Adriana Pierce is a ballet dancer, choreographer, a proud queer woman and most importantly, a thoughtful human being. With her #QueertheBallet initiative, she is not only empowering queer female and non-binary performers in ballet but also starting a conversation the ballet world needs to finally have.
As a young person, Adriana Pierce had no plans of becoming a professional ballet dancer. She says, “I wanted to be on Broadway as a young girl and wanted to do musical theatre.”
At the age of 14, she started training at the American School of Ballet and trained there for five years. She tells Brown, “That’s when I fell in love with ballet and started going on this ballet track.”
Being a queer woman, Pierce hardly felt represented in the ballet world – “Honestly it’s sad to say that there was not really much particularly in the ballet world for me that helped shape my identity”, she further added, “I had to seek community outside of my professional dance world, and I think that those relationships and friendships are what really helped me feel comfortable with my queer identity”.
With the #Queertheballet movement, Adriana Pierce redefines ballet and tries to inspire change and incorporate respectful partnerships.
“There’s a place for everyone, there’s a place for you, you are enough, and you are not alone!”says Adriana Pierce
Over the pandemic, she started connecting with other queer and non-binary dancers in ballet – “For a long time, I thought that I was the only queer woman in professional ballet, but the truth is that there are many all over the world. There always has been; we just don’t talk about it. The feeling of being able to relate with other dancers who had similar experiences for the first time was a powerful feeling for me.”
It became clear pretty fast for Adriana that she needed to share those feelings, and so one of the dancers from the community happened to approach her to choreograph a piece, to which Pierce wholeheartedly agreed. She tells Brown, “I said yes, of course, but I don’t want to just choreograph one piece; I want to start a conversation. I want to contextualize that piece into a discussion that the ballet world needs to have openly.’’
“There are all these boxes that we expect our dancers to fit into, especially the women in ballet. We’re supposed to be in a very specific way. We understand movement in ballet in a very traditional way – not only individual movement but also partnered movements. We want art to reflect and challenge the way we think about our own lives.”
“I want to see people on stage who have authentic and respectful relationships with each other in every way and are not just playing this one stereotypical role.“says Adriana Pierce
According to Pierce, it’s important to think of pointe as a technical skill that anyone can perfect and work on over time instead of thinking of it as a gendered movement or something that sets women specifically apart from men.
“I think choreographers, especially the ones who have never been on pointe, approach it in a way that feels othered. I don’t feel as though there’s always a connection with the actual skill of pointe work.”
She says, “When I work with women on pointe, I want it to feel more authentic to their bodies and their experiences in a way that honours just how good they are.”
Adriana Pierce shares her experience while choreographing the first queer ballet piece with the American Ballet Theatre dancers Remy Young and Sierra Armstrong – “It was a challenge to work with two women dancers on pointe because it’s true you don’t have that much stability when you are on pointe”, she adds, “men on ballet shoes are more grounded. They truly have a lot more agency, so the person on pointe really relies entirely on that person and the groundedness and agency that they have.“
When Pierce had to choreograph two women on pointe, she had to find ways for them to rely on each other and use the pointe shoe in a way that felt authentic to them and the story they were trying to convey.
As a choreographer, she believes, “Whether you’re working with two women on pointe or not, the pointe shoe needs to be thoughtfully considered in a way that elevates the choreography instead of just a given.”
She says, “You can’t take it for granted. It’s a skill that has a lot of impact on the way we think about gender.”
Everything comes with its challenges, and in ballet, women particularly, are very socialised and trained to not be physically strong. Pierce tells Brown, “We are strong to do our choreography, but we’re not as strong as to hold another person up! We are not taught that way and simply not expected to do that”, she further adds, “when I had two women professional dancers in the room, we had no idea where to begin or how to partner with each other.”
