It takes more than pliés to lift a ballet company to great heights. From dancers to conductors, teachers to makeup artists, this series features fascinating insight from ABT experts and an intimate look inside America’s National Ballet Company®. Take a spot at the SideBarre to get to know the incredible people behind each bourrée of American Ballet Theatre.
On Saturday, October 30, 2021, Principal Dancer James Whiteside joins the Pride Night panel!
Learn more about James in his new book, Center Center, a daring, joyous, and inspiring memoir-in-essays from the ABT Principal Dancer who’s redefining what it means to be a man in ballet. This collection is an exuberant behind-the-scenes tour of James’ life, both on- and offstage.
“James Whiteside is an electrifying performer, an incredible athlete, and an artist, through and through. To know James is to love him; with Center Center, you are about to fall in love.” – Jennifer Garner
A notable 1947 photo by bisexual photographer Cecil Beaton captures American Ballet Theatre’s nascent period, documenting five members of the Artistic Committee of Ballet Theatre gathering to inspect future plans for the Company. They include choreographer Agnes de Mille and Ballet Theatre co-director Lucia Chase. The other three are scenic designer and co-director Oliver Smith, choreographer Jerome Robbins, and composer Aaron Copland—all gay men.
From the beginning, ABT’s bloodline has flowed with the artistic enrichment of members of the LGBTQIA+ community.
As has been documented, queer artists throughout history have formidably shaped creativity in all art forms: music, the visual arts, costume and set design, theater, literature, film, television, and dance. What ABT’s LGBTQIA+ artists have bestowed on the troupe is estimable. In 1944, Robbins and the bisexual composer Leonard Bernstein collaborated on the seminal ballet Fancy Free, about randy sailors on shore leave, loosely based on the painting The Fleet’s In! by gay artist Paul Cadmus, with iconic sets designed by Oliver Smith. Their ingenious minds helped to accentuate the “theater” in Ballet Theatre, as it was known then. Adding to a legacy of dramatic ballets, Antony Tudor, whose life partner was ABT dancer Hugh Laing, choreographed ballets, such as Jardin aux Lilas and Dark Elegies, that formed a backbone of complex 20th century works in the repertoire.
Even recently, the early 20th century ballets by bisexual dancer/choreographers Leonide Massine (Gaîté Parisienne) and Vaslav Nijinsky (Afternoon of a Faun) have graced ABT’s repertoire. The homosexual impresario Serge Diaghilev curated a host of ballets for his Ballets Russes that have ennobled ABT’s programs, including Michel Fokine’s Les Sylphides, a signature work for ABT that appeared on the Company’s first program in 1940; and George Balanchine’s meatiest ballets for men, Apollo and Prodigal Son.
The beloved Frederick Ashton’s works have arrived more recently at ABT, including The Dream, Cinderella, and La Fille mal gardée. The latter two works by the late gay choreographer feature juicy drag roles with their respective sassy stepsisters and the clog-stomping Widow Simone. Contrast these to those often en travesti bitter bitches—the wicked fairy Carabosse in The Sleeping Beauty and Madge, the evil witch in La Sylphide.
Over the years, ABT hired LGBTQIA+ choreographers to create or restage ballets for the Company.
Among those were Alvin Ailey, John Neumeier, Peter Anastos, Glen Tetley (whose life partner was ABT dancer/ballet master Scott Douglas), Lar Lubovitch, Hans van Manen, and ABT dancer/choreographers Dennis Nahat, Kirk Peterson, John Meehan, and Clark Tippet. In addition to dancing with the Company, pansexual superstar Rudolph Nureyev restaged Paquita and Raymonda for ABT, and the late Frederic Franklin staged historic ballets for ABT over a period of time. During Mikhail Baryshnikov’s directorship, aided by his colorful assistant Charles France, he added quite a roster of formidable queer choreographers: Choo San Goh, Paul Taylor, Merce Cunningham, and Mark Morris. Later came Robert Hill, Ulysses Dove, John Cranko, Nacho Duato, and Christopher Wheeldon.
Ballet wouldn’t exist without inspiring musical scores, and Tchaikovsky’s brilliantly sensitive imagination brought us Swan Lake, The Sleeping Beauty, Theme and Variations, and The Nutcracker. Other LGBTQIA+ composers whose stirring scores have uplifted the Company’s ballets are Benjamin Britten, John Cage, Camille Saint-Saëns, John Corigliano, Francis Poulenc, Samuel Barber, Cole Porter, Gian Carlo Menotti, Virgil Thompson, and Nico Muhly. John Lanchbery orchestrated much of ABT’s classical repertoire and conducted the orchestra.
While Christopher Rudd’s Touché is groundbreaking at ABT for its rapturous, gay eroticism, gay-themed ballets have periodically appeared on ABT’s stages.
