At 50, Pacific Northwest Ballet danced between its past and its future | Popgen Tech
Amy Brandt, editor-in-chief of Pointea national ballet publication, says that PNB’s work is in line with what is happening in most American ballet companies, which are working to diversify their rosters and increase opportunities of training for people of color.
“Under Peter Boal, PNB has been several steps ahead of most major US companies when it comes to these issues,” Brandt said in an email. But she warns that ballet companies still have work to do in other areas of access to the art form at its highest level. “I would say the movement has been slower when it comes to body type, and much slower when it comes to gender identity.”
PNB is actively “de-gendering”: It now classifies roles as “pointe” or “flat”, rather than male or female, and the company school has opened pointe and partnering training for engaged students of all genders. Last season, PNB welcomed interns Ashton Edwards and Zsilas Michael Hughes, who both identify as non-binary. This year, they join the corps de ballet. Already, Edwards has performed roles in Swan Lake and Nutcracker which were previously reserved for cis-gender women.
Ross believes that opening ballet to a wider group of artists is a good step both for PNB and for ballet in general.
“I’m excited about how other people will see what our stage looks like,” says Ross. “Hopefully more dancers of color will be encouraged to try our art form, because they see themselves represented at the forefront, dancing leading roles.”
Three of the five PNB School students joining the company this season are Black dancers. Upcoming apprentice Wimpye is delighted to be part of the changing face of ballet.
“I’m thrilled to be part of a company that’s really pushing the narrative,” she says. “Seeing more people who look like me would be even better.”