On the second day in the studio, Pierce turned some music on and had American Ballet Theatre’s Remy and Sierra do some practice – “I had them hold each other’s hands and feel each other’s weights and experience creative movements by touching and understanding each other’s bodies,” she adds, “When I was in a room fully confronting these issues in a practical way, it was a lot to fully accept. It just shows how much more ballet can be. There are so many possibilities we just have to be doing it!“
“I want people to know that we are here, and we’re all working hard to be visible.”says Adriana Pierce
Many times in professional ballet, Pierce felt that she had to compartmentalize her personal life with who she was in the ballet studio – “It’s been really meaningful to work on these queer works cause it feels like every part of me gets to be involved, and I feel seen in my art form in this new beautiful way. Creating movement that expresses gender in dynamic ways feels natural to me, and it’s been a pleasure to work on queer material because it’s who I am, and it’s what’s inside of me!“
The perfect way to get going after the pandemic
It was a long time since Adriana was in a studio creating because of the pandemic. She says, “It took me a little bit of time to calibrate back in that space and readjust, but on the other hand, I felt so ready to create because I had been sitting around for a year so isolated. So it was just like it all came pouring out of me, and I was so grateful to have that residency at Bridge Street.”
She found herself at the end of the pandemic in a place that felt ready to create -“I feel like I had so much to say, and that seemed to be the perfect way to get going, especially in that theatre and it felt like we were creating our own world and focusing on our work.”
Pierce recalls the piece that she created in the Bridgestreet Theatre with Remy and Sierra – “Not much preparation went into it actually”. She says, “I didn’t prepare anything because I wanted to spend the two weeks we had in Catskill just in true exploration, so I went in with concepts. I knew what I wanted to explore and the things that I wanted to work on.” Pierce tells Brown that she didn’t prepare any movement in advance and wanted it all to be born of the moment, and that’s the way she prefers to work as a choreographer.
“I create movement in the moment.”says Adriana Pierce
She adds, “I go with whatever steps feel right with the dancers and as per the moment, and it’s the gut feeling that I go off of. It was a very easy and seamless process – we worked quickly.”
Animals and Angels
Pierce had a new dance film that premiered virtually for the Joyce Theatre on their website on June 21st – “another queer duet with two amazing dancers.” #QueerTheBallet’s Animals & Angels, a new pas de deux, featured dancers Audrey Malek and Cortney Taylor Key. The piece is performed on pointe and explores a blossoming queer love story that defies the art form’s traditional gender roles. Allowing two women to experience through dance the first moments of intimacy without remaining beholden to traditional ballet’s gender roles, Animals & Angels brings inclusion with integrity and pride to the world of classical dance.
The next big thing to watch out for!
While talking to Brown, Pierce shared her experience of working on the upcoming iconic West Side Story by Steven Spielberg. She says, “It was an incredible experience creatively, professionally and personally. The dancing was amazing and it was so hard working long hours in those heels but the payoff was so worth it. I can’t even put it all in words; every single person involved in that project was so passionate about it and made it so special.”
Talking about her role, Pierce firmly stated that, “The original West Side Story was so iconic and means a lot to so many people and I really felt like there was a great sense of weight and responsibility everybody felt to really honour the material and everyone gave it their all. Can’t wait to see what comes out!“
Pride and sense of community
As a queer woman living in New York, Pierce loves the energy the city offers during Pride – “New York is so much fun for Pride; there are so many things going on.”
“I’m really a proud queer women to be living in New York city.”Says Adriana Pierce
We asked her about how she likes to celebrate Pride month – “I’m not fully sure what I’m gonna end up doing this Pride, but there’s this march called the Dyke March that I really love participating in.”
“It’s empowering; it’s specifically for queer women and non-binary and trans people. I love that event; we walk down the street and make noises, and it really makes me feel empowered and gives me a sense of community.”
You are not alone!
“I want people to be as used to seeing queer ballets as they are to see Giselle.”says Adriana Pierce
Adriana tells Brown that the biggest thing she wishes to see is more voices – “I want to see more diverse voices being represented, more identities being represented on stage. I want to see more people creating more types of work. I think that it’s time that we allow ballet to be everything that it can be!”
Pierce ends the interview with a message she would like to convey to young queer dancers out there – “I just want them to know that they are not alone. We’re all here, and we’ve been here. There so many amazing initiatives and projects and LGBTQ+ artists doing incredible work and making our world and art forms better.“
It takes just one person to change the world if they truly desire it. With #QueertheBallet, Adriana Pierce is not only helping boost the visibility of queer women and non-binary dancers in the ballet world but also redefine ballet by giving it a whole different perspective and setting a thoughtful example for the future.