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Blackface in the Bolshoi's La fille de pharaon

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On 8/9/2018 at 12:16 AM, l'histoire said:

Not just American. The uses may differ in different countries, but I don’t think the history of blackface in European countries is somehow completely a separate issue.

Right, America was colonized by Europeans and America's history of slavery and subsequent problems has its roots in Europe.

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10 hours ago, Drew said:

For other kinds of anti-racist struggle that are not focused on the arts at all...or discussion boards...well obviously Balletalert isn’t the place to go into those. But it’s not absurd to assume that some of the people concerned about the issue here may be involved elsewhere.

To clarify, I was talking about racism in the arts and used film only as an example of how ballet could have a positive impact on public attitudes towards race.  I think that is squarely within our subject matter on this thread.   Which is more effective, sanitizing historical or historically-inspired works of art to keep people from having to view racist images that make them uncomfortable/raise their hackles versus using art itself to encourage people to think differently about their racial attitudes?  Having been bowled over by Judith Jamison's performance of "Cry" when I was a young woman, I vote for the latter.

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What does "Cry" have to do with dark makeup or "sanitizing" the racism out of art? I'm not trying to be facetious. I really don't understand the point being made.

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1 hour ago, Quinten said:

Which is more effective, sanitizing historical or historically-inspired works of art to keep people from having to view racist images that make them uncomfortable/raise their hackles versus using art itself to encourage people to think differently about their racial attitudes? 

I'm not sure I would use the word "sanitizing" and I guess I make a distinction, too, in my expectations of historical works on the one hand and my expectations of historically inspired works on the other. But leaving that aside, I think that engaging with older works of the ballet repertory (whether in pious historical preservation, "in the spirit of" adaptations, tactfully -- or tactlessly -- updated productions etc.) doesn't preclude engaging with new work and vice versa.  Since artists are often in dialogue with the past, the two can even be inter-related.  This thread happened to emerge as part of a discussion of the Bolshoi's revival of Pharaoh's Daughter...so that has been the focus.  I suppose that, as a general matter, I don't think the future changes without a reckoning with the past. (For me, personally, that's always a work in progress--work on myself that is.)

Perhaps it's worth adding that as a ballet fan/observer, I can't help but respond to what choreographers do--those I'm able to see--which is a little different from dictating what I'd like to see them try.  When I do have fantasy ideas about ballets, they are usually inspired by music not themes/issues...But it might be interesting to start a thread on stories/themes one think can and should be engaged by new classical choreography.

Edited by Drew

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  1. 1 hour ago, volcanohunter said:

    What does "Cry" have to do with dark makeup or "sanitizing" the racism out of art? I'm not trying to be facetious. I really don't understand the point being made.

    I was responding to suggestions that dark makeup should be eliminated from ballets because it's racist.  When compared with other strategies for combating racism in the arts, I don't think that's a very effective way to change peoples' attitudes (if that's the goal).  Art itself has more potency, as shown by "Cry", which is an affirmative and incredibly powerful vehicle for countering racism.  Back in the early 1970's I had never before seen a black woman like Jamison and if I had any negative stereotypes in my head at the time, they were blown away by the image she projected.  I think the creation of art like "Cry" or Blackkklansman is a more effective way to deal with racist imagery than trying to clean up old works of art.  

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Edited by Quinten
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1 hour ago, Quinten said:

When compared with other strategies for combating racism in the arts, I don't think that's a very effective way to change peoples' attitudes (if that's the goal).  Art itself has more potency...

Why does it have to be either/or? Who’s to say that those making a point about the use of blackface in one particular production of one particular ballet aren't pursuing other avenues of anti-racism advocacy?

Edited by nanushka

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Of course, the best way of dealing with these ballets is simply not to go.  Some here see Pharaoh's Daughter as a racist statement, 99.9% of the Bolshoi's audiences won't.  The Bolshoi doesn't at present have any black female dancers to cast in the role, presumably if it had, it would.  The changeling Indian boy in Ashton's Dream was originally made up, but that's no longer necessary as there's now no lack of genuine Indian boys to play the role.  The African prince in the Wright/Ashton Sleeping Beauty was blacked up, should that production be revived there are a number of black RB dancers to choose from.   There is nothing intrinsically racist in make up being used to aid authenticity.  Racism in dance is about denying opportunities to non white dancers, a practice that is vile and discriminatory, something I knew about all too well when a black dancer friend told me as recently as the 1980's that he stood little chance of joining a classical company because of his colour.   Nearly forty years on times are changing, eventually there'll Be no need for that make up.

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2 hours ago, Mashinka said:

Of course, the best way of dealing with these ballets is simply not to go.  Some here see Pharaoh's Daughter as a racist statement, 99.9% of the Bolshoi's audiences won't.  The Bolshoi doesn't at present have any black female dancers to cast in the role, presumably if it had, it would.  The changeling Indian boy in Ashton's Dream was originally made up, but that's no longer necessary as there's now no lack of genuine Indian boys to play the role.  The African prince in the Wright/Ashton Sleeping Beauty was blacked up, should that production be revived there are a number of black RB dancers to choose from.   There is nothing intrinsically racist in make up being used to aid authenticity.  Racism in dance is about denying opportunities to non white dancers, a practice that is vile and discriminatory, something I knew about all too well when a black dancer friend told me as recently as the 1980's that he stood little chance of joining a classical company because of his colour.   Nearly forty years on times are changing, eventually there'll Be no need for that make up.

Personally, I prefer to critically engage with a work that has value but also has (in my eyes) problematic elements, rather than to "simply not go." 

