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canbelto

Blackface in the Bolshoi's La fille de pharaon

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This is absolutely disgusting. I can't believe this kind of makeup is still considered acceptable.

 

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41 minutes ago, canbelto said:

This is absolutely disgusting. I can't believe this kind of makeup is still considered acceptable.

 

I agree! I remember an interview with Ratmansky from several years ago in which he said he didn't understand the American revulsion at blackface. I will be very interested in hearing about his Bayadere reconstruction for Berlin this November. Has he been a US citizen long enough now to understand?

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Posted (edited)

If Americans are haunted by some ghosts in their closet, I suppose, it is a problem they must be addressing without imposing it on the rest of the world. A Nubian princess who is, by the way, in no way an "African-American", is supposed to look like a Nubian. La fille de pharaon is a wonderful early example of the grand ballet genre, one of the two genres prevalent in the last third of the 19th Century. I love Lacotte's re-staging for an opportunity to experience that genre by modern day audience, including lovely Pugni's music who was a great master of  ballet scores. Another reason why one should want to see it is that Pierre Lacotte revives some of the lost, and now forgotten, gems of the 1860-70-ies ballerina craft. My three favourite casts are, in the order of performance, Zakharova/Rodkin, Obraztsova/Ovcharenko, Stepanova/Skvortsov.

Edited by Laurent

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16 minutes ago, Laurent said:

If Americans are haunted by some ghosts in their closet, I suppose, it is a problem they must be addressing without imposing it on the rest of the world.

Let's not pretend it's only Americans who have a case to answer. Many European countries were also guilty and/or complicit. That slavery has existed in many cultures in no way excuses it in any of them.

If Russia isn't implicated in this particular crime, there are plenty of others in its history which either its government or its people remain in denial about. Meanwhile racism is openly tolerated there, as I've seen and heard with my own eyes.

I love (and I think have a reasonable understanding of) Russians and Russian culture, but this is one area in which they could do with catching up with other countries.

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If this diatribe is directed at me, then I would like to point out that I am not Russian. When Political Correctness goes too far, it resembles a form of bolshevism.

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Posted (edited)
26 minutes ago, Laurent said:

If this diatribe is directed at me, then I would like to point out that I am not Russian. When Political Correctness goes too far, it resembles a form of bolshevism.

I didn't think you were. (For the record, nor am I American.)

"Political correctness", as has been pointed out by many on the right as well as the left, simply means courtesy and respect for those who are different than you. What is there to object to in that?

Edited by Liza

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1 hour ago, Laurent said:

If Americans are haunted by some ghosts in their closet, I suppose, it is a problem they must be addressing without imposing it on the rest of the world. A Nubian princess who is, by the way, in no way an "African-American", is supposed to look like a Nubian. 

Laurent, I think that I have to agree to a reasonable extent with what you say here. It's a very delicate subject in the US where I've lived much of my life, but like you I feel that you can't literally transfer one culture's point of view to another's. Liza does raise points worth considering, but I have to sympathize with what you're saying here.

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Posted (edited)

People interested in the history of racism against blacks in Russia are welcome to research the matter. There is such a history.

Regarding the explanation that since the character is "Nubian" the make-up is acceptable... I don't agree. Other nineteenth-century ballets have characters of different ethnicities without (or, in some cases without) the ludicrous make-up--Do Nikiya and Solor wear body make-up in Bayadere? Does the high priest? They aren't black it's true, but presumably not as white as most of the dancers who dance them. In some productions other "black" or racialized characters do wear body make up--sometimes in a highly caricatured form as well (big red lips etc.)  I'm glad Makarova's production got rid of that. (I was under the impression many major opera houses likewise have moved away from this kind of make up ...but opera lovers can weigh in on that...) Kretova may not be going for caricature, but she doesn't seem to be going for subtle suggestiveness in her make-up either.

