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racial tensions?


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Yesterday a family member pointed me to the instagram feed of company dancer Nicholas Rose. See his instagram via link below, from a Dance Magazine article:

Nicholas Rose and other dancers on racism

 

Lately his posts have been quite critical of the way the ballet world in general treats dancers of colour, and he specifically criticizes individual staff and leadership of NBOC.  To say that I was very saddened to hear what he had to say is an understatement; and I hope that the company pays attention.

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Although it's gotten better, ballet was and continues to be a very conservative and insular world.  Some of the art form's gatekeepers, taste-makers  and biggest supporters like it for those very reasons.  

The fastest way to make people lose their minds when speaking about classical dance,  is to mention race and representation - especially black female representation. According to the powers that be,  predominately white companies in the West are always justified in their lack of black  women because  black women are always too something. Too muscular, too lacking in refinement and talent,  too under-trained or too distracting in white ballets like Giselle. Of course, prominent black ballet talents tend to strongly disagree. 

And the current national mood sees black ballet folks emboldened to speak openly about a system that they feel is sorely in need of major change. They've had it with self-congratulatory baby steps at schools that  lead nowhere or with endless excuses about the supposedly limited talent pool.  They see it as so much bull excrement. 

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Unfortunately, it seems the only way to initiate change was to call people out. I support Nicholas Rose. Even before this point in time, I always found his posts full of love for ballet as an art form, its history and his colleagues. It might have been messy, but it moved the needle. It shouldn't have had to come to this. It's a shame that it was put on the shoulders of young people just starting their careers. People have been trying to instigate change via the normal, "quiet channels." Not much happened. He was very emotional but it really challenged his followers to look at themselves and the leaders in the dance world to examine a shoddy system. I was disgusted with some of the things that were allegedly said to him by top professionals. 

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Despite an official mea culpa, I get the sense the company thought the accusations were unfair. On june 19th it flooded its social media with profiles of black and bi-racial dancers: first soloist Jordana Daumec (American), first soloist Tanya Howard (South African), second soloist Siphesihle November (South African) and corps member Alexander Skinner (Canadian), but not Rose. It seemed to imply that its "normal channels" work just fine, and that team players were being rewarded. The company's culture strongly favors graduates of its school and dancers who worked their way up through the ranks. There are outside hires, but study casting patterns and you'll see that they rarely get first dibs, and that includes principals.

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I suspect that most people in positions of power simply don't see lack of representation as a problem, especially since they can always double down on the lie that no qualified black people are out there.  

And THAT is the problem. As has been said before on this very forum, AD's don't have to justify their preferences which frequently exclude black dancers. 

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On 6/24/2020 at 2:22 AM, volcanohunter said:

On june 19th it flooded its social media with profiles of black and bi-racial dancers: first soloist Jordana Daumec (American), first soloist Tanya Howard (South African), second soloist Siphesihle November (South African) and corps member Alexander Skinner (Canadian), but not Rose. It seemed to imply that its "normal channels" work just fine, and that team players were being rewarded.

That's pretty telling - what did their social media look like on June 18th?

Edited by On Pointe
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It had been silent for several days following the publication of its "we are listening to our dancers" statement. Today Skinner received "the 2019/20 David Tory Award for his professionalism, dedication to the company and exhibiting so many of the qualities that inspired the creation of the award."

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I knew Tanya Howard was mixed-race but I had no idea that Jordana Daumec was biracial until she showed up at Theresa Howard's Mobballet symposium in Philadelphia. I thought Jordana was a curly-haired Caucasian. Serves me right for being so smug about what I thought was very accurate racial radar. 

 

Anyway, NBC is like most ballet companies, not so much racist as culturally myopic and indifferent to social changes because few things can pierce the bubble of classical dance.  Someone always has to show out to get their attention.    This is so weird and self-defeating when you  consider the fact that the ballet establishment is always saying it wants to expand it's audience.

