Ballez is performance, hanging out at the barre, taking class, and finding a new frame for queer bodies to dance in.

BITCH Magazine 03/10/14

DANCE DANCE REVOLUTION: The Queer New World of Ballez

by Elyssa Goodman

 

Swan Lake. Sleeping Beauty. Cinderella. Traditional ballets where Helpless Princess is saved by Handsome Prince. She is slim and delicate, he is handsome and muscular. They’re tales told to us from childhood. But what about the lives and bodies missing from these stories? Katy Pyle noticed this absence, and created a new form of nongendered movement that is at once dance company, technique, and witty pun: Ballez. But the name isn’t the only thing queering ballet. With Ballez, Pyle has created a safe space for people to dance as themselves­­, not as swans or princes, and not framing their bodies in the context of the typical gendered performance of ballet at all. Pyle is a trained dancer and performance artist whose works have been exhibited in renowned experimental dance spaces across the country. She performed the first Ballez last spring, a queer retelling of Michel Fokine’s The Firebird. While  in Fokine’s version a prince stumbles upon a garden of princesses and falls in love with one, Pyle’s adaptation features a recently divorced lesbian princess in love with a “tranimal” (part prince, part firebird) who lives in a garden of polyamorous princes presided over by a sorceress domme. Needless to say, Pyle enjoys the humor of it all, using comedy to shed light on the more serious matter: the underrepresentation of queer bodies in the narratives we perpetuate, consciously or not. Her interpretation of Firebird received an enthusiastic response from New York’s experimental downtown dance community, as well as attention from outlets like the New York Times. This led Pyle, along with choreography partner Jules Skloot, to begin developing the next Ballez, Sleeping Beauty and the Beast. Pyle also teaches a Ballez class at Brooklyn Arts Exchange, a fun reimagining of what a ballet class can be when gender and pretense are stripped away: barre work to Prince’s “When Doves Cry”; floor work that, while still technical, is punctuated with bubbly spurts of laughter; a positive, welcoming atmosphere where at the beginning of class students identify themselves with their names and preferred pronouns. Some people in Pyle’s class are experienced dancers; others are learning to plié for the first time, having never felt comfortable in a ballet class before or thinking that there was no place for them in it. But for Pyle, technique doesn’t matter: “We’re remaking whatever roles we want to remake,” she says. “It’s not a set of expectations. I don’t care that these people haven’t learned how to do fouetté turns, I don’t ever want to see that. If I never see that again, it won’t make me unhappy. That’s not what I’m looking for in performance. I’m looking for a presentation of pride and joy and love in these bodies that are really marginalized and invisible.” -­­­­Elyssa Goodman, BITCH Magazine, Spring 2014, Maps & Legends Issue