Empowering Women through the ChoreograpHER Initiative

Shantell Martin by Catalina Kulczar; Melissa Toogood by Erin Baiano; Lia Cirio by Rachel Neville Photography; Claudia Schreier; Tiler Peck by Vincent Tullo

Six female Company dancers are sharing stories and having their voices heard by creating new works for BB@home: ChoreograpHER

Matthew Slattery, Madysen Felber, Sage Humphries

Photo credit: Brooke Trisolini

Isaac Akiba, Haley Schwan, Abigail Merlis

Photo credit: Brooke Trisolini

Boston Ballet’s CHOREOGRAPHER INITIATIVE creates opportunities for female students and professional dancers to develop their choreographic skills by investing in the creation and staging of new works by female artists. It has three main pillars, including the Choreographic Project, which is a series of workshops targeting female Boston Ballet School students for an opportunity to create, rehearse, and present a piece of choreography with their peers. Additionally, Artistic Director Mikko Nissinen is planning a program dedicated to female artists in creative fields including choreography, music, design, and visual art for the 2020–2021 season as part of a larger commitment to presenting works by female choreographers on the main stage at the Citizens Bank Opera House.

The third pillar of the ChoreograpHER Initiative is BB@HOME: CHOREOGRAPHER, a performance dedicated to Company dancers who want to explore the art of choreography. Company dancers LIA CIRIOCHYRSTYN FENTROYLAUREN HERFINDAHLSAGE HUMPHRIES, and  ABIGAIL MERLIS will choreograph new works danced by their peers in a black box theater setting at Boston Ballet’s SOUTH END headquarters October 24–25.

Making personal stories
Each of the dancers are drawing inspiration from different sources. Cirio’s Lenore will allow audience members to think about what loss means to them. “I want the audience to come up with their own feelings when watching my work,” she said. “Because loss can mean so many different things, I want the story to be personal.” This is her THIRD TIME CHOREOGRAPHING after making her debut at BB@home in 2018 with Sta(i)r(e)s followed by the peppermint wind for Boston Ballet School’s Next Generation in 2019.

Fentroy’s new work you is a visual representation of the shadow that lives within everyone. “I hope to allow the audience a moment of relatability to each other involving the demons that we all have but sometimes are afraid to talk about,” she said.

Herfindahl is finding inspiration through her dancers in her untitled piece. “I’m not trying to prove a point or make a grand statement; I just want the audience to appreciate the dancers and the music,” she said. “I want the audience to be able to create their own connection or story to what they see on stage.”

In her third choreographic work The Joy Translation – Battle of the Sixes, Humphries hopes to challenge the concepts of justice, judgement, and victory. She wants the audience to continue a conversation after seeing her work.

Merlis is inspired by her dancers and the music in her first choreographic work. She hopes the audience “is enlivened by the music and movement and drawn in by the dynamic connections between the dancers.”

Womack begins her choreographic journey with her first piece, Safety, exploring what a woman needs to start to fall in love. “Today, we often ignore the importance of making one another feel safe,” she said.

BB@home: ChoreograpHER will be moderated by celebrated choreographer Helen Pickett, who got her choreographic start with Boston Ballet in 2005. Since then, Pickett has created over 40 ballets in the U.S. and Europe. Her works Tsukiyo and Petal will be performed as part of the CARMEN program in May. Petal was originally commissioned as a 10-minute work for a Boston Ballet in-studio workshop in 2007.

Lia Cirio and Desean Taber rehearsing Cirio’s Sta(i)r(e)s

Photo credit: Brooke Trisolini


Boston Ballet established the ChoreograpHER Initiative to provide more opportunities for female choreographers. “I think ChoreograpHER is a really important movement that Boston Ballet has created. It’s special to be able to have an idea and have the support from your peers and the ballet to help you bring it to life,” Fentroy said.

Humphries first choreographed for BB@home in 2018 with YOU and later for Boston Ballet’s debut at the BOSTON CALLING MUSIC FESTIVAL.  “This is an outlet for me to tell stories and speak my truth. Without the opportunity of ChoreograpHER, I would have never realized I had so much to share,” she said.

The program also allows the dancers to explore a creative outlet they may not have considered otherwise. From Merlis’ perspective, “the uniqueness of the ChoreograpHER format is what inspired me to explore choreography. Through this Initiative, the Company is really opening the doors for all of us to try something new. I would be remiss not to take advantage of it.” Herfindahl adds, “the creation process is so different from dancing, and it has been really eye-opening for me to feel the many emotions and manage the stress of having to make something for my dancers.”

With Sincere Appreciation
The ChoreograpHER Initiative has been made possible by Lead Sponsors Amy and David Abrams, Marie and Mark Schwartz, and Elizabeth Yntema, along with a generous grant from the Virginia B. Toulmin Foundation.

The Company gratefully acknowledges the outstanding support of Barbara and Amos Hostetter in our commitment to amplifying diverse artistic voices.