In the 1950s, director Herbert Ross choreographed The Maids, a ballet based on gay French author Jean Genet’s play, that featured two men as the murderous sisters. In 1973 the Company presented gay choreographer Rudi van Danzig’s Monument for a Dead Boy, which documents the torturous life of a young gay man. In 1982, ABT premiered Kenneth MacMillan’s The Wild Boy with its infamous homoerotic kiss. At the height of the AIDS pandemic, Lar Lubovitch set his duet from Concerto Six Twenty-Two on the Company, a male pas de deux that emphasized the intimate companionship of two men.
ABT suffered unspeakable losses throughout the AIDS crisis. So many dancers were taken by the disease: Peter Fonseca, David Cuevas, Clark Tippet, Charles Ward, Ian Horvath, Gary Cordial, William Carter, Gregory Osborne, Carld Jonassaint, Richard Cragun, and Rudolph Nureyev. The choreographers included Ulysses Dove, Alvin Ailey, and Choo San Goh. In the ABT family, we also lost Company pianist Lynn Stanford, organist Boyd Staplin, teachers and director of repertoire Woytek Lowski, makeup artist Leopold Allen, dresser Larry Ray, stage manager Jerry Rice, and Emile Ardolino, who directed ABT’s Live from Lincoln Center and Dance in America specials on PBS.
It must also be acknowledged that ABT lost an entire audience of fervent LGBTQIA+ fans during the AIDS plague. Replacing the collective wisdom and artistry of those taken by the disease is insurmountable.
In response to Russia’s so-called “gaypropaganda” law, signed by Vladimir Putin in 2013, Mikhail Baryshnikov issued a statement published by the No More Fear Foundation, a U.S.-based non-governmental organization (NGO) for the protection of LGBT rights. “My life has been immensely enriched by gay mentors, colleagues and friends, and any discrimination and persecution of gay people is unacceptable,” he said. “Equal treatment of people is a basic right and it is sad that we still have to even speak about this in the 21st century.”
The two Pride Night performances will feature a special guest appearance by drag artist Lypsinka, followed by a panel discussion of ABT’s LGBT works with the creators of the male duet Touché:choreographer Christopher Rudd, ABT Principal Dancer Calvin Royal III, and ABT corps de ballet member João Menegussi. Sarah Lozoff, intimacy director for Touché, will join the panel on Wednesday, October 27 and ABT Principal Dancer James Whiteside joins on Saturday evening, October 30. The discussions will be moderated by trans-actress Tommy Dorfman.
John Epperson (AKA Lypsinka) was born in Hazlehurst, Mississippi. His film work includes Black Swan, Witch Hunt with Dennis Hopper, Wigstock: The Movie, Angels in America, Kinsey, Vampire’s Kiss, and Another Gay Movie. His theater work includes Wallace Shawn’s Evening at the Talk House (Off Broadway, 2017), Once Upon A Mattress (Off Broadway, 2015), John Epperson: Show Trash; Lypsinka! The Trilogy (both 2014), I Could Go On Lip-Synching; Now It Can Be Lip-Synched; Lypsinka! A Day In The Life (2 Drama Desk nominations); As I Lay Lip-Synching;Lypsinka Must Be Destroyed!; Lypsinka ISHarriet Craig!; Lypsinka! The Boxed Set (Washington, D.C. Helen Hayes Award Outstanding Non-Resident Production; L.A. Weekly Theatre Award Best Solo Performance; Drama Desk nomination); The Stepmother in New York City Opera’s production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella at Lincoln Center; The Passion of the Crawford, a fantasia on the personality of Joan Crawford, and a cabaret show John Epperson: The Artist Principally Known As Lypsinka. Epperson has written the play My Deah: Medea For Dummies (Obie-winning production); two stage musicals – Ballet of the Dolls, Dial “M” For Model; and half a play: a rewrite of James Kirkwood’s notorious Legends! produced at Studio Theatre in D.C. Epperson has also written for The Guardian, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and Interview. He was the guest curator of the Club 57 film series “You Are Now One Of Us” at the Museum of Modern Art 2017-18. As a film historian, he has lectured about movies for MoMA, The New School, Anthology Film Archives, and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Epperson and Lypsinka are the subjects of an Emmy-winning television documentary for PBS. www.lypsinka.com
Tommy Dorfman (Moderator)
Born and raised in Atlanta, Georgia, Tommy Dorfman focuses her work on telling stories that give life to a range of interweaving and distinct queer experiences.
After graduating Fordham University in 2015, Tommy booked her first role as Ryan Shaver in the hit Netflix series, 13 Reasons Why. Tommy has since gone on to act in television and film while also shining a light on her experience as a queer person in Hollywood through her work with GLAAD and the Ali Forney Center.
She has spearheaded campaigns focused on bringing queer talent front and center with companies like Calvin Klein, Fendi, ASOS, the Body Shop, Ferragamo, and Balmain. She recently photographed and art-directed Pete Davidson as a Staten Island Ken doll opposite Julia Fox forPaper magazine’s break the internet cover and Zoe Levin for the cover of American Studies.
As an actor, she starred alongside Alan Cumming in Jeremy O. Harris’s Off-Broadway hit “Daddy” in 2019. Most recently she wrapped Lena Dunham’s newest experience, Sharp Stick, and Fracture, a limited series in the UK for Channel 4 out this fall.
