Lesbians in Ballet: ‘Has Anyone Like Me Ever Walked These Halls?’

In very different ways, two new ballet projects, both to be released online by the Joyce Theater this month, allow dancers to be their authentic selves. In a livestream on June 10, Ballez, which turns 10 this year, will unveil “Giselle of Loneliness,” a radical re-envisioning of the classic romantic ballet “Giselle.” And Pierce’s “Animals and Angels,” a short film starring the dancers Cortney Taylor Key and Audrey Malek in a duet on pointe, will have its premiere on June 21.

In a still-developing project, the dance artist and scholar Alyah Baker, 39, has been exploring her artistic lineage as a queer Black woman in ballet. For her recent master’s thesis at Duke University, “Quare Dance,” she brought together three dancers (on Zoom) who share her intersection of identities: Malek, a member of the Washington Ballet Studio Company; Key, a freelance artist in New York; and Kiara Felder, a dancer with Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montreal.

“Always being the only one is a thing I’ve experienced a lot,” Baker said, “either the only Black woman, or the only Black dancer, or the only queer dancer or queer woman in certain circles.” Her research, she added, “was really motivated by: I know I’m not the only one.”

The dance historian Clare Croft, editor of the book “Queer Dance: Meanings and Makings,” notes that because ballet training starts so young for women, to have diverse role models is essential. “Looking up to the older girls is so hard baked into what it means to grow up as a woman in ballet,” Croft said. “So having people who are out as lesbians or queer women is exponentially more important.”

Throughout her career, Pierce, 32, who danced for New York City Ballet and Miami City Ballet, rarely encountered other lesbian ballet dancers. So last fall, when she saw an article in Pointe magazine about queer women in ballet, she instantly contacted one of the featured dancers, Lauren Flower, a former member of Boston Ballet and the founder of the blog Queer Women Dancers. Together they reached out to others with similar experiences and organized what Flower calls “a big queer Zoom call.”

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