Nineteenth-century ballets aren't realist works and there is no reason why Lacotte, in a version of Pharaoh's Daughter that is not a strict reconstruction of what the ballet looked like in the nineteenth century or of how it was danced in the nineteenth century, should feel he needs to use the convention of blackface with seemingly no modification. (I assume he is aware of the history of racism against blacks in France and slavery in its empire etc.  It's not just Americans who have ugly histories even if ours--I am American--is very ugly.)

I have seen Pharaoh's Daughter on video and as a silly piece of Orientalism that doesn't need to be taken too seriously it holds many pleasures--though I can understand if some people are put off by it even on those grounds--but for me, it is somewhat spoiled by the way it uses black face....

Edited by Drew
grammar error

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1 hour ago, Laurent said:

If Americans are haunted by some ghosts in their closet, I suppose, it is a problem they must be addressing without imposing it on the rest of the world. A Nubian princess who is, by the way, in no way an "African-American", is supposed to look like a Nubian. 

Kretova does not look "Nubian." She looks like a Caucasian who slopped a ton of black face and smeared it all over her body. You are 100% right that Pharoah's Daughter is a "fantasy" which is why it's absolutely acceptable to have a "fantasy" makeup that doesn't become offensive. 

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Posted (edited)

A bit more added comment. I don't have any reason to believe that Lacotte or the Bolshoi have done this as an insult. 

Anecdote: I was in South Africa two years ago and the man who drove me to the airport told me that his name was Blackie. I couldn't bring myself to call him that because of my American upbringing, but he didn't give it a second thought.

Edited by Buddy
spelling correction

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Posted (edited)
1 hour ago, Buddy said:

A bit more added comment. I don't have any reason to believe that Lacotte or the Bolshoi have done this as an insult.

Say you are right: the lack of "intent" would itself be rather revealing--this revival doesn't date back to the mid-20th century. One would have to infer that it didn't occur to Lacotte or the Bolshoi in the year 2000 when the ballet premiered--or even now--that there could be anything problematic in how one made-up the Nubian character--that it didn't require tact at the least. Certain kinds of unawareness are themselves the product of a kind of willed ignorance and/or indifference that itself seems to me rather insulting. And I should think Lacotte and Vaziev are both, in different ways, gifted and sophisticated men...and they are self-evidently fine with blackface in this ballet.

I also don't think leaders of the Bolshoi can claim to be simply unaware of the potential issues even if they themselves don't take those issues seriously. About a decade ago, I noticed that when the Bolshoi first brought the Ratmansky/Burlaka Corsaire to London they quietly (with no fanfare or announcement) revised its horrendous portrait of the "black" member of the harem, presumably aware that it would not be acceptable to London audiences. (Though one can still see that character today in Russia or, indeed, on youtube.) That production could at least claim that it was trying to reproduce the nineteenth-century production with exactitude -- Lacotte's Pharaoh's Daughter takes a freer approach to begin with.

Edited by Drew

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Posted (edited)

Not to minimize your concern for doing the right thing, but you skipped my anecdote, Drew.  😊  By the way, I hope to be back there in a two months. I love the place.

Edited by Buddy

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12 minutes ago, Buddy said:

Not to minimize your concern for doing the right thing, but you skipped my anecdote, Drew.  😊  By the way, I hope to be back there in a two months. I love the place.

Here's an anecdote: About 10 years ago a stranger asked an African-American acquaintance of mine if she could touch his hair for luck. To recall your earlier words, I am pretty sure she didn't "[do] it as an insult." But it was.

I can't write as someone who has never made ethical/political mistakes or misjudgments--or is pure of all wrongdoing. But I experience the Bolshoi's repeated boorishness on this issue as unworthy of its artistic greatness and not something that merits special pleading.

(Oh...and you will be missed while you are away!) 

Edited by Drew

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Posted (edited)

Thanks, Drew. I do appreciate your's and other's concern that the right thing be done. Hopefully, that's the way that it will be.

By the way, again, I'll have my laptop with me so I hope that you won't have to miss me too much.  😊

 

Edited by Buddy

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Posted (edited)
32 minutes ago, Drew said:

 

(Oh...and you will be missed while you are away!) 

