William Shakespeare authored some of the world’s most enduring works of literature, many of which contained unforgettable female characters, including Lady MacBeth, Juliet, Desdemona, among others.
But in Shakespeare’s day, within the uber-patriarchal world of Elizabethan England, there existed a strong social stigma against women performing certain roles in society. Acting was one of them. Thus, men played these renowned women characters.
Contemporary America doesn’t have that problem obviously. But within the arts, during the Great “Awokening,” a strange dynamic has emerged. Scarlett Johansson, for instance, withdrew from playing a transgender woman in a movie after activists complained she was not transgender. Some in Hollywood have railed against able-bodied actors playing the disabled.
But in Seattle, in the ballet, the Shakespeare model has merged with modern American sexual politics, which includes the notion that gender is not something set in stone but malleable.
Accordingly, reports Breitbart News, “Ashton Edwards will be the first male dancer to study en pointe at the prestigious Pacific Northwest Ballet” in Seattle. In other words, Edwards, an 18-year-old transplant from Flint, Michigan, will be dancing in roles traditionally held by women.
“It’s really exciting to see choreographers nowadays blurring the lines of gender binary and sexuality,” Edwards told National Public Radio, which gushed over Edwards’ “leap across gender norms,” as NPR put it.
“We see men dancing with men and women dancing with women. And it doesn’t always have to be a love connection. It can just be a partnership.”
The idea that feminists or other activists in this realm might grumble about a man taking women’s roles does not seem to be a concern.
“Classical ballet has long embraced stereotypical ideas about masculinity and femininity,” NPR reported, and “ballet is a highly structured discipline with rigid divisions between the sexes.”
“But ideas about ballet are changing.” And Edwards is at the forefront of that. “As ballet changes to better reflect the real world, dancers of different colors, body types and sexuality see there’s room for them in the professional dance world,” NPR noted.
Peter Boal, the artistic director of the ballet company, agreed. He explained to local reporters, “There will be a moment when someone like Ashton is dancing en pointe in a role that audiences haven’t seen before and it will be a first. It will be a door opener and I would imagine – I would hope – that we would flood through that door.”
Catherine Garcia of The Week maintained that Edwards “is changing ballet for the better.”
And others agree.
Yes to Ashton Edwards helping the ballet world rethink and blur gender! https://t.co/imOzgkSRJE
— Kristin (@PixKristin) January 17, 2021
One Twitter user noted, “Yes to Ashton Edwards helping the ballet world rethink and blur gender!”
Absolutely love this. Thank you @PNBallet for opening a new chapter in ballet and bravo to Ashton Edwards! 🩰 Can’t wait to attend a performance!” Gender-fluid dancer at Pacific Northwest Ballet is breaking barriers”#DiversityandInclusion https://t.co/5S75Gh73FA
— Susan Burke Steckler (@AlpenHiker) January 16, 2021
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