Ballet has not historically been known for being the most inclusive of dance styles. As much as it’s known for its beauty and grace, it’s also known for pushing strict and often unhealthy physical ideals and for featuring mostly white dancers. That’s why what this New York City dance troupe is doing is so cool.
The Ballez collective is turning the traditional and strict dance into a form of LGBTQ activism with its show Sleeping Beauty and the Beast. Founded by Katy Pyle and Jules Skloot, Ballez is a collective that makes space for lesbian, gay, trans, bi, and queer dancers, promoting their visibility in the community. In the collective’s second performance, Sleeping Beauty and the Beast blends two traditional fairy tale performances into a real-life history of the LGBTQ community’s politicization between 1893 and 1993.
Instead of in old-time kingdoms, the performance takes place in the garment factories of the Lower East Side of Manhattan in the late 1800s, and in New York City in the 1990s during the end of theAIDS epidemic. The show marks a timeline of LGBTQ history, as told by the people that history impacts.
“For the past three years, we have been working on Sleeping Beauty & the Beast. This Ballez takes these two classic tales and re-writes them in order to insert the herstory of lesbian and queer activists into the ballet canon: the striking Garment Workers of 1893, and the AIDS [activists] of 1993,” a fundraiser for the show describes.
The show was born after an 11-year-old Katy saw a performance ofSleeping Beauty, in which the ballerina playing Aurora broke her ankle. After she left the stage, the dancer playing the Violet Fairy came out to replace Aurora, still wearing her Violet Fairy costume.
“The choreography she performed, the energy in her body, the way everyone addressed her, it was as if she was Aurora, and she was incredible,” Katy told Jezebel. “I think this was a really formative experience for me, because I saw that sometimes the ‘wrong’ person can actually be the right person for a role.”
In Sleeping Beauty and the Beast, a male dancer will play the role of the traditionally female Violet Fairy, while Jules will play a butch version of “the Beast.”
“These queer characters [that] are brought to life through the bodies of these particular performers is not only a good thing for LGBTQ people,” Jules told Jezebel, “[but these same characters] enrich the lives and imaginations of everyone who gets to witness and participate as an audience member regardless of how they identify.”
In order to pay its dancers, Ballez has organized a Kickstarter to raise $25,000 toward wages. As of Monday morning, the troupe had raised more than $12,000, with 11 days left to get the rest. With the money, Jules and Katy said the troupe will create an antithesis to the hateful speech and environment swirling as the 2016presidential elections draw nearer, providing a space for LGBTQ folks to express and create all while being fairly paid.
“In this time of such extremism and hateful separation and bigotry,” Katy said, “I want to give queer, trans, and straight audiences alike, a moment to truly witness the incredible, beautiful human beings whose stories deserve remembrance and canonization, and these performers who deserve joyful witnessing.”