Women Can Write Ballet Music As Well as Men

Women Can Write Ballet Music As Well as Men
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How many times have I heard at the end of a ballet performance, “Why did the choreographer select that piece of music?” Or, “I saw X choreograph that music much better.” Or, “The music didn’t fit the dance.”

While I don’t agree with Elizabeth Streb that music is the enemy of dance, some pieces of music are.

How do we help choreographers find an ally - a piece of music best suited to realize their artistic vision? Maybe by looking beyond what the herd is doing.

The country’s major ballet companies, and their choreographers, mostly male, almost universally choreograph to music composed by living and deceased men. That is the reality of the ballet world and the music world.

I reviewed the 2017 seasons of New York City Ballet, ABT, Pacific Northwest, San Francisco, Boston, Atlanta, Miami, Houston, Pennsylvania and Joffrey Ballets The choreographers were overwhelmingly male. This is not news.

What is news is that the music was even more skewed male. The dead males – Tchaikovsky, Mozart, Chopin, Stravinsky – are heard repeatedly. The living composers are an eclectic lot – Glass, Stevens, Adams - again almost all male.

There was exactly one female composer: Fanny Mendelsohn Hensel, selected by choreographer Jessica Lang for her ballet, Her Notes, for ABT.

In the dozens and dozens of ballets performed by the nation’s major ballet companies in 2017, one ballet had music composed by a woman.


Even the few female choreographers working for these major companies chose male-composed music.

No doubt there is less female-composed music to choose from now and in the past. There are few Fanny Mendelsohns in the 19th and 20th centuries. Women now are still not entering music conservatories equally with men. At Juilliard, for instance, female students comprise about 15% or less of the composition department - a situation that Juilliard is trying to rectify.

Choreography is hard. Composition is hard. No doubt. Matching the two is exponentially difficult. How can choreographers widen their radar to find music that speaks to them that inspires, that helps them realize their artistic aims?

Music publishers can help. They have libraries of composers - male and female - whom they represent. One can search for female composers on Spotify. One can talk to conservatories and their female faculty and students. Female composers of talent are out there. Looking for them may take just a bit more effort. I guarantee you will find original music that the herd won’t.

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