Mackrell points out that we're on a "slippery slope" of censorship when we beginning cutting out things from historic productions.
Perhaps we should just accept them as the less lovely face of ballet today.
On the other hand, she points out that this particular form of make-up on these
figures has no intrinsic importance in the context of the ballet. We are not talking about Othello, whose color is crucial to the plot and its significance. These characters have only one function: they are "exotics," of whom there are many in 19th century ballet. It is not the quaint black makeup that anyone is objecting to, it is the attempt to replicate a make-up style that has a long and dishonorable history in the popular arts. It is quite possible to give these characters alternative exotic looks without serious injury either to the ballet or to the the principle of historical accuracy.
This week's Times Literary Supplement
has it own review article on the Bolshoi's London season. The reviewer, Judith Flanders, writes intelligently and, on the whole, favorably about Ratmansky's re-choreographing of The Bright Stream
. She concludes, however:
Finally I must admit I feel uneasy. A ballet about the happy carefree days of forced collectivization? Ballet is not an art that lends itself readily to realism, but that doesn't mean we have to leave our morals at the door. I gritted my teach through what I fear in the original Corsaire libretto was probably called "the dance of the picaninnies" (small children who today, shamefully, still appear in black-face); I swallowed hard at the anti-Semitic depiction of the money-grubbing merchant in the same piece. But how does the population of the Ukraine respond when the Bolshoi tours its happy-go-lucky version of events that caused the deaths of millions of their compatriots? One understands why Lopukhov and Shostakovich through this was a good subject in 1925. But now? I am genuinely uncertain about what our present response shoudl be to preserving these unpleasant relics imbedded in masterpieces of the past. Pretending they do not exist cannot be the answer. [The boldface -- or should I say the "blackface"? -- is mine.]
Racist, nationalist, and religious-purity movements of all sorts are on the rise in the world today -- definitely not excluding Russia, the keeper of so many ballet traditions. Small things like a little make-up may be irrelevant to this. Or not. But how important, really, is it to preserve them?Edited to add:
Leigh and I were posting at the same time. It goes without saying that I agree with his point about this detail being "peripheral to the story."