Pillow Lab:
Theresa Ruth Howard

At Perles Family Studio: Mar 18

Event Dates

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Pillow Lab:
Theresa Ruth Howard

Residency: March 10-19, 2023
Showing: March 18, 2023

For this upcoming Pillow Lab, MoBBallet Founder Theresa Ruth Howard tapped 2021 Guggenheim Fellow Christopher Huggins. Huggins will be in process with international Black dancers, some of whom participated in the Kennedy Center’s Reframing the Narrative residency curated by Howard, for which she commissioned Donald Byrd to create From Other Suns.

The dancers in this Pillow Lab residency are: Precious Adams, Corey Bourbonniere, Josh Bodden, Princess Gates, Jonathan Philbert, Miranda Silviera, Raquel Smith, and Tyrone Walker.

The Pathways to Performance Choreographic Program (PTP) Pillow Lab will provide an opportunity for Huggins, who works internationally and does not have a traditional “home base” to work, with a highly selective group of ballet artists outside of a traditional company setting to investigate his aesthetic in a ballet vernacular and specifically working on pointe. In 2015, he set In the Mirror of Her Mind on Dance Theater of Harlem, dipping his toe into the ballet space, but he was not afforded another opportunity to investigate the possibility of commuting his dynamic contemporary work into a balletic context. Pathways to Performance offers him a risk-free environment to explore.

Residencies like the Pillow Lab will help PTP to build an evening of works that will be presented at the Kennedy Center’s Eisenhower Theater in July 2024.

Pathways to Performance Choreographic Program (PTP)

MoBBallet’s (memoirs of Blacks in Ballet) next focus is on Black ballet choreographers and those of color. In keeping with MoBBallet’s 360˚ approach to transforming the field of ballet, Pathways To Performance (PTP) cultivates and mentors Black choreographers (and those of color) who are working specifically in the ballet idiom. PTP supports Black contemporary choreographers (and those of color) who are interested in investigating working in the Ballet idiom, while aiding established but unknown and overlooked makers break glass ceilings that have prevented them from leveling up in the dance world by providing concrete opportunities for them to create work and have it presented on mainstages.

The lack of Black ballet choreographers mirrors that of the lack of Black professional ballet dancers, hence that lack is mirrored in other roles in the field: rehearsal directors, choreographers, artistic directors, and production directors/related backstage crew. Hence it stands to reason that as the ballet world begins to court and commission Black choreographers, they will look towards the “low hanging fruit” of the modern and contemporary genres for talent, and generally from an overfished pond. In this, both great talents (working in all genres) are overlooked because of the insular culture of the dance world.

MoBBallet’s Pathways to Performance will help pierce the rarified bubble by not only cultivating Black chorographic ballet talent, but by helping established but not adequately recognized talent to be elevated; it will support them in leveling up by placing their work on high-profile platforms.

Our mission is to make certain that the ballet field does not create a subcategory for Black choreographers in ballet repertoires, that of “modern” and “contemporary.” Hence PTP is designed and dedicated to nurturing and cultivating choreographers whose first language is ballet and who choreograph on pointe.

Equally, PTP is an incubator and platform for professional and pre-professional ballet talent as it creates a space for dancers to have an opportunity not only to be in a creative process with Black makers but also to receive personal coaching and council is a space designed to be mentally and spiritually supportive and restorative–in a space that not only centers Blackness but acknowledges the impact being Black in the white space of ballet has on a person. PTP provides a space for healing through art, helping participants to negotiate the cognitive dissonance of loving an art form that has just recently begun to consciously see you, while founder Theresa Ruth Howard offers insight on how to navigate the rapidly shifting landscape, ways to activate one’s activism is a safe and strategic way, and building community. “We are not Unicorns,” and we are not alone. We are The Village.

The Pathways to Performance Choreographic Program (PTP) is an expansion of Howard’s work, striving to shift the culture of ballet and create diversity, equity, inclusion, and opportunity. This Pillow Lab marks the second residency for Howard’s newly launched Pathways to Performance Choreographic Program, which was launched this past August at the MoBBallet Symposium: M.I.A where Portia Adams (Ballet de Monte Carlo) was invited to set a solo for students of the Royal Winnipeg Ballet Aspirant Program, and Meredith Rainey was commissioned by Royal Winnipeg Ballet to set a work on the company in January.

