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Embodying a Queer Worldview: The
Contemporary Ballets of Katy Pyle and
Published online: 23 Oct 2014.
To cite this article: Gretchen Alterowitz (2014) Embodying a Queer Worldview: The
Contemporary Ballets of Katy Pyle and Deborah Lohse, Dance Chronicle, 37:3, 335-366, DOI: 10.1080/01472526.2014.957599
To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/01472526.2014.957599
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Dance Chronicle, 37:335–366, 2014
Copyright © 2014 Taylor & Francis Group, LLC
ISSN: 0147-2526 print / 1532-4257 online
Embodying a Queer Worldview:
The Contemporary Ballets of Katy Pyle and Deborah Lohse
Katy Pyle’s The Firebird, a Ballez (2013) and Deborah Lohse’s Ineffable (2011) contribute to a growing number of contemporary ballets that engage with and disrupt established ballet conventions to work for social change. While gender studies theorists have positioned ballet as a tool for locating men’s queerness, women’s queer perspectives, until recently, have not found resonance in the genre because of its strong historical ties to patriarchal power. Pyle and
Lohse challenge patriarchal assumptions by queering ballet’s gender conceptions, providing audiences with opportunities to see ballet interact with contemporary constructions of women’s varied genders and sexualities. In so doing, they imagine a purpose for ballet beyond physical virtuosity and aesthetic valuation.
At a recent theater studies conference, on a panel on queer dance performance, feminist performance critic Jill Dolan asked the following question:
What competencies should audiences bring to these pieces?1 In other words, what kinds of knowledge and capacities do choreographers working on the margins ask their viewers to bring to performances? The issue of audience readiness is particularly resonant for my analysis of two recent dance works,
The Firebird, a Ballez (2013) by Katy Pyle and Ineffable (2011) by Deborah
Both of these choreographers challenge ballet’s gender constructions ∗
Katy Pyle studied classical ballet and modern dance at the North Carolina School of the
Arts, and postmodern dance and multimedia performance art at Hollins University. She dances in her own work, and has performed with many choreographers and artists, including John
Jasperse, Jennifer Monson, and Young Jean Lee, most recently touring with Lee in “Untitled
Feminist Show.” Deborah Lohse trained in classical ballet, attained the B.A. in dance and the B.A. in theater from the University of California—San Diego, and performed with the
Sacramento Ballet and the San Diego Ballet. Currently, she dances with Doug Elkins and
Friends and has performed and presented her choreography in numerous venues, including the Clark Theater at Lincoln Center, Joe’s Pub, Dance Theater Workshop, and Joyce SoHo.
Color versions of one or more figures in the article can be found online at www.tandfonline.com/ldnc. 335
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B ath ] a t 0 5:4 4 0 2 M arc h 2 01 5 336 Dance Chronicle and its expectations of normative relationships by presenting female, lesbian, and queer bodies demonstrating desire for each other within a ballet context. In the process of confronting well-known, recurrent ideas about gender and sexuality in Western culture, these dances reimagine familiar stories to critique and deny a normalizing gaze.
Pyle and Lohse contribute to a growing number of contemporary ballets that disrupt established ballet conventions to work for social change. Their work helps to unmake the social stereotypes and strictures ballet’s traditional practices helped to construct, thus engaging in a kind of activism that aims to cultivate a spectator who can envisage a purpose for ballet beyond physical virtuosity and aesthetic presentation. Like many ballets, these dances center on love narratives. Pyle’s The Firebird, a Ballez is a contemporary version of the original Firebird, choreographed by Michel Fokine for the Ballets
Russes in 1910. Her piece adheres generally to Fokine’s narrative and uses the full musical score by Igor Stravinsky, but she changes the genders and sexualities of the roles, and incorporates parody and camp, to resist and point up traditional assumptions about ballet. Lohse’s Ineffable is an eveninglength duet that utilizes many ballet markers, including a structure similar to a classical pas de deux, to portray a wedding ceremony. However, this wedding occurs between two women and invites audience members to view the performance in an active and interactive way, thus defying traditional gender roles as well as the spectatorial frame typically associated with ballet.