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'Now is the time for young women': Female choreographers on the rise at Edmonton ballet company

Citie Ballet is giving a platform to more female choreographers in a world that is traditionally dominated by men

Kylee Hart performs at Citie Ballet’s season launch on Wednesday. The ballet company is working to get more female dancers into choreography.

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Kevin Tuong / For Metro

Kylee Hart performs at Citie Ballet’s season launch on Wednesday. The ballet company is working to get more female dancers into choreography.

Citie Ballet is working to get more young female dancers off the stage, in the door, and behind the scenes.

And that's a good thing.

Despite the popularity of female ballerinas, ballet choreography is dominated by men, said 24-year-old choreographer Lydia Redpath, but that's beginning to change.

Redpath has been dancing since she was two, but only recently started creating dance productions.

“To find opportunities as a choreographer, Citie Ballet has definitely blown the door open,” she said. “Before coming here, the only choreography I did was by myself in a studio.”

Citie Ballet, Edmonton's resident ballet company, launched their new season Wednesday, and this year they'll be featuring the work of three young choreographers, including two women.

Redpath said it takes years for dancers to get the respect to choreograph a performance, and that uphill battle is even harder as a woman.

“It’s very adamant throughout the dance community that males have a large role in, I don’t want to say dictating, but dictating what goes on the stage. Most of the artistic directors are male,” she said.

“In the last few years, female choreographers have been getting more of a voice.”

That’s important to Executive Director Sheri Sommerville, who entered ballet when it had a more “old-school” way of thinking.

She said there’s various reasons women are prominent as dancers, but less likely to work as choreographers behind the scenes.

“They don’t always assert themselves, they might not step up and ask for things. And for whatever reason, there’s still that old hierarchy where women are being overlooked,” she said.

But she pointed out things are changing, citing Canadian icons Emily Molnar and Crystal Pite as role models for young female choreographers.

“Now is the time for young women to look at them and say 'hey, it can happen,'” she said. “A lot of the really big ballet companies still have a lot of old school thinking. And a lot of people stay with those companies for decades, so there just hasn’t been the time to turn it around.”

She credits Citie Ballet artistic director Jorden Morris for being a feminist and giving dancers the opportunity to choreograph.

It was Morris who encouraged Kylee Hart, 22, to choreograph her own production, telling her “the sky is the limit”.

“He’s really interested in fostering female choreographers, and that’s really important because there’s not a lot of people who think that way,” Hart said.

“Getting the opportunity to choreograph as a young professional dancer, especially as a women, is few and far. You have to search long and hard,” she added.

But more doors are opening, and that’s helping to transform ballet and make it more appealing to the next generation, Sommerville said.

She said having millennials who are engaged with what’s happening in the world and active on social media brings a different social awareness to the ballet world.

“They’re aware of politics, they’re aware of the social dynamics … and they bring those relevant concerns,” she said.

After all, art is about expression, and Citie Ballet wouldn’t be a “contemporary” ballet company if they weren’t talking about world events.

Sommerville cited an example of a production that explored the issue of climate change, which may seem like an odd fit for the world of ballet.

“People were thinking, melting glaciers in a ballet, really? But it worked.”

Citie Ballet launched its 2017/2018 season on Wednesday and will be holding productions in October, February and April.

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