About Christopher L. Huggins

Christopher L. Huggins is a visionary dance innovator. He is an Alvin Ailey disciple and historian, developing multilayered storytelling through dance. Christopher attended Purchase University, the Juilliard School, and was a merit scholar at the Ailey School. He’s a former soloist of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and Aterballetto of Reggio Emilia, Italy. His work is rooted in research that memorializes our darkest history. This is found in his ballet THE LIST, a story about the systemic genocide of Jewish families and those in concentration camps. His ballet NEW FRUIT, inspired by Nina Simone’s music, documents terror lynching. Through his dance initiative, he provides access to emerging dancers and choreographers to study abroad with him. He works around the globe and held residencies at over 25 universities and colleges. Christopher is a multi-award winner, including: two Alvin Ailey Awards from Black Theater Alliance, a Walt Disney Diversity award, a Critics Choice award, and a silver medalist of the International Dance Competition in Seoul, South Korea. He holds the distinction of being the “repetiteur” of Mr. Ailey’s ballets. Learn more about Christopher’s artistry here. As he continues his dance legacy, Christopher wants his work to heal, entertain, and inspire humankind.

About Theresa Ruth Howard

The New York Times called her “A Force for Change,” Theresa Ruth Howard is a writer, diversity strategist, former ballet dancer, and the founder and curator of Memoirs of Blacks in Ballet (MoBBallet.org) which has been a pioneer in the efforts to create cultural reform that supports the diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Anti-Racism in the field of ballet and the classical arts through education and advocacy. MoBBallet expanded the perception of ballet (who it is for and who participates) by resorting history with our digital archives, which include: Timeline, Roll Call, Constellation Project (created in collaboration with Williams College), Digital Learning Hub, and digital installations.

In addition, Howard supports and mentorship of dancers, educators, and choreographers through our annual educational, professional development, and networking Symposiums. This multi-generational personal development and educational intensive, convene an elite and diverse faculty of black ballet professionals, pre-professional ballet students, choreographers, dance educators, and scholars. She also works to provide artistic opportunities in curating programming like the Reframing the Narrative residency and performances at the Kennedy Center in June 2022, and initiatives like the Pathways to Performance choreographic program.

As an advocate, her background as a dancer (Dance Theater of Harlem and Armitage Gone! Dance) and dance educator make her uniquely qualified to target, address and facilitate much-needed cultural shifts in ballet leadership. She is an international diversity strategist whose innovative philosophy and approach to the as made her a sought after speaker, consultant and coach to artistic, executive, and school directors and Board members of ballet, opera, academic institutions and service organizations including: The Royal Opera, Seattle Opera, Opera America, National Association of Teachers of Singing and American Guild of Musical Artist.

In 2018, she was a member of the Design and Facilitation Team of The Equity Project: Increasing the Presence of Blacks in Ballet, a three-year initiative which assembled a cohort of 21 North American Ballet companies. In addition to curating MoBBallet, Howard collaborated with Peggy Olislaeger  in the curation of the Dutch National Ballet’s (DNB) bi-annual conference Positioning ballet (2017/2019),which convened over 40 European and international companies. In 2019 she was invited to curate their Black Achievement Month photo exhibition paying homage to the legacy of Black Ballet artists who have danced with the company since 1961. In 2019  she was tapped to Howard curate The Royal Opera House’s inaugural Young Talent Festival Symposium, “Exposure, Access and Opportunity: Exploring the Cultural Barriers to Ballet Training.”

This work lead to found the Cultural Competence and Equity Coalition (C2EC) a membership-based organization that supports the embodiment of Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, Anti-Racism and Cultural Competence (I.DE.A.&CC) and works to transform the cultural norms within the classical arts. C²EC is a learning community providing the support, education, and advocacy organizations, leaders, artists, and creators need to reimagine and reshape the culture and the standards of classical arts. Members include: The Royal Ballet, National Ballet of Canada, Pacific Northwest Ballet, San Francisco Ballet, Boston Ballet, Royal Winnipeg Ballet and more.

As a journalist Ms. Howard, has contributed to The Source, Pointe, Expressions (Italy), and Tanz (Germany), and Opera America Magazines. Currently she is a contributing writer for Dance Magazine. Former New York Times Lead Dance Critic Alastair Macaulay cites her as “One of the most valuable writers on dance today… Theresa Ruth Howard has written some of the most provocative pieces on ballet today.” Her life motto is: “The only way to make the world a better place, is to be better people in it!”