Updated: Apr 12
Few choreographers today take on the daunting challenge of creating a full length, 3 act, story ballet (more here). Ballerinas may be the main instrument on stage, but the majority of professional ballet productions are choreographed and directed by men. Ballet Theatre San Luis Obispo’s Artistic Director, Theresa Slobodnik, defies it all to produce a brand new massive ballet production!
LESS THAN 30% OF PROFESSIONAL BALLETS ARE CREATED BY WOMEN
Women are seen as the key instrument for ballet works but are often not raised to see themselves as the leaders making key decisions for the company.
“Dance Data Project, a nonprofit that tracks data related to gender equity in dance, released its annual report on the 2020-2021 season and found that 69% of works performed by the 50 largest ballet companies in the United States were choreographed by men. The year before, that percentage was 72%; two years ago, it was much higher at 81%.” SOURCE
In San Luis Obispo, the majority of the largest performing art programs and theaters' Artistic Directors and CEOs are men.
After a successful career as a professional ballerina herself, Theresa Slobodnik never envisioned taking the Director’s chair. But since 2006, she has been a pioneer female director who has produced a wide range of original ballets and ballets from the classical repertoire for the largest stages on the Central Coast.
SAME ROLE. DIFFERENT EXPECTATIONS. ADDITIONAL HURDLES.
As for most women in leadership positions predominantly held by men, the expectations and standards are higher in comparison to their male counterparts.
Society teaches women to do good work but keep their heads down; they are often taught not to call attention to themselves even if it's to promote their accomplishments. This makes it difficult to make their brilliant work visible (learn more about the "Self Promotion Gap"). It puts women leaders in the artistic space at a disadvantage when funding is already limited in a small community with several art programs all vying for the same support.
As an Artistic Director, a firm or stern approach is required to create such a massive production and direct an entire cast toward the same vision. While this is expected from male leaders, it can be negatively misconstrued when it comes unexpectedly from a petite woman in the same role.
Theresa has big visions and perseveres through all the challenges as a leader in her role. She overcomes the hurdles of this process head-on and leads an entire company to the stage. In a room full of young female dancers, she’s inspiring generations of girls that they can be powerful leaders in any space.
A VISIONARY GOING ABOVE AND BEYOND FOR HUNCHBACK
In her Spring 2023 production, Theresa translated Victor Hugo’s classic story into a full world for the theatre stage and developed all the storytelling through the medium of ballet. She single-handedly created every element from selecting the music scores to choreographing for all 40 dancers on stage. Her vision for Hugo’s complex characters portrays humanity’s best and worst qualities - unshakable lust, painful betrayal, and the innate desire to be loved. In the novel, Quasimodo the Hunchback is from an outcast race of people and is differently abled leading to his ostracism from society. The themes in this story comment on society and play on the experience of being “othered” which is still deeply relatable today. Theresa is a biological mother of 5 children and has spent years teaching diverse students. She has a deep understanding of people and you can feel it in the characters and stories she creates.
She has a deep understanding of people and you can feel it in the characters and stories she creates.
As a leader in the nonprofit with minimal resources, Theresa holds many other roles that would typically be managed by an entire team. Throughout the 3 months of production, you would see her working day and night:
Directing the volunteers in the Costuming Department for over 120+ costume pieces
Sketching giant set pieces to be built by her carpenter husband
Creating lighting designs with the theatre Technical Team
Teaching ballet classes to every dancer level - from 4-year-olds in pre-ballet to pre-professional dancers
Working with marketing and promotions to garner ticket sales
Managing and conducting rehearsals for the entire cast 7 days a week
Mentoring students through personal hurdles and creating a space for anyone to experience the joy of ballet
"How does she do it all?" you may ask. To be honest, we don't really know... But the world and spaces she is able to create are beyond magical.
A COLORFUL CREATIVE SPACE FOR ALL
Theresa goes above and beyond because of her dedication to her craft and her deep love for her community. Her art is her gift to the public and the opportunity to perform is her gift to the artists in her company. For many ballet companies, there are often requirements (age, training experience, etc) in order to perform. But Theresa believes that this opportunity should be made accessible to everyone and finds value in every body who wants to participate. Her productions feature professional dancers, beginning adult students, theatre actors, and youth dancers of varying backgrounds and experiences.
In her latest work on Hunchback, the characters were are as colorful as their characters. This brought a genuine richness to the world and town Theresa created to tell this story.
Ballet Theatre San Luis Obispo is a small company run by only 2 leaders and has consistently produced countless creative works for the stage since 2006. At the helm, Theresa Slobodnik is a visionary leader who passionately works at perfecting her craft and inspiring generations of artists along the way.
Be a part of this inspiring leader's future works by joining us at Ballet Theatre San Luis Obispo! Support women leaders and artists!