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cubanmiamiboy

Blackface in Bolshoi's "The Pharaoh's Daughter"

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I see the controversial little black faced painted kids from Bayadere are back in Pharaoh's Daughter. Any thoughts...?

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Petipa knew how to recycle. Sorta like Rossini.

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Found this video of Evgenia's Pharaoh's Daughter debut:

I see the controversial little black faced painted kids from Bayadere are back here also.

My experience in Europe (although I haven't been in 20 years but did go regularly from the 80s to the early 90s) was that the race issue is approached very, very differently there. You will see candy bars with black Moor faces on them that make an American gasp. At least 20 years ago you still could see things like that. There is a lot more racial strife that has happened here in the U.S. so that I have a feeling if La Fille du Pharaon were staged at ABT there would be changes to the painted kids. I am pretty sure they would not be painted at ABT, and that is probably a good idea considering the history America has had. But my personal experience with Europe is that there is much less political correctness there. None of my European friends understood at all my shock at seeing stereotypical black faces on candy bars.

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To be honest, I've never seen anything offensive on the issue. Artistic stereotypes that belong to a certain era ought to be seen as so. Some of them are even funny. Do I care about the vision of whoever has of certain culture offered by Mr. Arnaz portray..? Absolutely not...that would be that person business-(and prove of many things)- to identify hundreds of years with a comical character -(and that tells a lot of the recipient's level of information and analysis capacity, be it a person or a whole society). The option should be given to people, and in the way, artistic productions can be offered with a more faithful air to the originals.

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When I watched the clip posted above, I was shocked by the painted kids. There is no way that would ever occur in this day and age in the U.S. Not a chance. I'm wondering whether the Bolshoi will make adjustments when this ballet is broadcast world wide as part of the Emerging Pictures - Ballet In Cinema program this fall. I certainly hope so.

I recall seeing the Bolshoi doing this ballet at the Met Opera around 2003 or 2004 when they visited New York. Does anyone recall whether they used the painted kids during their Met appearance. I don't remember seeing the painted kids, but it's been a long time and memory fades.

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I had the privilege of seeing Domingo do Otello live during the mid 1990s and early 2000s at the Met. I don't recall him using black face. He used makeup that made his skin look darker, but he was not in black face. I have no idea whether he used black face when he first started singing the role (in the 1970s?)

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I think the transmission will keep things as they are, since it is being sent out worldwide. I have my doubts they are going to change anything for one particular country. I think the main country that will have a problem with it will be the U.S., and that is due to our history which is actually pretty recent and racial tensions still exist. Performers in black face is a huge taboo because here in the U.S. it was used in a very negative way to make fun of blacks and make them less human. I actually don't think the Bolshoi's goal is to make fun of blacks, so when I have seen this ballet it did not bother me in the context of being a performance in Russia, especially since I know that Europe as a whole is not politically correct in the way that the U.S. is. But whites performing with blackface paint has a historical context here in the U.S. that can ignite very, very heated feelings.

For Russia to stage it like that is not as big of a deal.

If ABT staged it with dancers with black face paint here in the U.S. I think there would be a lot of negative media attention.

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I think the continuing conflict in Chechnya and a few other areas would suggest that there are racial sensitivities in Russia. That doesn't mean that the Bolshoi will take this into consideration in its production.

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Helene, I agree there are racial tensions (probably in every country), but I think people in black face paint is the main shock for Americans, and I think that is a specifically American issue. I could be wrong in this, but I think it is because there was a history of making fun of blacks by painting the face black here. Maybe I am wrong, but I don't think that happened as much in Europe. I think this is the reason we find black face paint much more shocking here than they do in other countries. I didn't mean to say that Russians are insensitive to race issues. They have a different history than we do concerning black face paint. For us it immediately shocks because of our history of performers who used paint in the past. To us it triggers the thought, "Oh, my God! That is so racist!" But to a country that didn't have a history of performers putting on black face to belittle a race, it is thought to simply be dancers dressed as a certain race just as someone putting on a Russian outfit when he's not Russian.

