Interview

Ruth Brill on working as a female choreographer

In the busy preparations for the upcoming season, Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Ruth Brill discusses her future as a female choreographer in a male-dominated industry.

Ruth Brill in class. Credit: Tim Cross.

‘I’ve created a few pieces for the Company now, but at the moment I’m working on a one-act ballet called Arcadia, which will be performed both on the midscale tour and on the main stage at Birmingham Hippodrome in spring 2017.

‘I’m very lucky to be working within a large organisation and to have been given support and opportunities to pursue my choreography. It’s a fact that at the top of our industry there aren’t as many women as men.’

Knowing that the average ballerina will retire by their late-30s, a dancer has very particular constraints to consider when developing her career.

‘It may be that this is a safe place for me as a dancer at the moment. In the future, perhaps as a freelance choreographer, I may be more exposed to uncertainty and it may be more of a struggle. I’m in the second half of my career as a dancer now. I’ve always felt that if you have the opportunity to progress in other areas, you have to take them.

‘I’m also very aware of the potential difficulties when transitioning from dancer to choreographer. For women, this may coincide with starting a family. However, if a woman has the talent, vision, creativity, strength and commitment to choreograph, then she should be given equal opportunities.'

'Maybe it takes the women longer to progress independently because they have to get through the "I’m a Swan, don’t stand out" phase.'

'This year English National Ballet put on a programme that boasted three female choreographers. The fact that this was the selling-point of the programme illustrates there is a problem. Although there are female choreographers in the industry, they are fewer in number.

'As a female dancer you are initially trained to be one of many Swans in Swan Lake or a Wilis in Giselle. For the big traditional ballets, there is usually a corps of female dancers. For those ballets, dancers are drilled to be exactly the same, to not stand out, and to work as part of a group. Maybe it takes the women longer to progress independently because they have to get through the "I’m a Swan, don’t stand out" phase. There is corps de ballet work for men, but generally in traditional ballets, it’s not as common. Perhaps as a result of this, the men develop more individually.

<p><em>Swan Lake: </em>Natasha Oughtred as Odette and Jamie Bond as Prince Siegfried with Artists of Birmingham Royal Ballet</p>. Credit: Bill Cooper.

Above, Ruth as a Swan, alongside Natasha Oughtred as Odette, Jamie Bond as Prince Siegfried and Artists of Birmingham Royal Ballet.

'I certainly believe that women have as much capacity to be visionary and lead the industry as men. We have some great female role models in the past and I am sure the future will again prove this to be true.'

Ruth’s new ballet Arcadia will feature in our midscale tour and as part of the Three Short Story Ballets bill at Birmingham Hippodrome in 2017.