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


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#1 cubanmiamiboy

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Posted 29 July 2012 - 04:17 PM

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



#2 Helene

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Posted 29 July 2012 - 04:20 PM

Petipa knew how to recycle. Sorta like Rossini.

#3 Birdsall

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Posted 29 July 2012 - 06:12 PM


Found this video of Evgenia's Pharaoh's Daughter debut:
http://youtu.be/2gys8vTA3xc


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.

#4 cubanmiamiboy

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Posted 30 July 2012 - 12:24 PM

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.

#5 abatt

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Posted 30 July 2012 - 12:42 PM

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.

#6 cubanmiamiboy

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Posted 30 July 2012 - 01:00 PM

http://archives.meto...mingoOtello.jpg

#7 abatt

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Posted 30 July 2012 - 01:11 PM

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?)

#8 Birdsall

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Posted 30 July 2012 - 07:11 PM

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.

#9 Helene

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Posted 30 July 2012 - 10:57 PM

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.

#10 Birdsall

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Posted 31 July 2012 - 03:51 AM

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.

#11 cubanmiamiboy

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Posted 31 July 2012 - 06:42 AM

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.

#12 Birdsall

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Posted 31 July 2012 - 07:43 AM

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.

#13 ksk04

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Posted 31 July 2012 - 11:00 AM

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

#14 puppytreats

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Posted 31 July 2012 - 01:44 PM

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.

#15 Drew

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Posted 31 July 2012 - 02:30 PM

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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