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Can we consider the fact that they want dancing kids representing black dancing kids and they just don't have them...? I realize many SB productions use a black guy to portray the black prince-(probably a moor of some sort), but this is easy to get, considering that it is only one character...not a bunch of them. I'm sure that in PD, just as in Bayadere, the Russians used the only option they had; just as in Petipa's times, the use of paint. What happens when a ballet production is in need of portraying boys onstage and they don't have them-(just as in The Nutcracker)-? Do they usually get rid of the idea and change the party scene into an all-girls one..? No. Girls are disguised as boys, and even if we know it, the idea is to keep somehow the story as faithful as in the original. Sex or race, it is all a matter of make-believe, and I doubt many of us don't get this concept.

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Can we consider the fact that they want dancing kids representing black dancing kids and they just don't have them...? I realize many SB productions use a black guy to portray the black prince-(probably a moor of some sort), but this is easy to get, considering that it is only one character...not a bunch of them. I'm sure that in PD, just as in Bayadere, the Russians used the only option they had; just as in Petipa's times, the use of paint. What happens when a ballet production is in need of portraying boys onstage and they don't have them-(just as in The Nutcracker)-? Do they usually get rid of the idea and change the party scene into an all-girls one..? No. Girls are disguised as boys, and even if we know it, the idea is to keep somehow the story as faithful as in the original. Sex or race, it is all a matter of make-believe, and I doubt many of us don't get this concept.

I agree pretty much with what you say, EXCEPT that black face paint is a controversial topic (probably only in the U.S. due to the way people used to use black face paint). It is not controversial in any other country probably, so it is probably not a problem in Europe. But it is a problem here, and so ABT or any other American company would probably not put a bunch of black face painted kids in a ballet. If we had not had a history of white performers making fun of blacks in black face paint there might not be a reaction like there is in the U.S. It is a unique reaction due to America's history.

A culture's reaction is not always a logical reaction. Other stereotypes are still okay to put on the stage in the U.S., but not black ones. You can't change the way the general population of a culture thinks and feels just because you want them to think and feel the way you do. And vice versa. We can't expect Russians to think and feel the same way about black face paint as we think and feel about it.

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Sorry, but Russian ballet productions often display this kind of racial insensitivity and it's gross regardless of cultural norms. Just because they don't view it as racially insensitive doesn't mean that it's not. Most who do this type of thing don't see anything wrong with it and that is the majority of the problem. America is NOT unique in having a history of racial discrimination or denigrating others, we just now have a tendency to talk about it a lot more than some other countries, but not more than all of course (and we are by NO MEANS perfect in our handling of racial sensitivity).

Apollinaire Scherr wrote about this:

http://www.artsjourn...dance_will.html

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I think a difference exists between studying and commenting on views during a particular period of history, artistic commentary, and entertainment. One does not seek to deny the existence and effect of cultural, political, societal and economic views during a period in history, and how art reflected these views. However, one also does not wish to perpetuate harmful viewpoints in subsequent time periods, and certainly, not for the purpose of frivolous pursuits and pleasures. How one addresses these concerns requires careful, delicate, and intelligent consideration.

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To my mind, It's particularly unjustifiable in the case of Pharoah's Daughter which is a piece of fakery from beginning to end and makes all kinds of choices that have nothing to do with Petipa. This is no sacred historical document--not even close. But somehow the use of black-face is a piece of 'tradition' that the late twentieth-century choreographer & company found SO charming it was well worth keeping??

(And for those wondering whether the Russian empire, Soviet Union or post Soviet Russia has a history of racism regarding people of black-African descent or any other 'non' white populations...I think Google is a pretty helpful tool. Wikipedia too--which also gives sources. Is the U.S. any better? Let's say all racisms are "worse.")

As for Obraztsova...even when I'm watching a ballerina as great as she is...my pleasure is spoiled by what seems to me unnecessary theatrical boorishness. Which I think this is. And I gave up on the video.

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In Russia they don't view black-face as racist as they haven't that sort of contextual meaning. So I think we Americans should just step back and not try to make others as politically-correct as we are in performing arts with respect to African-Americans. Why is it perfectly fine to wear eye tapes to look Asian in such operas as Turandot and Madame Butterfly? When I saw Turandot, it certainly appeared to me that Caucasian opera singers did just that, along with make-up to help slant their eyes even more. As a person of Asian descent I was not offended, but merely saw it as theatricality. Political-correctness when carried to this sort of extremes should have no place in the arts.

