Although PNB enacted its first racial equity plan in 2016, George Floyd’s murder in May 2020 pushed the company to accelerate change.
“At that time, we had one dancer that identified as Black in our company,” Boal says. “It was sort of ‘Whoa, are we asleep at the wheel?’”
PNB now has six Black dancers and another six who are multiracial, plus 12 dancers of Asian, Hawaiian/Pacific Islander or Latino/Hispanic backgrounds. 21 current dancers identify as white.
The 50% BIPOC statistic is impressive when compared with PNB’s peer companies.
At New York City Ballet, the nation’s largest ballet company, 26% of the dancers identify as BIPOC, while at Boston Ballet, 35% of company dancers identify as BIPOC or mixed-race. At San Francisco Ballet, according to the company’s diversity initiative report, more than 30% of the organization’s employees are people of color, although the report doesn’t break out data for dancers specifically.
Ushering in a generational shift
And while ballet dancers are typically young — it’s a physically demanding art form, after all — currently PNB has very few dancers over 35. Since 2020, at the beginning of the pandemic, 10 principal dancers and soloists either retired or left PNB, including fan favorites Lindsi Dec, Benjamin Griffiths and husband/wife duo Laura and Jerome Tisserand, all in their late 30s.
Three dancers of color were among this recently departed cohort: Dec, William Yin-Lee and company star Noelani Pantastico, who was in her early 40s when she retired last year. Last June, PNB’s most senior dancer, Lesley Rausch, also retired. These departures have opened PNB’s roster to an influx of younger, more diverse artists.
At almost 30, Generosa is now a company veteran; Boal hired her in 2011. The New Jersey native trained at the prestigious School of American Ballet, the feeder for New York City Ballet. Although she was a standout student, NYCB didn’t hire her.
“I think, back in the day, they’d made their quota for one Asian person,” she says.
She was devastated, and contemplated quitting dance. Generosa had never considered joining a ballet company outside of New York until Boal offered her a job in Seattle.