As a writer, she’s publishing her first collection of essays with Harper Collins in late 2022.
Quil Lemons’s work is a representation of the community he comes from. The context of his work comes from the internet, queerness, and popular culture, the themes of his work are timeless and ambitious in scope. Subjects such as masculinity, queerness, race, and body positivity are played out in often disruptive images that feel like pure imagination. Lemons dances the line between the fantastic and realistic, drawing influence from our current cultural climate, giving his work an eerily familiar feeling.
GLITTERBOY(2017) introduced Lemons to the world and started a dialogue that would act as a common thread through much of his work to come. In his inaugural series, Lemons dusted black men with glitter to combat the stereotypes and stigmas placed upon their bodies. This concept of challenging what is acceptable for the black male body developed even further in BOY PARTS (2020).
Simultaneously, Lemons began an exploration of the black family portrait with his series PURPLE (2018) and project WELCOME HOME (2018). Images from both projects gave an intimate glimpse into his home life and the modern black American family structure in Philadelphia.
Lemons has previously exhibited at Contact Festival, Toronto ’18, Kuumba Festival, Toronto ’19 and Aperture, NY ’19.
American Ballet Theatre’s Pride Nights celebrate Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Questioning, Intersexed, and Asexual (LGBTQIA+) dignity, equality, and visibility. The LGBTQIA+ ally community demonstrates diversity in its range of expressions of gender and sexual orientation and is diverse in race, religion, ethnicity, nationality, and socioeconomic class. This mix of identities fosters a wide range of perspectives and experiences that bolster a robust sense of pride, tenacity, and resilience.
Here are some facts and statistics about the LGBTQIA+ community:
In 2013, 92% of adults who identify as LGBTQIA+ said they believe society has become more accepting of them than in the past 10 years. However, 42% of people who are LGBTQIA+ report living in an unwelcoming environment.
Today, there are 29 states where LGBTQIA+ Americans are not fully protected against discrimination. This includes discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity in employment, housing, and public accommodations.
In 2004, Massachusetts became the first state to legalize same sex marriage in the United States. In 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Obergefell v. Hodges, striking down all state bans on same-sex marriage and legalizing it in all fifty states and the District of Columbia.
Today, ALL members of the Queer Community can serve in the US Military due to the repeal of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Act of 2010 and the removal of restrictions for transgender persons in March of 2021.
Despite the strides taken to normalize queer acceptance in America, 60% of LGBTQIA+ students report feeling unsafe at school because of their sexual orientation, and 80% of gay and lesbian youth have reported severe social isolation.
LGBTQIA+ youth seriously contemplate suicide at almost three times the rate of heterosexual youth and are almost five times as likely to have attempted suicide.
Acceptance from at least ONE ADULT can decrease the risk of LGBTQIA+ youth attempting suicide by 40%. Transgender and non-binary youth who have their pronouns respected by most people in their lives are 50% less likely to attempt suicide.
We see you, we accept you, and we honor you, because we are you.
5. Kosciw, Joseph G., Ph.D., Emily A. Greytak, Ph.D., Mark J. Bartkiewicz, M.S., Madelyn J. Boesen, M.A., Neal A. Palmer, M.S. “The 2011 National School Climate Survey: The Experiences of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Youth in Our Nation’s Schools.” 2012.
During American Ballet Theatre’s 2021 Fall season, two special Pride Nights will be held on Wednesday, October 27 at 7:30pm and on Saturday, October 30 at 8:00pm in honor of Christopher Rudd’s Touché, a male pas de deux included in ABT’s “Rhythm and Rapture” program.
Special programming will accompany each evening’s performance to celebrate the LGBTQIA+ community, including a Q&A session with special guests at the conclusion of the evening. Each of these Pride Night elements will come together to recognize and empower members of the LGBTQIA+ community and reflect ABT’s commitment to increasing diversity, equity, and inclusion.
Welcome to Pride Nights at ABT!
Navigating one’s journey with a sense of pride is essential,” says Kevin McKenzie, American Ballet Theatre’s Artistic Director since 1992. “Pride of place, pride of purpose, pride of being. Personally, I’m proud that ABT is having what I believe is our first Pride Night as an open celebration, but more proud of the artists who drove our history and were accepted for what they were within our community.”
LGBTQIA+ Pride exists to fortify a sense of self-respect and solidarity expressed by the LGBTQIA+ community and to celebrate gender consciousness and cultural identity. ABT is holding two Pride nights during its 2021 fall Lincoln Center season for the first time in its history. That is worthy of a hearty round of applause and some screams of “Bravi!!” So many of the dancers, choreographers, musicians, repertoire directors, and behind-the-scenes actors of the ABT family have worked to make ABT a finer arts institution. Many of them are no longer with us, so we are honoring the Company’s LGBTQIA+ artists and audience—current, past, and future.
American Ballet Theatre is generously supported
by Bloomberg Philanthropies.
M∙A∙C is a proud sponsor of
American Ballet Theatre’s Pride Nights.