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Flash Poll, 4-11: You've Come a Long Way, Baby
... but You Still Have a Long Way to Go

Compiled by Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2001 The Dance Insider

Recently, we asked our Dance Insider readers the dance-ical question: Can you name any female company director/choreographers (have to be both) at the same stages in their careers as their male counterparts in the following list, who have achieved an equal level of success in terms of getting their companies booked by presenters, festivals, etc.? The list of males included David Parsons, Stephen Petronio, David Dorfman, Sean Curran, Peter Pucci, Joe Goode, Bill T. Jones, Mark Morris, Mark Dendy, Doug Elkins, and Ronald K. Brown.

Yow! We obviously touched on a hot-button issue here, judged by the number of responses. Before I share and comment upon the answers, it might be helpful to tell you the genesis of this question, which was two-fold. First, there's been some upset around NYC that the line-up for the upcoming France Moves festival includes just two women-directed ensembles among its ten companies. Second, the actual question came from a choreographer I know whose company, at six years old, has had what looks to me like considerable success, getting booked for 20 weeks last year.

My friend wondered aloud: Who are my models for the next stage? Specifically, models for where she wants to be when her company is 10-20 years old. (Thus, we're excluding answers like Trisha Brown and Twyla Tharp, because they're two or three stages down the line, and we're also excluding my friend's peers in tenure.)

At the same time, we've been considering in this space the question of whether guys find it easier to get booked than do women of (at least) equal talent and experience. Thus my challenge to come up with names of women who matched the men listed not just in talent (which was not part of the question) but in getting work.

The top candidate from your responses seems to be Bebe Miller. Ben Munisteri, Alison Schwartz, Ellie Brockman, David Parker, Jefferson James, and Veronica Dittman all came up with this name. However, Jenni Hong added a question mark after Miller's name, and Amy Cassello the qualifier "intermittently." The question here seemed to be that with Miller set to take a full professorship at Ohio State University, does she still qualify as a full-time company director? Karen Bell, OSU's dance department chair, weighed in with a clarification on that, and some thoughts on the larger question:

"This year Ohio State hired Bebe Miller and brought her in as a tenured full professor. Her contributions to the department are fantastic as she is a great teacher and artist. She is here part of the year, and continuing her professional projects. She just finished a successful program at BAM --"Verge" -- and will be touring that next year. Your assumption that women choreographers do not experience the same success as male choreographers seems correct to me. Bebe seems to be finding a new model, one in which she can share her incredible talents on an on-going basis with students as well as produce work of the highest artistic caliber. I'd put Bebe on your list!"

Meanwhile, Ms. Bell's assistant, Ms. Brockman, came up with a couple of names no one else did: Lynn Dally, whose Los Angeles Jazz and Tap Ensemble does seem to get regular bookings, and Jo Kreiter, as much a staple in San Francisco as sourdough bread.

Another good candidate, on the lists of Ms. Schwartz, Chris Prentice, and others, was Jawole Willa Jo Zollar, director of Urban Bush Woman. Ms. Prentice also suggested Margie Gillis who, like another frequent nominee, Ann Carlson, I'm not sure qualifies -- again, just as an answer to this question -- because she is not managing an ensemble (and all that entails), but a solo artist. (Although some disagree with characterizing Ms. Carlson as such.) Also in this category is Molissa Fenley, suggested by Esaias Johnson and by Susan of Biloxi. Esaias Johnson also comes up with Diane Macintyre and ODC/San Francisco. True, ODC's been around a bit longer than twenty years, but I think this company, run by not one but two women, Brenda Way and KT Nelson, is unparalleled as a model for women company directors because it not only gets bookings, but owns its building, having anticipated the Bay Area space crunch by buying its facility. While we're in Baghdad by the Bay, Michele de la Reza suggested Margaret Jenkins, but I think she too falls beyond the twenty-year parameter.

Mr. Munisteri came up with the one name my friend was able to think of, Susan Marshall, as well as another good candidate, Elizabeth Streb. Jeremy Alliger seconded the motion on Marshall, and Anne Wennerstrand seconded those of Marshall and Streb.

Mr. Munisteri also came up with Jane Comfort, in which nomination he was joined by several others, but I'm not sure she qualifies on the economic/opportunities scale. Do Ms. Comfort, or Irene Hultman, Allyson Greene, Sarah East Johnson, or Gaelen Hanson, some additional names mentioned by Mr. Munisteri and others, really get as much work as Dorfman, Parsons, Jones, and Morris?

Lula Washington, nominated by Liz Silverstein of Siegel Artist Management , seems to qualify, as does Marlies Yearby, suggested by Eva Silverstein.

The sleeper candidate who many of you -- including me! -- missed was Elisa Monte. Ms. Monte seems up there with Miller, Zollar, Marshall, and Streb as an ideal model for my friend, having sustained her company for a number of years, played major venues, toured broadly in the U.S. and abroad, and built a solid board. Further recommending her to my friend is that they both come from the Pilobolus-Momix orbit. One person suggested Ms. Monte's recently changing her company's name to Monte-Brown to reflect the increased involvement of David Brown might disqualify her on a technicality, but I'm ignoring that because in this case, I think Mr. Brown is clearly the piggy-backer.

