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Race, Equity, and Otherness in Ballet and Society


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A big chunk of the talk, and the subsequent Q/A, is currently on the website.

 

It seemed to me that the three of them were addressing very familiar issues, and while they were able to articulate a concise description of the current scene, they didn't have any solitions to offer that we aren't already working on.  Which is not to say that we haven't made real progress, or that there isn't still a great deal of work to be done, but mostly that they don't have any suggestions for miraculous cures.  It takes time and self-awareness to change mindsets, and that's what we're trying now.

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      Lawrence, thank you for posting this link.  I just viewed the video in the article and found it interesting and thought provoking.  I see there being at least two parts of this issue.  First, is there is a problem with dancers who don’t look European being in a ballet set in Europe?  This is the easiest to answer and I would say emphatically not for me.  To me ballet is fantasy and fantasy does not have to be accurate.  In fact for me not being accurate adds to the fantasy.  But, if one only wanted European looking dancers in a ballet set in Europe and I don’t, then what about “La Bayadere” or “Le Corsaire” or the Chinese Dance and the Arab Dance in the “Nutcracker” and there are others.  Second is the aesthetic issue.  Is white skin more suited to ballet than dark skin?  Again I would say no and since I enjoy variety I would prefer dancers with different shades of complexion.  Another part of this has to do with uniformity.  Is it more aesthetically pleasing for all of the swans or all of the snowflakes to have light complexions?  I feel aesthetically pleasing is like beauty and I feel beauty as well as aesthetically pleasing is in the eye of the beholder.  To my eye it would not be more aesthetically pleasing to have all of the swans and all of the snowflakes have light skin.  But even here it seems to me that only casting light skinned dancers for those parts would limit the number of dancers to choose from and therefore it is possible that a not as accomplished light skinned dancer might get the part over a more accomplished dark skinned dancer.  But even then uniformity does not applied to all dancers in a ballet.  I see no problem with a dark skinned Odette/Odile, a dark skinned Prince Siegfried or dark skinned dancers in act one or act three.  Lastly any aesthetic pleasure I may get from viewing only light skinned dancers and it is actually the opposite for me as I would prefer to see dancers of different complexions, would be more than negated by knowing that a dancer was rejected simply because she/he had a dark complexion.

      Tom,

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      Michaela DePrince was born in Sierra Leone.  She was ostracized by the people in her community because of a skin disease – vitiligo – so this is when she first became an “other.”  At a young age she became an orphan and was placed in an orphanage.  She found photograph of a ballerina standing en pointe and decided to become a ballerina and was able to pursue this goal after being adopted.  Michaela is now with the Dutch National Ballet’s main company as a Grand Sujet.  Here is a website featuring Michaela http://www.michaeladeprince.com/ and here is Michaela De Prince dancing the pas de deux from Don Quixote (just over 11 minutes) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=znoG4XnCv_E.

      Tom,

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KUOW's Marcie Sillman interviewed PNB corps member Amanda Morgan:

http://kuow.org/post/amanda-morgan-i-dont-think-theres-dancer-out-there-me

Quote

When I was younger, I asked myself, why am I putting myself through so much when I could go somewhere where I already fit in, and it would be so easy? Then, I thought, who is that going to benefit? Who am I going to be helping? I was really thinking about that last winter during Nutcracker. There was a little black girl, dancing the role of Clara. I saw the way she looked at me. Some other little girl came up to me and said, ‘You’re her favorite dancer!’ That’s really why I have to stay here, because my career it not just me.

 

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Ballet West just sent out this press release.

BALLET WEST ANNOUNCES SUBSTANTIVE POLICY CHANGES TO ALLOW FOR GREATER EQUITY FOR DANCERS OF COLOR

SALT LAKE CITY, UT-- Today, Ballet West announced sweeping updates to protocols that guide dancers’ costuming, make-up, pointe shoes, and other aspects of performance in order to make the studio and stage more welcoming to dancers of color.

A three-month audit of policies and procedures, conducted by Artistic Director Adam Sklute, in coordination with dancers, costume, make-up, and wardrobe staff revealed several impediments for dancers of color that created unfair challenges, inequitable preparation time, and inadequate representation.

While the Company has received media attention in the past for updating unfair portrayals of other cultures, including the Chinese variation in The Nutcracker, today’s updates are more nuanced; audiences may not necessarily notice, but they ensure Ballet West is a more inclusive and welcoming company for all. Some of these changes include:

  • Eliminating historic ‘paling’ body make-up for women in such roles as Swan Lake and Giselle
  • Not allowing make-up that attempts to indicate a race or ethnicity, other than the dancer’s own.
  • Tights and shoe straps will be supplied by the Company to artists to more accurately match individual skin tones.
  • The Company will dye pointe shoes and paint canvas flat shoes to match the skin tone of the dancer.

“I believe a more diverse and inclusive organization is a stronger Ballet West,” said Artistic Director Adam Sklute. “It is time we hold a mirror to ourselves and examine how our art form--and how Ballet West--can do better in dismantling systems that do not foster equity, and to institutionalize structures that do.”

The Company is also presenting an ongoing serial panel discussion, “Dismantling Racism in Classical Ballet.” Moderated by Dr. Elizabeth Stordeur Pryor, these discussions focus on the challenges artists of color have faced in ballet and present ideas on how the art form can move forward into the 21st century. Panelists have included Ballet West Artists, community members and legendary figures in the dance world, including Lauren Anderson, Houston Ballet’s first African American Principal Dancer; Debra Austin, the very first African American Principal Dancer in the United States while at Pennsylvania Ballet; Evelyn Cisneros-Legate, first Hispanic American Principal Ballerina at San Francisco Ballet; and Virginia Johnson, founding member and Artistic Director of Dance Theatre of Harlem. Panels can be viewed here: bit.ly/3iky7Pw

“With the panel discussions, I wanted to simply create a space for these important conversations to be had,” said Sklute. “The stories being told are fascinating, sometimes unsettling, but always inspiring. By stepping back to listen, I learn so much and become hopeful for the future of our industry.” Sklute adds, “The announcement today is just the beginning. Ballet West will remain proactive, striving for greater equity and inclusion.

While the default assumption is around Black and Brown dancers, Phil Chan must be especially pleased about this:

On 10/1/2020 at 12:25 PM, Helene said:

[From the press release]

Not allowing make-up that attempts to indicate a race or ethnicity, other than the dancer’s own.

 

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