Thanks again, Drew. That was very kind of you and I hope that you have a very fine year.

Edited by Buddy

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I have to say I really don't see the relevance of American issues regarding ethnicity to a performance in a foreign city.  It would be one thing if the Bolshoi brought Daughter of the Pharaoh here, or even if it were broadcast here -- we might expect them to be sensitive to our issues and modify costumes/makeup that might be offensive.  But I see no reason why a Russian ballet company should have to pay any deference to us or our values when they are putting on a performance in their own theatre.  

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Posted (edited)
2 hours ago, Quinten said:

I have to say I really don't see the relevance of American issues regarding ethnicity to a performance in a foreign city.  It would be one thing if the Bolshoi brought Daughter of the Pharaoh here, or even if it were broadcast here -- we might expect them to be sensitive to our issues and modify costumes/makeup that might be offensive.  But I see no reason why a Russian ballet company should have to pay any deference to us or our values when they are putting on a performance in their own theatre.  

I don't share the view that race and depictions of race are a non-issue in Russia or that Franco-Russian culture (Petipa and Lacotte -- both French) bears no relation to issues that cross the globe or that the use of black-face in nineteenth-century Russian ballets stands in no relation to histories of colonialism and slavery. So, I do see it as a question of their values in their theater.  But I don't think that means no-one  who isn't Russian can have a reaction--especially given the company's importance to the ballet world as a whole.  You may remember the discussion that followed the postponement of the premier of Nureyev and the house arrest--still ongoing--of Serebrennikov. I must admit I found it upsetting; I didn't just think "well, it's their theater reflecting their values"--though I suppose I could have reacted that way.

(The Lacotte Pharaoh's daughter has been toured internationally by the Bolshoi including at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York--also broadcast internationally some years ago. Honestly, if I had an opportunity to see it live, then I would go for the chance to see the dancing, but as I said above I find the blackface as I have seen it, for example, in Kretova's photo--and in some older video--unworthy of the company and just kind of unnecessary.)

Edited to add: I found this rather interesting (short) article about the intertwining of anti-racism and racism in depictions of blacks in Soviet film and books--including use of blackface in theatrical productions--

https://www.pri.org/stories/2017-08-31/how-red-russia-broke-new-ground-portrayal-black-americans

Edited by Drew

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I must say I'm surprised at these arguments that blackface is just fine in Moscow. It's like saying that anti-Semitism is OK if you're not German.

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The blackfaces of Pharao's and Bayadere have it easy-(they are not important characters and can be easily un-blacked). Now...Flute's Monostatos is another story...😶

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Drew,

i totally get what you are saying. And I agree that the history of blackface in America, mainly to degrade and make fun of an entire race that was considered worthless has merit. In many, many cultures. But do remember that the Slavic people were also enslaved for hundreds of years before the US came into exsistance. Being Russian myself, and having a russian husband, the culture of Russia itself is vastly different than anywhere else in the west. The presence of any African in Russia was incredibly rare, especially in Petipa’s time. Unlike the American use of blackface, I honestly feel and believe that the use of makeup in Russian to represent Africans in ballet was meant to simply create what they could not as authentically as possible. I do find the children’s dance in Bayaderes to be much more problematic, but my husband performed that as a child and said it was explained to him and his classmates as a way to represent the character as accurately as possible and was no way treated as a farce or insult. He has never seen a black person in real life until he was on tour at 20. 

 

There are over 25 ethnic minorities in the Bolshoi alone, and although they tend to be white skinned, there is a type of racism that exists even to this day. But among nearly all of those minorities, I’m not sure if any would find using makeup to color their skin problematic. 

 

While I agree that most western cultures have an understanding of why this could be offensive to many, I think we do have a problem understanding why it isn’t offensive to many others in cultures vastly different than our own. I remember quite well the offense taken when Bayadere was broadcast in cinema, and remember discussing it with my husband. He is absolutely not racesit in any shape or form, but he did not understand the American issue with our own history and why we would be so offended (I grew up in the US,) Once I explained to him and told him about the use of blackface here, he was horrified that anyone would have ever done that. But he is adamit, as are most dancers from Russia and the former Soviet states, that never was it used to humiliate. Only to represent a race that could not be represented any other way.

