Dance: News: Facing Forwards

The first meeting of the Female Choreographers Collective took place at The Actors’ Church, Covent Garden last Saturday. Lise Smith went along to find out more…

It’s a question that rolls around every few years – given the overwhelming prevalence of women in dance (as trainees, performers and administrators), where are the female choreographers and artistic directors, and why are they so much less visible than men in the industry? Pioneers such as Martha Graham, Ninette de Valois and the great Pina Bausch broke new ground for women in the 20th century, but female choreographers seem to be a low priority for major venues currently.

In October 2009, Dance UK and Dance Umbrella co-hosted a debate chaired by dance critic Judith Mackrell discussing the issues surrounding women in dance. Now two young choreographers, Jane Coulston and Holly Noble, have set up the Female Choreographer’s Collectiveto further investigate the causes of women’s under-representation at the top levels of dance, and to provide networking and performance opportunities for female choreographers at all career stages.“I think at the moment what we’re aiming to do more than anything is ask people for their stories, and what they’ve seen through their careers,” says Holly. “We’ve got some very young choreographers that have contacted us, we’ve got some very well-established choreographers and people in the middle; but they’re all saying, ‘why aren’t we out there, why do we not sell tickets, why don’t the big theatres take us on to present work?’”

Since the launch of the FCC just three weeks ago, over 150 choreographers have signed up to the organisation and more are expected to do so in the coming weeks. The aim of the collective is to support female choreographers through forums, performance platforms and information sharing, and to continue investigating the problems facing female choreographers in a more sustained way than previous events have been able to achieve. “We’re here to ask the questions,” says Jane. “We’re not necessarily here to provide any answers, for now, but the more we hear from each other’s experiences, the more we talk in these forums the more we might find out about that.”

The collective aims to build strong relationships between choreographers, venues and dance agencies in order to instigate debate and encourage an ongoing conversation about the issues female dance artists come up against. “So many female choreographers that we’ve spoken to are continually creating and showing work all over the country, they do this for a number of years and still there’s not support. Overwhelmingly people feel like they’re not being listened to, that they get looked over.” A number of female choreographers the pair have spoken to have reported a lack of practical support with commissioning and funding, whereas male choreographers seem to break through and develop a public profile much more easily, with the support of venues and agencies.

The lack of profile for female choreographers – even those with good artistic reputations – has been debated before. “Some dance artists and choreographers we were talking to before said they were talking about this 25 years ago,” says Jane. One of the goals of the FCC is to bring together different networks and forums that may already be taking place across the UK, and look at the questions being asked in a collaborative and comprehensive way over time. “Our role can be to bring these things together, all the pieces of the puzzle,” adds Jane. “We don’t see any end to this, we see just this interesting and fascinating process for however many years to come, so that we really make some headway with it. I’m sure the questions may change, lots of things are going to change along the way.”

The FCC was launched on Saturday with a platform of work by four very different female choreographers. Lucia Piquero’s lyrical piece for Diciembre Dance Group draws on literary sources, where Jane’s own piece for Beyond Repair Dance is much more abstract, movement-led and androgynous. Anna Watkins of Watkins Dance showed a sensual contemporary duet inspired by a developing relationship; Holly’s piece for A.D. Dance Company also examines human relationships, but with a focus on the darker side. Jane feels that there is no single female style or voice that can be identified among women choreographers working today. “The most important thing that we know even from the few things we’ve done so far is that there are a multitude of female choreographers out there making such diverse work, different work. Some (for example, Charlotte Vincent’s ) – will be gender-led and some won’t, so we want to figure out what else is going on.”

For the next year, the FCC’s main task will be to compile information on members using a short membership form. The collective will also share news so that members can keep each other informed of touring and performance activity; and the collective will run its own showcase platforms across the UK. Holly: “One of our ideas that we’re thinking about doing next year is putting a platform on with six excerpts of work, three by male choreographers and three by female choreographers, but we’re not going to say who the choreographers are. We’d invite a cross-section of audience to give feedback and to ask who they think created each work, just to see what happens.”

The next 6 to 12 months will be vital in shaping the ongoing aims of the Female Choreographers Collective, and determining how best the group can support and represent female choreographers. “I think that once we’ve we create that network it’s going to be a real support system and a real kind of push in the right direction,” says Jane. Men are warmly welcomed to the planned discussion forums to give their side of the story and help build a picture of activity. “At the moment don’t know where it’s going to go exactly,” adds Holly. “We know it’s something we feel passionate about, we want to keep doing it, we want to talk to people we want to raise awareness, we want to do all those things, but I don’t know in a year’s time what the answers will be or what will have happened.”

For more information about the Female Choreographers Collective contact Jane and Holly:

Vanishing Pointe: Where are all the great female choreographers? Judith Mackrell, Guardian, Oct 2009
Originally published at