jinx, and Bob the Drag working in the mainstream of classic entertainment singing and stand up. The first pushing of the boundaries of what we consider to be proper drag with Sharon Needles, and a gender bending Violet who strips down to practically nothing and is clearly male and yet clearly not all at once.


Drag is not a conformative art form. So it will be interesting to see if the real mainstream culture will try to co -opt it and just how that will go.


The reaction to faux Queens has been interesting and hostile in some cases. Can women be drag Queens?


In the spirit of Drag I think absolutely women can do drag the very nature, culture and history support it. I am curious as to what is spawning the hostility? Why is it a threat?

Women pushing boundaries within and commenting on femininity can be act of defiance so I’m all for it and clearly it pushes buttons that’s what is at the heart of drag.


Drag is a performance art, one that makes you question what the boundaries of gender are, and should we have boundaries surrounding gender in the first place?


The spirit and world of drag has influenced theatre and has taken from theatre. How can we, as theatre makers, take more of this on in how we present theatre? The courage and risk taking is at the heart of drag and it is this that we should be bringing back into theatre. We have fallen into a complacency that does little service to the audience and the work. We need to make bigger choices and have the courage to stand behind them.




Pennsylvania Ballet and the role of artistic director in dance

So recently in the news is the story of Pennsylvania Ballet and their new Artistic director Angel Corella. He has fired (let’s not quibble about dancers on contract, in ballet there is an assumption that dancers will stay with their contracted company) 12 artists. Five more are walking or being pushed. This is nearly half of a company that only employs 43 dance artists. If a dancer is not having their contract renewed, it is vital to give them notice earlier rather than later so the artist can look for a new position before seasons start.


Corella, according to The Inquirer has used the following excuses for his actions:


The reasons Corella gave that contracts were not renewed included: Dancers were not chosen by choreographers for new ballets; dancers were able to dance only certain styles; dancers had trouble adjusting to the new leadership; dancers were of a height that made partnering a challenge.


“It’s always a difficult process for everyone” when contracts are not renewed, Corella said. “It’s the hardest part of being an artistic director.”


As an artistic director you are hired to come in and work with an existing company, if it isn’t something that you have built from scratch you are stepping into a pre-existing culture of work and relationships. Artistic Directors must realize that the people there are there because they also love the company and what they do. They are brought in for change and growth, and to bring fresh eyes to the work and company.


Corella’s statements about the “process” ring quite shallow when you look at the actual size of the company and the ease with which his ‘issues’ could have been addressed.


First off “dancers were not chosen by choreographers.” Well, as a freelance choreographer I have to work with who is in the room. I should have access to the entire company but that is what I have to work with. If you cannot rise to that challenge what are you doing in the business? Do you think every company is ABT? If your work has been picked up by a company you think cannot do the work you have the right to say no, if you don’t it is your job to get the work out of these artists. Grow up and do what you have been commissioned to do.


Next “dancers weren’t able to dance a certain style and the heights made partnering a challenge.” You are also a dancer and now the head of a company. Your challenge is to bring the company to a new level. I understand the ballet aesthetic varies from school to school, but this is the company you have been brought into. These dancers have been faithful to the company and deserve a chance to learn as artists and, more importantly, these are the artists you knew were there when you took the contract.


This reminds me of the debacle of Oakland Ballet. That company grew out of nothing. The dancers body shapes were not the standard, which allowed them to do early work such as The Green Table and Nijinsky’s Rights of Spring with an authenticity few companies, could claim. The dancers were incredibly loyal and it was their efforts when the company was in turmoil that kept the company afloat. The new artistic director was a disaster. She caused rifts and fired many of the dancers who had helped keep the company alive. She tanked the company in a very short time, and the board did nothing to stop her. She tried and failed to make Oakland Ballet something it was never intended to be and in so doing destroyed what she was brought in to shepherd. That company is on the mend, but has a great way to go.


Ballet companies are little fiefdoms. Most look on the dancer as a cog not an artist unless they are principals and even then it’s not always a win for the artist. The companies and boards refer to them as artists when it suits them. The culture of ballet is old, hierarchical, and hasn’t really changed in quite some time. Smaller boutique troupes, can be run quite differently. Ballet receives major funding from the state and big grants organizations and donors in the US and elsewhere. This means money is always there on some level to explore and reshape, not just hack and slash. The problem with this type of funding of tradition is no one is building tutu ballets anymore. The vast majority of new choreographers are rooted in contemporary movement. The dancer/artist today must be versatile, adaptable, and versed in as many styles as possible. This occurs far more in European companies than in the US.


Audiences for this medium are also changing. Many don’t want to be danced at, they want to feel a connection to the performer or at least be acknowledged by the performer. How ballet is performed is in need of change. It is this change that Mr. Corella could have addressed with his new company. He could have challenged them to step up to the task at hand. This appears to have been too difficult for him, so like a little tyrant he is destroying to build something out of the ashes.


“Angel’s stock answer is that certain people haven’t been on board,”


Your job as artistic director is to communicate as best you can and to build with the artists in the room. The days of Balanchine are hopefully on their way out. You build in his way at your peril. Opera and ballet are striving to remain relevant in an arts world that sees them more and more as performance that is for a certain class of people. Ballet has several advantages: there are training facilities everywhere, there is a huge sense of romance connected to it, and the skill required is high. Ballet dancers are seen as athletes, but should also be seen as artists with a voice. The same is true of opera but opera does not have the same saturation as dance.


Some amazing things are happening in both of these mediums, but change is hard and challenging. The money that these industries rely on is being challenged by more contemporary art forms that speak to a 21st century generation.


I wish the dancers/artist leaving the company all the best and I hope that Mr. Corella will learn something from this, but I doubt it.

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