Ashley Bouder is putting the finishing touches on her upcoming program for the Ashley Bouder Project which will have its première at Symphony Space’s Peter Jay Sharp Theatre on March 17th. It is an all-women choreographers program, and the composers are specially commissioned.

Ashley Bouder © Diana Mino
Ashley Bouder
© Diana Mino
What made you decide to mount this production of works by women?

I realized that the issue of a lack of women choreographers (especially in the ballet world), just isn’t getting better, or isn’t getting better fast enough. After my initial collaboration with the Ashley Bouder Project, I realized that I wanted to focus more of my energy on that. Two years ago, I made a short dance film with Andrea Schermoly and it made me want to do more. This time around, Ron Wasserman of the New York Jazzharmonic wanted to do a collaboration using the 17-piece orchestra with commissioned music as part of a performance with the Ashley Bouder Project. I thought this would be a great opportunity to showcase women choreographers and women composers. There’s another huge hole in the music world. I don’t recall ever dancing to a woman’s composition at the New York City Ballet. I thought that we could do both of those things and really create a special and unique experience for New Yorkers and audiences wherever else we may take these performances.

We’ve seen more women in fits and starts in recent programs but it keeps stalling out. Do you have a sense of why that is?

I think female choreographers get invited back to work with the same companies less frequently and I think they also have a hard time gaining momentum. It seems their careers as choreographers never get to the fast track unless they start their own thing. I’m choreographing on the program but that’s not the main idea behind it. I was actually reluctant to be one of the choreographers and my husband talked me into it. I’m glad he did because I’ve had a wonderful experience. I just wanted to showcase other female choreographers, especially in different genres of dance. My piece is contemporary ballet. Then there’s a piece by Liz Gerring who’s a contemporary choreographer that we could describe more as modern dance. I’m dancing in that piece with Sara Mearns which in itself is an unusual thing for us to have a duet together. It’s a really interesting collaboration. The third piece is by Susan Stroman who is pure Broadway and it’s to Duke Ellington’s music.  

Ashley Bouder and Amar Ramasar (Ashley Bouder Project, 2015) © Tarzan Dan Td
Ashley Bouder and Amar Ramasar (Ashley Bouder Project, 2015)
© Tarzan Dan Td

And it’s not just the world of ballet where women struggle, it’s the whole world, isn’t it?

Yes, I don’t think I could have picked a better time to launch this program. I’ve been working on it for the last year and the women’s movement has gained a lot of steam. I went to the Women’s March with my daughter and was very proud to be there in a peaceful protest. It had so much feminine energy and a feeling of confidence. I think we’re even more relevant now than we were when we started and I hope that we can gain some public voice that says this is what we want to happen.

Tell me about the piece you’ve choreographed.

Ashley Bouder and Amar Ramasar from the Ashley Bouder Project (2015) © Tarzan Dan
Ashley Bouder and Amar Ramasar from the Ashley Bouder Project (2015)
© Tarzan Dan
It’s a four-movement piece and Miho Hazama composed the music. We discussed beforehand a theme and the music that she wanted to do and she came up with several international dances. I picked four of them. The first movement is called Warrior and it’s based on the Masai jumping. The second movement is called Harvest, based on Polish dancing. The third movement, Ceremony, is based on Middle Eastern Sufi dancing. That’s the pas de deux. The fourth movement is American and it’s called Freedom.

You put a lot at risk when you put something on the stage.

I think you do. Your work is completely taken out of your hands when it gets on stage. You have to trust the dancers you picked, the musicians and everything. Then you’re just a spectator and you have no input anymore. Obviously, you can tell, I’m a little bit controlling.

I’ve noticed that you never do anything halfway. You never mark anything during rehearsals.

No, I don’t. And that’s what I love about performing. I can control what I’m doing. It’s my body and I’m doing it and that’s one of the thoughts that makes me feel better when I’m nervous backstage. If you fall, you fall and that’s on you. In choreographing, you don’t have any control. You just sit there and sweat in your pretty dress. (laughs)

Sara Mearns, rehearsing for the Ashley Bouder Project © Artwork by Andrea Selby
Sara Mearns, rehearsing for the Ashley Bouder Project
© Artwork by Andrea Selby

What made you pick the Blossom Got Kissed revival?

That was Ron Wasserman’s idea. When Susan Stroman created it, he was in the on-stage band when it originally premiered. Ellington is his favorite composer. I had forgotten how much fun that ballet is to do and to watch. I’m really glad he picked it because it goes so well with the program. I know Susan Stroman quite well. I worked with her in Double Feature and was one of the principals in her ballet. I’ve worked with her a lot and I love her work. This is something we knew would be a show stopper. It’s a lot of work in our off time from New York City Ballet for the dancers and for me so I picked something fun. It’s not easy but it’s genuinely good and will get a great response, I think, and it’s a good choice to place at the end of the program. Susan is another strong, successful woman who’s an inspiration to the rest of the people in the program.

One theory is that classical ballet rewards compliant behavior from women and discourages assertiveness.

I was thinking about that this morning. I got told, a lot, to shut up and dance. Sometimes in those exact words. It’s like my job is to dance and look pretty. When you’re told that, over and over, you just don’t think of having a voice anymore. It doesn’t cross your mind that someone is going to listen to you. Boys aren’t told that so much. I think part of that is that when training young kids there is an overwhelming number of girls and an underwhelming amount of boys. They need them there to partner the girls. They need as many boys as they can get. Their behavior and etiquette in class isn’t as strongly disciplined as the girls. Everyone says that every little girl wants to be a ballerina and that’s not quite true, but almost. They’re a dime a dozen when they’re little. They weed them out and you have to be perfect and be quiet and do what you’re told to stay in the class. That different treatment from a young age becomes ingrained and you don’t believe that you can be creative or that anyone is going to listen if you try.

Ron Wassermer (co producer) and Miho Hazama (composer, performer) © Mihyun Kang
Ron Wassermer (co producer) and Miho Hazama (composer, performer)
© Mihyun Kang

What do you think is needed to open up more opportunities for women?

I think more people need to use their voices to speak up. That’s what I’m trying to do. I have this small, collaborative company and I can use my voice there but just being who I am, a principal dancer with the New York City Ballet, gives me a greater audience. I think that if more people like me can stand up, talk about it, and make an effort do something about it, it’s going to get better. It has to start somewhere and I’m trying to get it going and keep it going.

This is the third Ashley Bouder Project production. Are you looking at doing more in the future?

I am. Ron and I have been talking about taking this show on the road because we’ve put so much work and so much of ourselves into it.

Have you given thought to directing a company?

Yes, I have always wanted to. I’m a bit controlling so I would love to be able to run my own company or school where I can have a voice and be heard and also to be able to contribute to the next generation, whether it’s students or professionals.