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Portrait of an Artist: Meredith Hodges ’03

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A performance on Nov. 1 and 2 in Boston Ballet’s Black Box Theatre marked the first part of ChoreograpHER Initiative with six women choreographers presenting the works they completed on their peers. The Harvard Crimson got the chance to interview the executive director of the Boston Ballet, Meredith (Max) Hodges ’03,about the inspiration and plans for this women-empowering initiative.

The Harvard Crimson: What does the ChoreograpHER Initiative mean for the upcoming seasons of the Boston Ballet?

Meredith “Max” Hodges: This initiative is made up of three main parts: in the classroom, in the studio, and on our main stage at the Boston Opera House. The first part is that the Boston Ballet School is offering a series of choreographic workshops for young women in our school, so they have an opportunity to create, rehearse, and present choreographic works to their peers. The studio piece is through our series called BB@home, which is a performance series at our home studio and black box theater here at 19 Clarendon St. in Boston’s South End. For the next three years, it will highlight women in choreography. We just had one on Nov. 1 and 2, where we commissioned six new works from six women in our company who created works on their own peers. We will do something like that for the next two years. The third piece is the culminating part of this initiative in the 2020-2021 season. Artistic Director Mikko Nissinen is planning a program entirely dedicated to women artists, so the choreographers will be women but also the music, design, visual arts, and more will feature women talent. With these three pieces together, we hope and believe we will support women’s vision and leadership in this art making.

THC: What was the inspiration behind this initiative?

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MH: Women are underrepresented among major ballet choreographers, and this has long been true of big classical ballets, but it’s also true of current new works by ballet companies. We designed this initiative to try to address that. There isn’t a precise moment when the initiative came about, but there has been increasing discussion and awareness in the ballet world of this underrepresentation of women. We talk here at the Boston Ballet about intentionality, and what we want to intentionally do. What we want to intentionally see over the next years with this initiative is that this is an investment worth making because we see something we want to make better. There are a lot of women dancers, and most choreographers are themselves former dancers. We see that pattern in a lot of different fields, certainly not just in the arts. If you look at the corporate world, you see lots of women in an organization but then fewer women at the top. It’s not unique to the ballet world, but nevertheless, it’s there, and our hope is to begin to change that.

THC: What message do you hope this initiative spreads?

MH: For the choreographers, I certainly hope this inspires more women to step forward and try choreography. I hope for those who do try it, some of them feel inspired and have the confidence to continue in it. I hope it builds the ranks of women choreographing for major ballet companies and throughout the ballet world.

THC: And how were the choreographers chosen for this initiative?

MH: Mikko did ask the dancers who would be interested, so he asked them to self-identify. I think it’s also important to note that out of the six women who choreographed, for three of them, it was their first time choreographing.

THC: Were the choreographers given free reign of their choreography?

MH: They really found the inspiration on their own. You saw that in the diversity of the pieces in the program. Some of the works were on pointe, some in ballet flats, some were to pre-existing recorded music. One of the works was to a new composition. Artist Sage Humphries’ work was to live piano performance. Her brother was the composer, and he performed while the dancers danced. You saw a wide breadth of movement language and vocabulary, so you could really see through the six works of art that they were each following their own inspiration.

THC: Has the Boston Ballet ever featured choreographic works from their dancers?

MH: By and large, the majority of the works we perform on the main stage are by existing professional choreographers of global renown, like George Balanchine, Sir Frederick Ashton, William Forsythe, and Justin Peck. We have had previous programs to encourage our dancers to choreograph, typically through the BB@home program. Some of our dancers will get to choreograph for an evening in our studio. It’s at a different scale because the black box has about 150 seats, and the Opera House has about 2,500. It’s okay to take more artistic risks here in the black box: It’s a really great place to support emerging artists. In this blackbox, we have presented works from our dancers in the past, and they have the chance to develop their talents. Then, we have presented those works on the main stage. However, ChoreograpHER is the first time we’ve explicitly dedicated an initiative to promoting women’s voices in choreography.

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