Shoes matter. There are things — physical things — a dancer can do in pointe shoes that are simply not possible on “flat,” either in barefoot or in soft slippers. It’s about spin and speed. Balance and bravura. Line and elongation. Everyone in dance knows that — and yet, the only real opportunity for male dancers wishing to have this “ultimate” pulled-up experience has been to dance with Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, who are pioneers in this space. But that’s constricting. It means dancing in drag, en travestie, as a faux-female, doing raunchy comedy. That’s fine and marvelous, but, as several male dancers wonder, isn’t there more?
During the course of the pandemic, an on-line pointe class organized by the Cuban-born dancer Roberto Vega Ortiz, for men of all shapes, sizes, colors, attracted men from all around the world. (“Straight” men too.) The classes took off — so much so that participants decided to transform their learning experience into live performance. Vega Ortiz, pairing with a powerhouse former dancer, Theresa Knudson, as the company’s executive director, saw an opportunity to have an impact on classical ballet, by adding to the field’s growing diversity. Thus the birth of Ballet22, a new ballet ensemble, comprised of men, mxn, transgender, and non-binary artists, aspiring to nothing less than to re-imagine ballet by breaking the art form’s gender normative traditions. An aspiration to which we say, bring it on!
At the kind invitation of Ballet22’s founders, I observed rehearsals of this genial dance troupe a few weeks ago. They were rehearsing a lusty work by the Filipino-American dance maker Durante Verzola, set to Baroque music that will have its premiere this very weekend, in a gala event. The three concerts will take place at an historic, renovated theater in San Francisco’s Chinatown.
It feels very “community,” just another thing I like about Ballet22. This will be a fun show, and let’s see how much artistic merit the men bring to the fore.
The program includes a suite of dances from Swan Lake ACT III; Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s duet Symbiotic Twins, exploring the duality of male and female in each of us through energy exchange, inventive partnering, and intimate entanglements; as well as Durante Verzola’s piece set to the music of Bach and Chopin.
Dance critic Debra Levine is founder/editor/publisher of arts●meme.
Ballet22’s gala performance | Great Star Theater, San Francisco | Feb 25-27