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Political-correctness when carried to this sort of extremes should have no place in the arts.

One may find that the debate here includes a)the nature of racism across different cultures/contexts...What exactly does it mean that Russians don't, as you say, view "black face" as racist? That it isn't? Maybe yes...but (in my opinion) more likely no...and b)What counts as extreme? Excising most or all nineteenth-century norms from (authentic) nineteenth-century ballets would, to my mind, be extreme. But that is not what is being discussed.

Pharoah's Daughter--the work of a twentieth/twenty-first-century French choreographer--hardly seems to me an "artistic" event whose vision is based in any kind of authenticity. It's a contemporary tribute/pastiche that has already been adapted to contemporary norms (eg length)...

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I hope no one is getting mad. I think this is a very good discussion, and it may need its own topic....maybe "race issues in Ballet" or something.

I think many people make good points on both sides of this. I do think it is important to think of all sides of this issue. I will have to ask my black friends what they think of this issue, because I would like to hear from blacks and whether they would be highly offended if they saw the Pharaoh's Daughter.

My aunt used to be an art director in Hollywood, and she said Whoopi Goldberg brought Aunt Jemima dolls to the set to show my aunt (who is white). My aunt had a fit and said, "Get those off my set!" because she felt they were symbols of a racist time. Whoopi explained to her that she collects them and they represent the first depictions of blacks, so she finds them to have historical value.

I am sure another black person would not feel the way Whoopi does, but my point is that different people are going to feel differently about a hot button issue like this.

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Political-correctness when carried to this sort of extremes should have no place in the arts.

One may find that the debate here includes a)the nature of racism across different cultures/contexts...What exactly does it mean that Russians don't, as you say, view "black face" as racist? That it isn't? Maybe yes...but (in my opinion) more likely no...and b)What counts as extreme? Excising most or all nineteenth-century norms from (authentic) nineteenth-century ballets would, to my mind, be extreme. But that is not what is being discussed.

Pharoah's Daughter--the work of a twentieth/twenty-first-century French choreographer--hardly seems to me an "artistic" event whose vision is based in any kind of authenticity. It's a contemporary tribute/pastiche that has already been adapted to contemporary norms (eg length)...

Extreme in that we may instinctively react in a negative way to such displays as black-face in a ballet set in ancient Egypt, all the while denying or lessening the actual, overall context. Russia does not have the large African-American population and history of slavery and discrimination against African-Americans, so I don't consider their use of black-face as offensive or even culturally insensitive. So because our nation has a shameful history of using black-face to make fun of African-Americans, does that mean that other cultures should follow our own, national sensitivities in something as trivial as a ballet?

Just because Pharoah's Daughter is a piece of fluff as far as ballets go, it doesn't mean that the set designers, costumers, and others who worked hard to recreate their artistic vision of Egypt, should be considered to be less serious as well. I agree it's a piece of pastiche but I bet it takes a lot of work to create such pastiche.

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Extreme in that we may instinctively react in a negative way to such displays as black-face in a ballet set in ancient Egypt, all the while denying or lessening the actual, overall context. Russia does not have the large African-American population and history of slavery and discrimination against African-Americans, so I don't consider their use of black-face as offensive or even culturally insensitive. So because our nation has a shameful history of using black-face to make fun of African-Americans, does that mean that other cultures should follow our own, national sensitivities in something as trivial as a ballet?

A few years ago I had the opportunity to work with a group of university students from an eastern European nation (not Russia) on "intercultural communication." These students were very fluent in English, but wanted to improve so they would be competitive in getting jobs with big companies in western Europe, including U.S. multi-nationals. They were very well-versed in American history, including the history of slavery and Native Americans, but it was entirely "book-learning" and they had had almost no contact themselves with African-Americans. At most, they had met a few international students from Africa studying at their home university.

I was surprised that they had been taught that it is always unacceptable to refer to someone as "black." No, I explained, it is sometimes okay to refer to "white people" and "black people," although that's not preferred and is somewhat informal. I decided I had better make sure they understand that one word is always unacceptable, the N-word. I told them I never said it myself, but I thought I'd better this one time to be sure they knew what I meant. I literally choked saying it, as I'm so trained to never say it in any circumstance. I was relieved that most already knew they should never use the N-word.