Among the few suggesting Monte was Catey Ott, who also puts forth Jennifer Muller (who's been at it for 25 years), Yoshiko Chuma, and Hultman.

Andy Chiang was another who suggested Monte, adding these thoughts:

"I have one question: In pop dance, we seem to see a little more women choreographers, certainly famous dancers. Debbie Allen, Janet Jackson and the choreographer for 'Sensation' (I forgot her name), etcetera. Are the numbers more equal when profit is the only motive?"

By profit motive, I think Mr. Chiang was referring simply to these choreographers working in the for-profit sector of dance. I also think he was a bit bashful in not nominating the company which he manages, and which is directed by Nai-Ni Chen, and based in New Jersey. From what I've heard, Ms. Chen gets regular gigs (including work in the schools) and pays her dancers decently.

Other non-NYC directors put forth include Pat Graney (thanks Martha Ullman West and Ms. Brockman) and, by Tracy Pickerell, Liz Lerman. Jefferson James contributes Shirley Ririe & Joan Woodbury and Dorothy Jungels of Everett Dance Theatre. Karen Smith seconds the nomination of Ririe and Woodbury.

Among the few coming up with Lerman was Ms. James, who adds that she is "also thinking of Sara Shelton Mann, who is back on the scene now. She probably didn't get any bookings in the last few years but when Contraband was performing her 'Mira Cycle,' they got quite a bit of touring. But you know, actually nobody is getting enough touring these days."

Except, perhaps, David Parker, who nominates Annie B. Parson, Lucy Guerin, Carlson, Comfort, Miller, Irene Hultman, Donna Uchizono, Jacqulyn Buglisi, Heidi Latsky, and Victoria Marks.

David also protests the implied premise of my question, writing:

"I'm not sure what the most useful answers are. The amount and kind of work the men on the list get is pretty varied too. As for me, almost all the work I do is company work, touring gigs -- that's how we survive. In the next year we're going to Prague, Warsaw, Brussels, Zagreb, Arnhem, Corpus Christie, University of Maryland, Concord (Mass.), North Carolina, Sardinia, and have a season at Danspace Project at St. Mark's here in NYC. I'm also going to Germany with the company as a finalist for the Kurt Jooss Award in June. I don't think role models need to always be the same gender. Bebe Miller, Streb, Jane Comfort, Irene Hultman and Lucy Guerin (who is Australian but launched her successful international career in New York, where she lived for many years) are all good role models, I think. Ann Carlson doesn't only do solo work, and has created a number of imaginative residency situations. Now Annie B. Parson is doing significant touring as well. I have no interest in denying sexism, it certainly exists. I just want to mention these successful mid-career women. Two other names come to mind, they are regional artists: Liz Lerman from DC and Paula Josa Jones from Boston."

I called my friend after culling these names, and she was certainly impressed that the DI list had come up with so many names. But she held to her view that there are few women choreographer-directors who, in the amount of work they get, match their male counterparts of equal years in the field.

That outlook was echoed by Faith Pilger, who wrote, "I would have said Streb. Other than that -- NONE!!! It's hopeless." And by Elizabeth Higgins, who concluded, "It's tough, because women don't have the same opportunity!! I am sure you are aware of this. As a woman, I sure am."

To those who might still insist that the only yardstick determining whether a choreographer/company gets work is artistic, let's put the two lists side by side. I'll even include the soloists and the women mentioned above who fall a bit beyond the 20-year parameter.

Men:

David Parsons
Stephen Petronio
David Dorfman
Sean Curran
Peter Pucci
Joe Goode
Bill T. Jones
Mark Morris
Mark Dendy
Doug Elkins
Ronald K. Brown

 

Women:

Bebe Miller
Lynn Dally
Jo Kreiter
Jawole Willa Jo Zollar
Margie Gillis
Ann Carlson
Molissa Fenley
Diane Macintyre
ODC/San Francisco
Margaret Jenkins
Elizabeth Streb
Susan Marshall
Jane Comfort
Irene Hultman
Allyson Greene
Sarah East Johnson
Gaelen Hanson
Lula Washington
Marlies Yearby
Elisa Monte
Yoshiko Chuma
Nai-Ni Chen
Pat Graney
Tracy Pickerell
Liz Lerman
Shirley Ririe & Joan Woodbury
Dorothy Jungels
Sara Shelton Mann
Annie B. Parson
Lucy Guerin
Donna Uchizono
Jacqulyn Buglisi
Heidi Latsky
Victoria Marks
Paula Josa Jones

My question: On average, are these women, among whom the mean talent average is certainly at least as high as the men mentioned, booked as often as them?

My recommendation, to the presenters out there: Book 'em, Dano!

P.S. Since we put out this survey, evidence has surfaced that the economic discrimination -- if it walks like a duck and talks like a duck, it must be a duck -- faced by women dance artists is not confined to booking. The line-up for Peridance Studio's summer modern masters classes includes 15 men and one woman, Ms. Monte.

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