ChoreograpHER: Expanding the repertoire

Five pieces and five female choreographers are at the heart of this performance, but ChoreograpHER is so much more than the final product. Each piece stands on its own representing the work of a variety of choreographers with different experiences and backgrounds. What happens when you switch up who is represented in a performance from choreographer to dancers? The audience changes too. Representation matters and the change is instantaneous. In ChoreograpHER representation goes beyond gender. I was invited to review ChoreograpHER and, as always, all opinions are my own.

Shantell Martin rehearsing for ChoreograpHER, photo by Brooke Trisolini;
courtesy of Boston Ballet

Before I get into the pieces themselves, I want to highlight how important representation is. Representation is why Boston Ballet started the ChoreograpHER Initiative in 2018. Having a performance that was not all choreographed by white men, instantly made a difference in who felt like they had a proverbial seat at the table. Everyone deserves to feel welcome with a space for their voice, a spot on the creative team, and a seat in the audience. I saw the Boston Ballet audience that is typically older and white shift for the first time in decades. That’s pretty powerful and this is just the beginning.

Boston Ballet in Tiler Peck’s
Point of Departure; photo by Rosalie O’Connor
courtesy of Boston Ballet

The choreographers for this performance are Tiler Peck, Melissa Toogood, Lia Cirio, and Claudia Schreier. Tiler Peck is a principal dancer with New York City ballet. Peck’s piece Point of Departure felt like that stepping off point from dancer to choreographer. The costumes, designed by Harriet Jung and Reid Bartelme were colourful and playful, and they highlighted the dancers’ movement.

“I am extremely grateful to Mikko for giving me my first opportunity to choreograph on a major ballet company. Working with the Boston Ballet dancers has been an absolute delight that has both challenged and inspired me as a choreographer in the studio. Most importantly, I want to applaud Mikko on his efforts to support female choreographers. This is a matter I truly believe deserves attention and care, and by creating this ChoreograpHER program, Mikko has shown his commitment to finding and amplifying more female voices. I am honored to be on the program surrounded by such talented women and cannot wait to watch all of the other works,”

Tiler Peck
Boston Ballet in Melissa Toogood’s
Butterflies Don’t Write Books;
photo by Rosalie O’Connor;
courtesy of Boston Ballet

Butterflies Don’t Write Books, was choreographed by Melissa Toogood. Toogood is an award-winning dancer and choreographer and represents modern dance today like no one else. Toogood is both a dancer and rehearsal director for Pam Tanowitz Dance. She was a member of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company and has taught Cunningham Technique internationally since 2007. Toogood is a very talented choreographer and I look forward to seeing many more of her works in the future.

“I’m an accomplished dancer and teacher, but I’m not comfortable with the title choreographer. Ultimately, I couldn’t turn down an opportunity to try and create something with such a talented Company of dancers. We had a very meaningful exchange in the studio together, and I think that will come through in their performances,”

Melissa Toogood

The next piece, Kites, was unique in that not only is Shantell Martin the choreographer, but also the scenic and costume designer. Kites is a peek into the heart and soul of the artist. Martin is known internationally for her visual art. As choreographer, the visual artist gained another dimension for her art. The work Kites tapped into my own memories of flying kites as a child and the power of the wind and joy of feeling in some way connected to it.

Boston Ballet in Shantell Martin’s Kites; photo by Rosalie O’Connor; courtesy of Boston Ballet

While I loved a walk down memory lane with Martin’s Kites, the last two pieces were my favourites. Lia Cirio has choreographed before for the ChoreograpHER initiative and Cirio Collective among others. This has to be just the beginning of a long choreographic career, because there is so much talent here. Cirio definitely has the advantage of working with what is essentially an extension of her family: her dance family, but the piece excelled beyond just that connection. Chaptered in Fragments was so refined. Everything in Lia Cirio’s piece made sense. Even if you don’t know what the piece is about, it is beautiful to watch.

Boston Ballet in Lia Cirio’s
Chaptered in Fragments;
photo by Rosalie O’Connor;
courtesy of Boston Ballet

Good choreography has to connect with the audience ideally in more than one way. Some audience members will be on the same page as the choreographer while others will just want to be able to feel something from watching the movement. Cirio created unique lifts and partenering without it being weird or different just to be weird or different, That is what made the piece so perfect. Every movement made sense and nothing felt contrived. I look forward to a whole generation of Lia Cirio’s works ahead.

“I am thrilled to create a new work for Boston Ballet. The Company is rich in talent, passion, and drive, and it is an honor to work with an esteemed institution that prides itself equally on professionalism and kindness,”

Claudia Schreier
Boston Ballet in Claudia Schreier’s Slipstream; photo by Rosalie O’Connor;
courtesy of Boston Ballet

The last piece, was also exceptional. From choreography to costumes and music, I thoroughly enjoyed Slipstream. Schreier has choreographed over 30 ballets and commissioned works for Dance Theatre of Harlem, Vail International Dance Festival, American Ballet Theatre Studio Company, Juilliard Opera, New York Choreographic Institute, and Joffrey Winning Works among others.

Schreier’s Slipstream ebbs and flows in a way that in our lives we have become hyper aware of in the last two years with the pandemic. The many moved as one in some instances, but then broke off in smaller groups and then individuals. This constant flow of different groupings and solos kept the piece exciting to watch and tapped into so much of what we feel as individuals living in communities of all sorts. We belong but we don’t belong, but we’re finding our place. In a way that is just what ChoreograpHER is doing: Taking those who have been made to feel that they don’t belong and asking them to redefine the field and begin creating a place for anyone who wants to be there.

Boston Ballet’s ChoreograpHER runs through March 13th. Tickets start at $39 and can be purchased at bostonballet.org/choreographer or call 617.695.6955.

Claudia Schreier and Boston Ballet rehearsing for ChoreograpHER, photo by Brooke Trisolini; courtesy of Boston Ballet

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