“Ballet is woman,” George Balanchine famously said. He was referring to the ballerina, that quintessence of loveliness. But the ballerina needs a ballet company – and, by extension, an artistic director – to realise her art, and, in this regard, ballet is all too often man.

Ballet Soloists Georgia Swan and Vito Bernasconi in an image for Bespoke2018 at Queensland Ballet. Photo © Justin Ridler

In the world of elite ballet, female artistic directors are few and far between. The reasons for this are multifarious and complex, and, in the view of Deborah Jones, the dance critic for The Australian, bound up in historical bias against women. Men have generally occupied positions of leadership and “choose people like them,” she says. Moreover, women’s leadership qualities – such as empathy and pragmatism – have been undervalued. “Qualities like these can be powerful and effective, but they tend to be downgraded if they’re associated with women,” says Jones.

Classical ballet is inherently hierarchical, a distant trace of its courtly origins. Traditional ballets represent a strict gender division of delicate princesses and strong princes, and these are the works that continue to resonate with audiences and fill...

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