Americans don’t usually associate ballet with the music of Bjork and gender non-conformity. But that would seem to the be the future of ballet, if Miles Thatcher, the dancer and creator of Otherness, and the San Francisco Ballet have their say.
The Ballet is currently producing Unbound: A Festival of New Works, which takes a decidedly modern approach to the form in an attempt to attract new and diverse audiences.
Queerty chatted with the Atlanta native and San Francisco resident about his new production, ballet gender roles, and Nite Out, the ballet after party SF ballet is throwing Friday, May 4 at the San Francisco Opera House.
For someone who hasn’t been to SF Ballet, what can they expect from Unbound?
Unbound is a festival consisting of 12 fresh new works created specifically for the dancers of SF Ballet. There are no tutus or powdered wigs in sight. You’ll see pointe shoes, tennis shoes, cell phones, and sunglasses. The music ranges from Björk to M83 to Bach. These ballets feel just as diverse and exciting as their choreographers, who all come from different backgrounds and across the globe. This festival is defining the cutting edge of where ballet is today, and where it is going in the future. I assure you there is something for everyone.
Where did the idea for your ballet “Otherness” come from?
First and foremost, Otherness tells a story. It takes place in a surrealist world dominated by pink and blue binaries and follows a character who simply doesn’t fit in. Since it has a clear storyline, I think it’s a great start for a viewer who has never seen a ballet before. I wanted to use this ballet to talk about how society forces us to label ourselves. Male, female, conservative, liberal… We are asked to choose sides and we are pressured to edit ourselves in order to fit in. What happens if we don’t fit into the labels given to us? What happens when we reject the idea of labels altogether? And at what point does holding on to our own identity prevent us from seeing the humanity in others that appear different?
Two weeks before I started creating this ballet, our president published a tweet banning transgender people from the military. This affected our community deeply, and I can’t help but speak on topics that are close to me with the platform I have. Our society is talking about gender binaries on a large scale and in many different ways, and I want ballet to be part of this conversation. One of my main goals with creating Otherness is to create a dialogue about how our art form engages with gender binaries, and how we can be more inclusive with the stories we see onstage.
Doesn’t most ballet have very specific gender roles, girls in tutus, boys do the lifting?
From the start of our ballet training, men and women are trained differently. Women dance on pointe with special shoes, and men have separate classes to work on specific athletic tricks. Gender roles are embedded in our art form. The prince kisses the princess and she wakes up. The Sugar Plum Fairy finds her cavalier. These stories are beautiful, valid, and pillars in our art form, but I also believe we can carve out a space for different stories.
I’ve designed the role of the main character in Otherness to be performed by both a male and female dancer, depending on which night you see it. Lauren will dance in pointe shoes, Max on flat. Lauren will lift her partner, and Max will be lifted. The steps are exactly the same, yet both dancers find a different power in the role because of their individual strengths. I wanted to cast them both on their incredible ability to tell a story, regardless of their gender identity. In a way, this is a role that I hope can be danced by all genders. This process has allowed me to rethink the way I use gender while I am choreographing, and hopefully challenge our art form to start changing the way we see and work with gender.
What is the Nite Out afterparty like, will you be there?
Nite Out is a fab party that SF Ballet throws in the opera house after the performance. SF Ballet has a longstanding relationship with the LGBTQ community in both its patrons and employees and Nite Out is our way of celebrating and strengthening our bond with this community. On Friday, May 4th, I’m hosting the event with my fellow dancer Solomon Golding after the final performance of Otherness and Program B. Join us to have a drink, meet some dancers and show us some of your moves after the show. Get Tickets here
Where would you stop to eat before the ballet?
Hayes Valley has so many great options, so it’s hard to choose. I’d say stop by Biergarten if the weather is sunny, and then to Papito for some delicious Mexican food. If you have time after the show, check out Nightbird or Noir Lounge for some creative cocktails.
When you aren’t dancing, what are your favorite hangouts in San Francisco?
I like to listen to Gaucho play some old school jazz every Wednesday at Amnesia, go hiking along the Land’s End trail or catch some vegan Mexican food at Gracias Madre. Did I mention I like Mexican food?
What’s your guilty pleasure (film, tv show or streaming)?
I have to admit my RuPaul’s Drag Race addiction, but my guilty pleasure must be reruns of Trixie Mattel and Katya’s Youtube series entitled UNHhhh. It must be my fourth time watching the series though, and it still gets me every time. Thwoorp.
Anything else we should know about you?
You can get an insight into my daily life as a dancer/choreographer/amateur makeup artist by following me @mylesthatcher on Instagram.
More samples from Myles Thatcher’s IG