I guess my point is that eastern Europeans (and, I'm guessing, Russians) mean well, at least the younger and the better educated ones, but they have very limited experience with the multi-culturalism that the U.S. takes for granted. Making things worse, their teachers (who probably don't know any better themselves) are passing along incorrect information. They do have other cultural tensions (I'm thinking of the situation with the Roma -- gypsies, as we call them in the U.S. -- and Muslims), but I'm not critical of people who did not grow up understanding the complex history of race in the U.S. (And, I would add, we still have a long way to go in eradicating our own insulting treatment of Native Americans, using them as athletic mascots, etc., but I'll leave that for another day.)

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Extreme in that we may instinctively react in a negative way to such displays as black-face in a ballet set in ancient Egypt, all the while denying or lessening the actual, overall context. Russia does not have the large African-American population and history of slavery and discrimination against African-Americans, so I don't consider their use of black-face as offensive or even culturally insensitive. So because our nation has a shameful history of using black-face to make fun of African-Americans, does that mean that other cultures should follow our own, national sensitivities in something as trivial as a ballet?

A few years ago I had the opportunity to work with a group of university students from an eastern European nation (not Russia) on "intercultural communication." These students were very fluent in English, but wanted to improve so they would be competitive in getting jobs with big companies in western Europe, including U.S. multi-nationals. They were very well-versed in American history, including the history of slavery and Native Americans, but it was entirely "book-learning" and they had had almost no contact themselves with African-Americans. At most, they had met a few international students from Africa studying at their home university.

I was surprised that they had been taught that it is always unacceptable to refer to someone as "black." No, I explained, it is sometimes okay to refer to "white people" and "black people," although that's not preferred and is somewhat informal. I decided I had better make sure they understand that one word is always unacceptable, the N-word. I told them I never said it myself, but I thought I'd better this one time to be sure they knew what I meant. I literally choked saying it, as I'm so trained to never say it in any circumstance. I was relieved that most already knew they should never use the N-word.

I venture to say it is even more complex. Age and degree of integration and interaction make a difference, too, as does context. What if they came to the U.S. and interacted with people who used or listened to music or saw a current movie that used that word freely? Would they understand that, or misinterpret your categorical statement?

Within a given ethnic group, cultural jokes may be made, often with people laughing at themselves. Outside of the group, negative reactions may result, depending on the parties' relationship and intention.

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California,

I'm glad you taught them that it depends on the situation!

Some blacks have told me that they don't like the term "African American" in some instances, because it has a formal, distancing effect at times. It is a case where they feel someone who always uses "African-American" and never "black" is almost scared and trying to be ultra PC that it is a case of protesting too much (being overly cautious which in itself seems prejudiced)!

I think it is fairly normal to use the more formal "African American" term when making a political speech or discussing literature at a conference, etc., but among friends the term is usually "black." I have been told by my black friends that they describe each other in shades like mocha, caramel, etc.

I have asked a black friend of mine via email (friend for years but now we live in separate cities) about The Pharaoh's Daughter, and I will report back how he personally feels about the matter. I explained the whole discussion and what is seen in the ballet and asked how he would feel seeing that ballet. I told him that I know his feelings about the matter do not necessarily mean all blacks will feel the same way, but it might open our eyes. I explained that it was staged by a French choreographer in Russia, that it is on dvd, and it has been revived. I asked if he would be okay with Russia doing this, etc.

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I mentioned that I would post my friend's opinion on this. He is a singer in the Opera Tampa chorus, by the way, which is why he mentions Aida. Here is what he says about seeing performers in black paint:

I wouldn't be offended given the context .interestingly, In our production of aida ,some slaves were whites in black face but there were black people as well . Perhaps the Russian and French directors could have taken a similar tact . Many people throughout history have been slaves . The Jews to the Egyptians , the Germans to the Romans , the Jews had their conquered peoples as slaves also, so perhaps sharing the role of slave across different ethnic groups could be both a politically correct and historically accurate depiction of slavery.

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Outside of the group, negative reactions may result, depending on the parties' relationship and intention.

Ricky Ricardo: Check!

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Outside of the group, negative reactions may result, depending on the parties' relationship and intention.

Ricky Ricardo: Check!

I just listened to a Jenifer Lopez record this weekend and it is filled with the phrase "My N__'s...."

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