The Future Is Female: Jessica Lang on ABT Premiere "Her Notes" and Overcoming Gender Bias

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In less than two decades, Jessica Lang has morphed from scrappy freelance choreographer to artistic director of her own nine-member dance company, Jessica Lang Dance, to an arts leader well on her way to establishing a center for dance education and a permanent home for her company in Long Island City. All the while, she remains a choreographer in demand by the biggest ballet companies. This evening, American Ballet Theatre will premiere a new work by Lang, the first ever she has created for the company, provocatively titled Her Notes.

I caught up with Jessica in the late summer and the following is an excerpt of a longer discussion we had about building a career, company, and institution as a female choreographer in the field of ballet. While ballet companies have historically been dominated by male choreographers and directors, I was curious to know more of Lang’s experience now that gender, and racial, biases have been more recently in the limelight and there are some hopeful signs of change.


Morgan Beckwith, { DIYdancer }: You are a woman in this field with a professional dance company creating a new establishment for dance. Do you feel your gender played a role in any part of your journey to this point in your career?

Jessica Lang: Naïve as I was, I never noticed that I was different in that respect. I just never considered it. I happen to be a woman, but it’s my art and my vision. That doesn’t mean I don’t think there is an imbalance. There is a major problem that exists in ballet. But it exists in other fields. There is no equal pay. We are still in a world where women are obviously second to this male power.

American Ballet Theatre dancers in rehearsal for Her Notes. Photo: Susie Morgan Taylor.

American Ballet Theatre dancers in rehearsal for “Her Notes.” Photo: Susie Morgan Taylor.

Does it make me angry? Yes. And no. It depends on what the conversation is about. What I would like to do is be a role model to younger women and women in general and stand with those who are succeeding in their life. I want to provide the best educational experiences that might enlighten, inspire, and produce strong independent-thinking women while simultaneously in my field trying to generate imagination and creativity early on in both genders. I don’t think that the men are better, but they are just more confident to ask for the opportunity or perhaps, their male artistic director trusts them because they recognize something of themselves in those young men. This is the root of the gender disconnect in ballet. But I am happy to say that I have three major ballet commissions this year. Sure, I would like to say it’s because I’ve been creating for 17 years and I’m on my 95th work. And yes, it’s time I do a piece for Pacific Northwest Ballet and Birmingham Royal Ballet. Maybe I am getting these opportunities because I’m a woman and there’s this huge conversation about “where are all the women in ballet.” But I like to think that it is because I’m ready and capable and I should have had this before now. But it is because this problem exists that I haven’t.

Costume Sketch for "Her Notes" by Bradon McDonald.

Costume Sketch for “Her Notes” by Bradon McDonald.

MB: Are you ever nervous about the expectations that come with such commissions and the scrutiny of being a woman choreographer in the spotlight?

JL: I’m nervous about every creation I make. Every creation is new but I can handle the pressure of what I am facing because I have my experience to rely on. It’s not the first dance I will make, but it is at Lincoln Center you know. It is an interesting conversation that needs to be talked about and change needs to be made. I know I am a part of that change. Even Hillary Clinton has been getting all sorts of questions about if she is going to pick a woman running mate. She said she is going to pick a person. The work is the most important thing, not who makes it. It’s just the work. If it’s a good piece of art, then Bravo! Every master has made a failure and every master is a master because they have succeeded AND they have failed. 

MB: What is your advice for individuals who face similar challenges in their own careers?

JL: A lot of people say they are going to do something and throughout my life, I have learned that you have to do, you can’t just say. There is a lesson in doing something. I have said, “I’m going to build a center,” and ok I am going to do that, but you can also say, “I’m going to respond to these 12 e-mails,” and then you have to do that. Life moves forward and you lose opportunity if you don’t do what you say you will do. I think it comes down to doing and being realistic. Those two things have to come together. You have to realistically finish things and understand that some of your ideas have to be not necessarily compromised, but altered in a way, to stay close to your true identity as an artist. You should be prepared for anything, success or failure. And understand how you are going to move on from both. Both present things. The more successful you are, the more you have to lose. Failure tells you the wrong path but it gives you information to alter toward success. It is all about collecting information along the way and looking out for your own development.


American Ballet Theatre dancers in rehearsal for "Her Notes." Photo: Susie Morgan Taylor.

American Ballet Theatre dancers in rehearsal for “Her Notes.” Photo: Susie Morgan Taylor.

Her Notes
David H. Koch Theater
October 21st, 23rd, 27th, 29th

Click Here for tickets.


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  • jean paul comelin

    congratulations Meghan ,well done ,I am so proud of you .where do you live now ? lets connect again . you write so well , bravo …nice to connect again cheers JP

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