About women in choreography


Sol León and Paul Lightfoot have been a choreographic duo for 20 years. On the occasion of International Women's Day, Annette Baumann talked to Sol León about women in choreography, power structures, female beauty and the balance between Yin and Yang.

 

 

Annette Baumann (AB): Sol, you have been working with Paul Lightfoot for over 20 years. You are a choreographic team and have developed countless works together. What has changed in this time, especially for women?

Sol León (SL): I would say it is different. But unfortunately not everywhere. It was and it is an evolution. Life is changing, yes, evolving, yes, but not enough; I think women are more supported today than when I started. And it makes a huge difference whether you work alone as a woman or together with a male partner. It was tough for Paul and me to be recognised equally at first. I  had chosen to work "inside" the choreographic bubble. And when you work in a team with a man, the man is usually selected to be the focus. For example, I often had a clear opinion on a topic, but people were much more interested in what Paul had to say. It was not pleasant to deal with the situation, neither for him nor for me.
 

AB: Is that still the case today?

SL: We have both evolved, Paul and I, and we are still learning a lot about this matter.

Today it’s easier to be myself, and if I feel I'm being mistreated, I say so.

 

AB: There are still far fewer female than male choreographers to this day. Why?

SL: It's a problem that doesn't exist in dance alone but in all the arts. Women have been held back for a long time; they have been judged and evaluated much more strictly than men. I don't mean to say that women are better. Not at all. Women are simply different. Today, there are more women in many fields than in the past. But is it just because they are women?? I don't think that's right, either. Well, it's an evolution; changes take time. I am delighted when women get into important positions. No matter if in the arts or otherwise in social life. But I hope it is not just because it‘s a woman that this person achieves this position. Now the woman has to do a good job, has to be herself, has to do things differently. I think that the beauty of the female side lies precisely in not imitating the male side just in terms of power but in balancing things and thus raising them to a new level. A level on which opposites come together to form something beautiful and whole in a healthy way.

AB: Do you think it's a question of power? Because men have the power to decide about careers, about programmatic content, about structures?

SL: For me it's more a question of energies, like with yin and yang. Men often put too much power into one side. But it's not just about one side. Life, beauty, harmony, happiness, all that lies in the balance of both sides. I am certainly a power woman, but I would never say that I have more power than a man. Then I would have the same problem, only the other way round.

The magic lies in the balance of the two opposites.

Harmony can be reality. It is very important for me to say that at this point. It's not about demonising men and taking the side of women alone. It is obvious that there are also not (yet) many women who are ready for this real feminine side; who have the talent or the ability and the sensitivity to understand that it is not about cutting out one side; but about finding the balance and the respect . This is something that men have not been able to do so far. Therefore, it is now up to women and men equally to strike that balance. Everything in life has two sides. And if we live in a man's world today, it could be because men have not managed to balance both sides of life.
 

AB: An interesting aspect. Do you think things will be better in the future if women have more power to balance life differently?

SL: I hope so. It's not happening yet. And I don't think women will have more power any time soon either. It will take time. But I think women can help in this process by giving their perspective on things without degrading the male perspective. I have often had this experience when Paul and I have worked as a team.

You have to put your own ego aside sometimes and allow the other person: You are right.

AB: Putting yourself on the back burner, doing right by someone - that's probably something women can do better?

SL: Yes, because women have always done that. Because women, whether they are mothers or not, have the biological necessity to bring life into the world and to preserve it. That says a lot. More attention is now being paid to women's opinions. But we must not rest on our laurels. There are still a lot of women who are not being heard or who are even killed for simply standing up for humans rights.

AB: Have you ever felt disadvantaged in your work as a choreographer? Or is that less true in your case because you worked with Paul?

SL: Not now, of course, but in the the past: yes. We worked together, but I often felt that some people valued my opinion less than Paul's; they did not see me as the other part of the work. Some people were not interested to see my vision. And I don't mean only men. It was also strange for other women to accept that we were equally part of the creative process as two equal individuals in a common work.  

AB:Putting yourself on the back burner, doing right by someone - that's probably something women can do better?

 

SL: Yes, because women have always done that. Because women, whether they are mothers or not, have the biological necessity to bring life into the world and to preserve it. That says a lot. More attention is now being paid to women's opinions. But we must not rest on our laurels. There are still a lot of women who are not being heard or who are even killed for simply standing up for humans rights.

 

AB: Have you ever felt disadvantaged in your work as a choreographer? Or is that less true in your case because you worked with Paul?

SL: Not now, of course, but in the the past: yes. We worked together, but I often felt that some people valued my opinion less than Paul's; they did not see me as the other part of the work. Some people were not interested to see my vision. And I don't mean only men. It was also strange for other women to accept that we were equally part of the creative process as two equal individuals in a common work.  

AB: Was it very unusual at the beginning to perform with Paul as a choreographic duo?

SL: Very unusual, yes. People didn't accept us to the same extent. People always wanted just one. It was strange that there were two of us. One man and one woman. But all our choreographies are based on that. It's like yin and yang. If two men choreographed something, they were seen as equals. But if a man and a woman worked together artistically, the woman was perceived in a weaker frequency.

I didn't like it at all when people saw me only as his muse and not as a creative force.

In the beginning, I didn't really care about that either, i was concentrated on my work. That changed in the moment I became a mother. That's when I started managing myself and my needs. And my priorities changed.

 

AB: Do you have any tips for young female choreographers? How should they behave best?

SL: You must always believe in yourself and love yourself. You must not wait for other people to come and validade your work as beautiful. You are beautiful! You have to learn to communicate and to express. Find your own style and create! Create with love and then share it.

 

AB: A beautiful answer. Is there such a thing as "feminine" choreography in your eyes?

SL: When I see a choreography, I don't want to see a difference. I just want to see a good choreography. It doesn't matter whether it was created by a woman or a man. Pina Bausch is the best example. She had incredible potential and influenced every choreography in her time. She was and is also my greatest inspiration.

 

AB: How are the women portrayed in Schmetterling? What roles do they play?

SL: I've always been interested in how women evolve through the generations, how they weave through evolution like a thread. There are the three stages in a female life: the little girl, the woman and the old lady. The inspiration for this evening are symbolically spoken: life, death and transformation.  And there is one more thing to say: This evening has been created equally from the heart of a woman and the heart of a man, representing the mentioned opposites. And the evening is wonderfully realised on stage by sensitive dancers.

PERFORMANCES


Sol León and Paul Lightfoot will be on stage for the Introductory Matinee for Schmetterling on Sunday, 19 March 2023 at 11 a.m. 

Schmetterling premieres on 31. March 2023 at the Nationaltheater. 

Author: Annette Baumann

 

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