As a young student, Katy Pyle almost quit ballet altogether after years of hearing from ballet teachers and schools that they were not the right size or shape for ballet. A move to New York, though, opened new avenues for them to dance with and choreograph for numerous well-regarded contemporary-dance ensembles.
In 2011, however, Katy, who identifies as a genderqueer lesbian, recommitted to their original passion. They created Ballez, a Brooklyn-based company that welcomes the talents and stories of queer ballet dancers, who historically have always been part of ballet but to this day do not get acknowledged, much less celebrated. Katy and Ballez aim to celebrate the queerness and joy inherent in ballet by doing away with the rigid, cis-hetero structures and methods that once almost killed their passion for the form.
Among the ballets that Katy has developed for the company are queer re-imaginings of two canonical works, “The Firebird” and “Sleeping Beauty,” which they retitled “Sleeping Beauty & the Beast” and that explored two crucial events a century apart in the herstory of New York’s Lower East Side: the striking garment workers of 1893 and the AIDS activist dykes of 1993.
In this interview with Rob Kramer and Pier Carlo Talenti, Katy explains how the pandemic deepened their passion for ballet and for bringing the form to many communities in inventive ways. They also look forward to a day, which may already be here, when new audiences expect and demand the normalization of inclusive traditions in ballet and all the arts.