Solange Knowles may have just single-handedly elevated ballet to the mantle of mainstream culture—a feat the art form has struggled to achieve over the last few decades. Audiences that were once comprised of well-off, elderly dance donors and stately socialites are becoming younger, less white, and clamoring for more diversity and artistic risk-taking. And as of this week, the New York City Ballet—a leading ballet company, which has also been the subject of several scandals in recent years—suddenly appears ready to deliver audiences some of what they’ve been hoping for.
On Monday, the New York Times reported that NYCB had commissioned Solange, the Grammy-winning artist who once dreamed of attending Juilliard, to compose her first original ballet score for the company’s Fall Fashion Gala in September, which will also be showcased in a slew of shows in October and May.
“I’ve been wanting to attend the ballet, and Solange composing the score for a couple of shows was the cherry on top for me,” Tamara Young, a Knowles fan, told Jezebel via email. “The ballet is considered high art, and the barrier of entry is difficult for BIPOC, so Solange becoming the first Black woman to compose the score for the New York City Ballet is incredible, and I absolutely must witness it.”
Solange’s score will accompany an untitled work by choreographer Gianna Reisen, which will premiere at the gala alongside a new piece by Kyle Abraham, putting at least two Black artists on the evening’s program. “I’m loving this moment for her,” Noella Williams, another fan, told Jezebel. “Plus, I get to see my first ballet!”
Apple MacBook Air Laptop
The M1 chip delivers 3.5x faster performance than the previous generation all while using way less power. Get up to 18 hours of battery life.
As more of Solange’s longtime fans caught wind of the news, tickets for the performances began to fly off City Ballet’s website in a manner generally reserved for international pop stars. Solange began trending, which, if only by association, meant ballet was trending, too. She was hailed for entering an “intimidating” space for Black women, while many were shocked at her ability to get them to even buy ballet tickets—something many still consider to be too pricey or stuffy. Several fans mentioned the NYCB site even set up a virtual waiting room to buy tickets.
After hearing about the show, Young told Jezebel that she snagged a ticket from City Ballet’s website for $128 with taxes and fees after a five-minute wait time—a price she said is “somewhat affordable for ballet.”
Nia Tucker also told Jezebel they immediately went searching for tickets after hearing the news. Tucker searched for the October and May tickets advertised as “starting at $38,” but kept running into tickets for the world premiere at the fall gala instead, where gala seats start at $750. As of publication, tickets for the gala’s $1,000 and $1,500 levels are sold out, while the Anniversary Table and Chairman’s Circle Table are available for $200,000 and $100,000, respectively. Fall galas, after all, are one of dance’s biggest annual fundraisers, but if ballet companies are making the argument that ballet is for everyone, those high price tags for a premiere say otherwise.
“I was frustrated because when the news dropped, I felt as if all the dates and prices should have been [easily available] too, not just the gala, which is for those who can afford those high prices,” Tucker said. They’re still trying to get a ticket.
Some fans wondered why Solange would opt into this space—one which has historically not welcomed Black audiences or prioritized the presence of Black dancers. Ballet is known to run about 10 to 20 years behind the diversification of pop culture at large: Misty Copeland became the first Black principal ballerina at American Ballet Theatre just seven years ago, and some of ballet’s biggest stars are still forced to wear tights and pointe shoes that don’t match their skin.
But as several ballet writers have pointed out, commissions for ballet company fall galas are typically splashier and hyped as more press-worthy than others throughout the rest of the year. Last year, for example, City Ballet commissioned its first Black female choreographer, Sidra Bell, to create an original work for its fall gala. In 2019, American Ballet Theatre used the occasion to highlight the ABT Women’s Movement and commissioned several women choreographers for the evening.
However, that trend—saving collaborations with famous Black artists or other tokenized choreographers for galas—is troubling. It means that the privilege of being amongst the first to see Solange’s work up close is mainly reserved for donors or those who can shell out at least $750 per ticket, upholding the problematic class stratification that made ballet feel out of touch in the first place. It also means that commissioning women artists, let alone Black women artists, ends up getting pegged as an opportunistic novelty performance or a one-off, regardless of how transcendent the piece might actually be.
Solange’s commission is groundbreaking, exciting, and historic, and I have no doubt that every performance will be filled with electric audiences buzzing about how glorious it is to see an iconic Black artist in such a historically white space. This news should be celebrated, but it’s also proof that women—especially those from marginalized backgrounds—are often handed the impossible task of reversing a century’s worth of exclusion.
But, at a gala where donors are courted, wined, and dined, Solange can prove that Black art belongs there, and that her involvement with the ballet is neither a novelty nor a “special show,” but a deserved staple. It’s not her responsibility to do so, but she’s Solange; she’ll pull it off anyways.