I certainly don't think that the use of blackface in Pharaoh's Daughter makes the work as a whole a racist statement. But I do wonder if it's true that 99.9% of the Bolshoi's audience (which is international and multi-cultural) wouldn't find the use of blackface in the production to be problematic. This isn't a provincial company we're talking about; it's one of the world's greatest and most prominent. (And wasn't the ballet even presented as one of the theater streams? It's definitely on DVD. So the company's audience for this ballet has been vast and varied.)

I don't understand the felt need for adherence to visual markers of racial "authenticity," especially in an art form that is so very far removed from visual realism in so many ways, and especially in an era when non-white dancers have the opportunity to dance more roles. What happens to "authenticity," then, when a black dancer, say, takes the lead in Giselle or Sleeping Beauty? If that's now okay, then why for the sake of "authenticity" does a white dancer need to be clownishly made up in blackface in order to dance the role of Ramze? Can the audience suspend their disbelief in one direction but not in the other?

To my mind, the "authenticity" argument just doesn't really suffice.

Edited by nanushka

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4 hours ago, Mashinka said:

Of course, the best way of dealing with these ballets is simply not to go.  Some here see Pharaoh's Daughter as a racist statement, 99.9% of the Bolshoi's audiences won't.  The Bolshoi doesn't at present have any black female dancers to cast in the role, presumably if it had, it would.  The changeling Indian boy in Ashton's Dream was originally made up, but that's no longer necessary as there's now no lack of genuine Indian boys to play the role.  The African prince in the Wright/Ashton Sleeping Beauty was blacked up, should that production be revived there are a number of black RB dancers to choose from.   There is nothing intrinsically racist in make up being used to aid authenticity.  Racism in dance is about denying opportunities to non white dancers, a practice that is vile and discriminatory, something I knew about all too well when a black dancer friend told me as recently as the 1980's that he stood little chance of joining a classical company because of his colour.   Nearly forty years on times are changing, eventually there'll Be no need for that make up.

You are talking about "aiding authenticity" in a ballet based on a Shakespeare play about faeries in a wood, and one about a girl who falls asleep for 100 years and is woken up by a kiss. I don't see why that kind of authenticity (ethnic) is desired.

What about a black or asian Giselle? Or Aurora in sleeping beauty? Or Odette and Odile? Do they conversely require "whiteface?" for authenticity?

Or are dancers of other races now there simply to fill in when their race is called for in a role? This is what is implied by logically parsing your statement...

Edited by aurora

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4 hours ago, Mashinka said:

Of course, the best way of dealing with these ballets is simply not to go.  Some here see Pharaoh's Daughter as a racist statement, 99.9% of the Bolshoi's audiences won't.  

Huh? The Bolshoi is not some regional company from nowhere. It has a huge international fanbase from their lucrative tours, livestreams, and their stars guesting all over the world. Many of these international audiences would surely be offended by the blackface.

Also it's a fallacy that Russians have few people of African descent. It's ironic that this particular argument is still used in the week a movie about Alexander Pushkin, a Russian writer with African heritage.

If the Bolshoi has NO dancers from different ethnicities then, well, that's another big problem.

Edited by canbelto

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On 8/14/2018 at 7:13 AM, canbelto said:

Huh? The Bolshoi is not some regional company from nowhere. It has a huge international fanbase from their lucrative tours, livestreams, and their stars guesting all over the world. Many of these international audiences would surely be offended by the blackface.

Also it's a fallacy that Russians have few people of African descent. It's ironic that this particular argument is still used in the week a movie about Alexander Pushkin, a Russian writer with African heritage.

If the Bolshoi has NO dancers from different ethnicities then, well, that's another big problem.

I believe Bolshoi has deleted blackface roles in U.S. performances in deference to American attitudes.  I would bet that the little black slaves children will not appear in La Bayadere when it is broadcast next season.

At home Bolshoi is unlikely to pay any attention to U.S. attitudes because even if American tourists refuse to buy tickets to Moscow performances that include blackface, there are plenty of Russians and others happy to buy the tickets in their place.  Absent pushback from the ticket-buying audience I doubt they'll do anything about it.  A fact of life.

I believe Bolshoi has three (formerly four) Brazilian dancers who appear to be of mixed ethnicity and there have been a few Asians.  They don't dance "ethnic" roles necessarily, as far as I can tell. Here is the gorgeous David Motta Soares, from his Instagram.  He most recently danced the part of the Fisherman in Daughter of the Pharaoh.  I believe he trained initially at the Bolshoi's school in Brazil and was brought to Moscow to finish his training.  

 

 

Edited by Quinten

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On 8/14/2018 at 8:47 AM, aurora said:

What about a black or asian Giselle? Or Aurora in sleeping beauty? Or Odette and Odile? Do they conversely require "whiteface?" for authenticity?

 I always think of the Rockettes own history with the racial issue when it is applied to ballet. At some point I believe the very original idea of the Rockettes having to keep a legacy of uniformity and exact physical replication has applied and still applies in many ballet companies. Except of course, in ballet and unlike the Rockettes, there is a pyramidal system implanted where artistic excellence and capabilities are supposed to catapult the most capable. Still...it is no secret that such uniformity is greatly desired at the ballet stage. Whitening makeup has been indeed used, and many times in quite an extreme form for blending purposes. Raven Willkinson even talks about it and how it helped her save her from being pulled out one particular night the KKK was on her searching backstage. 

I remember a black Cuban ballerina...Caridad Gonzalez, who wore layers upon layers of thick white pancake makeup. From the distance one could tell she was NOT white, but it definitely changed, rather dramatically, her real skin complexion.

Viengsay Valdes is also mixed, and she too wears EXTREME white makeup.

Edited to add: Now...Giselle Alicia didn't allow Caridad to dance Giselle, citing primarily racial issues.

 

 

 

 

Edited by cubanmiamiboy

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