Edited by Tapfan
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And the National Ballet of Canada has just released Promotions and Retirements. 

https://national.ballet.ca/Ballet-News-Plus/News/2020-21-Promotions

Siphesihle November to First Soloist and  The David Tory Award to Alexander Skinner. This is so symbolic. (the other promotions would be mentioned on another thread I guess) 

On 6/24/2020 at 4:22 PM, volcanohunter said:

Despite an official mea culpa, I get the sense the company thought the accusations were unfair. On june 19th it flooded its social media with profiles of black and bi-racial dancers: first soloist Jordana Daumec (American), first soloist Tanya Howard (South African), second soloist Siphesihle November (South African) and corps member Alexander Skinner (Canadian), but not Rose. It seemed to imply that its "normal channels" work just fine, and that team players were being rewarded. The company's culture strongly favors graduates of its school and dancers who worked their way up through the ranks. There are outside hires, but study casting patterns and you'll see that they rarely get first dibs, and that includes principals.

Agree every word with volcanohunter.  They only favor dancers that came from the school and rose their way through the ranks. (mostly Canadians)

There was also a press release mentioning about leavers, and Hannah Fischer, Elena Lobsanova is leaving, as well as Jimmy Coleman and Ethan Watts. Brent Parolin (another outsider) is retiring. 

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I received an e-mail from the Company about retirements and promotions, but didn't see anything about leavers.  Can you give a link naomikage?  Curious to see where they are going.

In terms of the racial issue - following the Dance Magazine article I linked to above, Mr. Rose did post that he had a positive meeting with the company - so that was good.  Next, Dance Magazine did a follow-up article, interviewing Ms. Daumec and and quoting Mr. Rose - it seemed as though they had interviewed Mr. Rose as well.... Not exactly.  He called out the publication on his Instagram feed.  Subsequently there was a follow-up article, which does quote Mr. Rose: It's been difficult to follow the situation, to say the least.

https://www.dancemagazine.com/national-ballet-of-canada-diversity-2646194429.html?rebelltitem=4#rebelltitem4

 

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5 hours ago, naomikage said:

Hannah Fischer, Elena Lobsanova is leaving, as well as Jimmy Coleman and Ethan Watts. Brent Parolin (another outsider) is retiring. 

Fischer and Lobsanova are going to Miami City Ballet, Jimmy Coleman to Royal Danish Ballet and Ethan Watts to Royal Swedish Ballet. Brent Parolin (not sure how he's an "outsider" since he trained at the National Ballet School before going to Stuttgart) is going to Ballet am Rhein in Dusseldorf as a ballet master.

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http://www.balletnews.co.uk/the-national-ballet-of-canada-20-21-promotions/?utm_campaign=shareaholic&utm_medium=twitter&utm_source=socialnetwork


Principal Dancer Elena Lobsanovaand First Soloist Hannah Fischer will be departing The National Ballet of Canada to join Miami City Ballet at the end of the 2019/20 season as a Principal and a Principal Soloist, respectively. Also departing the company are Corps de Ballet members Jimmy Coleman and Ethan Watts to join The Royal Danish Ballet and The Royal Swedish Ballet. 

 

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14 hours ago, Tapfan said:

 I thought Jordana was a curly-haired Caucasian. Serves me right for being so smug about what I thought was very accurate racial radar. 

Lol - your "racial radar" needs a tune up.  Jordana Daumec doesn't look remotely white to me.

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18 hours ago, mom2 said:

It's been difficult to follow the situation, to say the least.

Yes, and to be honest it was difficult for me to follow the gist of Rose's videos because I was not privy to the context of the incidents he was describing. I have to say, though, that if he is disturbed by the "White Male Gaze in Classical Ballet," I am surprised that he should have sought employment with the National Ballet of Canada. Because while the company was founded by a woman in the tradition of British ballet, which was also founded by a woman, and the company is currently run by a woman, ballets such as Giselle, The Sleeping Beauty and Swan Lake are central to its identity and programming. Unlilke, say, San Francisco Ballet, programming does not consist primarily of triple bills, but rather evening-length narrative ballets, choreographed by white men, and Rose would have known this when he signed his contract.

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I haven't seen either one dance,  but based on their photos,  Nicholas Rose and Alexander Skinner both have wonderful instruments for ballet,  beautifully proportioned bodies,  long lines,  articulate feet.  But Skinner looks very young and non-threatening,  and he's lightskinned,  whereas Rose is tall,  muscular and darkskinned,  for some white people,  the very embodiment of the "scary black man".  Rose has to navigate through life very differently than Skinner,  because he's treated differently by the greater society,  which includes the National Ballet of Canada.  Constant micro-aggressions can take their toll and can be more damaging than an overt racist act.  It is frustrating and tiring trying to convey this to those who aren't subjected to it.  You get accused of complaining about "nothing" and being a troublemaker or attention-seeker.  And you get left out of things,  like being featured in social media.

