Dark skin as an aesthetic issue in classical balletHow do you make it a non-issue?
Posted 19 September 2011 - 06:46 AM
Racism and discrimination isn't only a feeling - it's a behavior. Like one Asian woman at NYCB in 30 years. The numbers speak louder than anything else.
But haven't we been on this train already?
Posted 19 September 2011 - 06:50 AM
I disagree. It's not racist to you, a white middle-class man. It is however an issue of race and discrimination to a black woman. This is such a contentious issue precisely because the institution of ballet uses the rigid current aesthetic of body shape to make a case that it's nothing to do with physical traits of a person's race. To the person excluded it's quite a different matter.
I agree that discriminating in regards to body shape and size is not by definition racist.
Actually, I'd like to clarify my statement with a caveat "The issue of body size & shape isn't intrinsically racist" but it becomes so depending on who you are and which side of the fence you're on.
Again it's important to note that these criteria aren't set in stone and are very much the product of an aesthetic for ballerinas which became the norm within the last 15 years of the 20th century.
Although I don't want to go against Bart, who I love more than all the tea in China and I can see where he's coming from I think when we start to split hairs semantically it's best to discuss these issues with the most appropriate words. And when the very real issues of exclusion are watered down to merely unfortunate it is in itself make a defence for the exclusion.
Sorry there's no room for you, it's just "unfortunate" that your bum sticks out, you have breasts, thighs that could crack walnuts, and dying pointe shoes to match your skin tone is too expensive.
I'm not averse to passionate exchange because this is a passionate subject, but you can't argue it from the point of view solely of a white male balletgoer, the real issue is fought daily by black ballet students, or lack thereof.
Interestingly modern dance was mentioned, but the one company where black women have never been represented is the Cunningham Company. In Chance and Circumstance Carolyn Brown wrote how Cunningham hated the intrusion of women's buttocks, thighs and hips on his choreography and choreographic line; he took Judith Dunn out of Nocturnes because of her derriere. I've often wondered if the reason why black women never entered the company had something to do with their musculature.
Posted 19 September 2011 - 06:51 AM
Fascinating. I wonder if anybody has asked Watts or Tomlinson about this. They debuted in the roles in 1981, so presumably Balanchine made the casting decision. As he was seriously ill by then, I wonder if he did any coaching or who did in that era.
I'm looking at Nancy Reynolds' wonderful Repertory in Review (1977) on Agon (pp. 182-186). I don't see any hint of race or color being discussed, even in the quotes from Adams and Mitchell about Balanchine's original intent. From the photos, later casting included Mitchell with McBride, but also Bonnefous with Kent.
Posted 19 September 2011 - 06:53 AM
Posted 19 September 2011 - 07:08 AM
Posted 19 September 2011 - 07:25 AM
You present as a fact your feelings and views regarding this issue. Whereas for someone coming from a different angle the "facts" as such are very different. As Leigh pointed out "feelings" have nothing to do with it, but empirical evidence derived from data would be the overriding concern within a court of law to prove any allegation. Perhaps it's sad how divorced ballet is from society that a culture of seemingly obvious discrimination has never been deemed important enough to be argued anywhere outside of ballet boards.
For the record I don't think the state of ballet nor ethnic mix will ever change, certainly not in the top companies mainly because I don't think ballet will ever be important enough to the black communities to force an issue.
I wasn't prescribing motive, merely saying that an issue has no one answer, no one defining view and the facts can be interpreted a myriad ways depending who you and and which direction you're coming from.
Posted 19 September 2011 - 08:12 AM
Arthur Mitchell did dance in roles that some people may have forgotten he performed; Bourree Fantasque, Stars and Stripes, I've seen a photo of him in Divertimento No. 15, Western Symphony as he mentions here - the New York Public Library's site has a lot of interesting information on that, I did not see him dance, I wasn't living in New York or going to ballet then.
I do remember Suzanne Farrell writing or saying -- maybe in her memoir? -- that The Powers That Be at the Ed Sullivan Show made Farrell and Mitchell dance behind a screen when they did an excerpt from "Slaughter", but Mitchell led them out from behind the screen.
I do think the underlying factors are the same: look at the contestants of the Miss Universe pageant, where almost every candidate, and especially one of the 20% who are considered in the running, conforms as closely as possible to a Caucasian aesthetic and a Barbie doll figure.
In India where things aren't remotely politically correct, there are non-stop TV commercials for skin lightening products, and in the marriage ads, which already are divided by religion and ethnicity in the sub-heads, the typical "ask" for a bride, or the way a bride is advertised by her relatives as being a good catch, is "light-skinned and from a good family". The ask for grooms is "[has great job/education/owns land] and is from a good family". (And those are just the ads in English.) A glance at "School Daze" tells a similar story.
I'm of the school that stylistic uniformity should trump physical uniformity, and the DePrince of the Gamzatti video could be my cup of tea. Not remotely so is the DePrince in the YAGP video, who looks more Mariinsky or POB than a typical American ballet dancer.
Posted 19 September 2011 - 11:30 AM
I didn't notice her skin color in the peasant pdd in "Giselle."
Posted 19 September 2011 - 11:33 AM
That is what I thought when I read this thread: de jure vs. de facto discrimination.
Posted 19 September 2011 - 11:41 AM
Does this have anything to do with representations of opposition?
Sometimes I have watched a ballet and thought it was racist or misogynistic. On reexamination, I thought that the ballet was asking the viewer to examine an issue and was conveying ideas through stereotypes for a reason.
Posted 19 September 2011 - 11:42 AM
Quite right. Racism takes many forms,something that could only be fully realized when many (not all by any means) of the more naked and hostile aspects of the phenomenon disappeared, and excluding the term from discussion would only serve to obfuscate.
Yes. And in general women particularly are subject to changing fashions in looks and body types.
Posted 19 September 2011 - 01:02 PM
It's easy for Hollywood or modeling to change the aesthetic on a dime. They toss out the old with regularity now, and as long as they're looking for young, they're looking at bodies and faces, which don't require years of training.
Posted 19 September 2011 - 05:16 PM
Posted 19 September 2011 - 07:37 PM
Posted 20 September 2011 - 01:55 AM
I wasn't suggesting that there was some kind of conspiracy of silence in place keeping Copeland away from principal status, I know full well that many dancers stick at certain levels, regardless of talent and that's their career.
The reason why I discussed this in terms of Copeland is because she's the first and only black female dancer to be officially recognised with a title above corps in one of the world's top companies. This is the problem one's hardly spoilt for choice in finding examples of ballerinas - there have been four black female dancers in all the histories of those companies combined.
I think it's not even a question of her becoming a principal but that should Mckenzie take a massive risk or leap of faith with casting and cast Copeland, just once as Giselle, Aurora, Odette/Odile, I think it would be the balletic equivalent of Rosa Parks, which is bizarre to say in 2011.
Since this conversation is largely regarding aesthetics, this article might be of interest:
This is an interview with Lauren Anderson, to date the only black female principal with a "white" company, Houston Ballet. From 14min to 20min she talks about weight, body shape and racism:
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