 

All cultures have terrible spots in their past. All cultures have undermined certain ethnicities. But trying to press our own culture onto another is a touchy issue and I for one do not agree with doing so. I do agree on educating and learning, which means that if I expect another culture to care about my own, then I must also care about their’s and have an open mind. I don’t have to partake in anything that offends me, but I do not expect their culture to be sensitive to my culture’s issues in the same way. I know that I would find it nearly impossible for american culture to be so sensitive to their’s that we would change for what we would consider a minor issue. And I am not calling our own issue with blackface minor. 

 

Please do not not take offense to what I’ve written. I do understand your point, and did find it odd that Lacotte chose to retain the makeup for the Nubian Princess as it was used by Petipa. But I will not project our own western ideals on an eastern culture or expect their culture to see it our way. Just as I don’t see it their way either and would be highly offended if their culture demanded that I did. 

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I think it's really naive to say that Russia doesn;t have baggage with racism. I mean just at the World Cup there was a lot of worry about how African players would be received:

https://www.bbc.com/news/av/world-africa-42283328/world-cup-2018-african-fans-in-russia-downplay-racism-fears

http://www.espn.com/soccer/fifa-world-cup/4/blog/post/3519781/world-cup-2018-and-racism-how-will-fifa-police-discrimination-in-russia

Quote

 

There have been several recent incidents in Russia during which black players were subjected to abusive chants and banners.

Yaya Toure experienced racial abuse while playing for Manchester City against CSKA Moscow in October 2013, while the likes of Samuel Eto'o, Roberto Carlos, Christopher Samba and Peter Odemwingie also reported similar incidents while playing for Russian clubs.

In Sept 2016, the Fare network, which monitors racist incidents for UEFA, noted that a banana was thrown onto the pitch in the eighth minute of a Champions League tie in Russia between FC Rostov and PSV Eindhoven and remained there for a further 15 minutes before being removed.

 

I actually suspect that blackface is okay in Russia because of the casual, accepted institutional racism.

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Racism in soccer games has a long history with the most outrageous examples taken place in English and Italian clubs. Incidents during the FIFA world cup in Russia included English fans giving a Nazi salute and singing an anti-Semitic song. I don’t see how the links provided above can prove institutional racism in Russia but I can understand how people can be  swept by anti-Russian paranoia building up in this country.  I don’t mean to offend anyone on this board but I think we don’t know enough about other people’s cultures, traditions and customs so we tend to project our own experiences and impulses when judging them. 

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Still on the soccer team, there was also this:

Quote

Russian women should avoid sex with non-white foreign men during the football World Cup because they could become single mothers to mixed-race children, a senior lawmaker in Moscow said on Wednesday...

“It’s one thing if they’re of the same race but quite another if they’re of a different race. I’m not a nationalist, but nevertheless I know that children suffer. They are abandoned, and that’s it, they stay here with mum,” she said.

https://www.theguardian.com/football/2018/jun/14/dont-have-sex-with-men-from-different-race-during-world-cup-warns-russian-politician

(Whereas white soccer fans wouldn't leave the impregnated women behind when they went home at the end of the tournament?)

Quote

Russian women who have dated the soccer fans have been shamed by some Russian commentators, denounced for allegedly undermining the country’s morals and gene pool.

https://apnews.com/716d4bdd8c49474e9feca58645f258c3

(And here I thought diversity made for a healthier gene pool.)

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1 hour ago, Dreamer said:

I don’t mean to offend anyone on this board but I think we don’t know enough about other people’s cultures, traditions and customs so we tend to project our own experiences and impulses when judging them. 

Having lived there I can assure you that racism well and truly exists in Russia, more so than in any other country I have comparable experience of. As I said above, it is tolerated and even normalised.

 

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Keep it about the topic, not about each other or about the discussion.

 

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