I hope that well-meaning white people understand that these are perilous times for black people.  We are suffering from the trauma of seeing black people lynched and murdered by the police,  shown over and over again on cable news.  I was up much of the night unable to sleep because of the murder of Elijah McClain,  a young black man walking home,  only 5'6" tall,  140 pounds,  who died of a heart attack after being thrown to the ground and choked by three police officers because he "looked suspicious".   He was a delicate soul who liked to play the violin for animals in shelters.  You can hear the encounter online if you missed it on cable,  but only if you want your heart broken.

 

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I have no idea what sort of private discussions took place before Rose posted his videos, but no employer is going to be happy when an employee makes grievances public. 

Rose has lived in Canada for under two years, so he also may not understand that the reality of his bosses is different. In Canada it's the Indigenous population that is most likely to find itself on the wrong side of the criminal justice system. By far. Their plight is the great trauma most Canadians are likely to feel keenly, and in Toronto every National Ballet of Canada performance begins with an acknowledgement of Indigenous peoples and cultures.

Rose objected to the Dance Magazine piece because he felt it lionized the company. Presumably this included Daumec's statement that what she loves "about this company is that it doesn't matter what color you are or the background you're from. We all want to move forward and make our home, the National Ballet, better." To be sure, white dancers have also disputed this image of the company as one big, happy family, notably Jiří Jelínek after he left the company following a three-year stint as a principal.

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On 6/27/2020 at 6:04 PM, volcanohunter said:

Rose has lived in Canada for under two years, so he also may not understand that the reality of his bosses is different. In Canada it's the Indigenous population that is most likely to find itself on the wrong side of the criminal justice system. By far. Their plight is the great trauma most Canadians are likely to feel keenly, and in Toronto every National Ballet of Canada performance begins with an acknowledgement of Indigenous peoples and cultures.

Having spent a fair amount of time in Canada,  which I love,  I can assure you that it is just as racist toward black people as the US.  

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5 hours ago, cubanmiamiboy said:

I truly hope a wave of cancel culture doesn't start for ballet companies...

I doubt that ballet has a high enough  profile for most people to bother. I'm constantly surprised by the number of people who one would consider to be culturally expansive and sophisticated in their knowledge of art, who don't give a flying fig about ballet. 

I suspect this may be because classical dance in even its more esoteric forms isn't totally inaccessible.  But the culture surrounding ballet frequently is. 

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1 hour ago, On Pointe said:

I can assure you that it is just as racist toward black people as the US.  

I certainly don't deny the existence of racism in Canada, but this statement is not supported by the statistical data.

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9 hours ago, Tapfan said:

I doubt that ballet has a high enough  profile for most people to bother.

Alexandra Waterbury and her supporters have tried to "cancel" NYCB in particular and ballet overall,  and have managed to generate high profile negative discussion in the NY Times,  the Washington Post and even Law and Order SVU.  If the Corona virus hadn't shut down Broadway and ballet,  they might still be demonstrating in the street.  (Although it's likely that her mostly teenage supporters would have moved on by now.)  Ballet has a PR deficiency.  Right now companies are just preaching to the choir instead of reaching out to the public.

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8 hours ago, volcanohunter said:

I certainly don't deny the existence of racism in Canada, but this statement is not supported by the statistical data.

How can you quantify racism statistically?  Racism is experienced at the individual level.  Your post implies that Nicholas Rose's concerns are invalid because indigenous Canadians living a thousand miles west of Toronto have it worse.

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53 minutes ago, On Pointe said:

Alexandra Waterbury and her supporters have tried to "cancel" NYCB in particular and ballet overall,  and have managed to generate high profile negative discussion in the NY Times,  the Washington Post and even Law and Order SVU.  If the Corona virus hadn't shut down Broadway and ballet,  they might still be demonstrating in the street.  (Although it's likely that her mostly teenage supporters would have moved on by now.)  Ballet has a PR deficiency.  Right now companies are just preaching to the choir instead of reaching out to the public.

I forgot about the Waterbury protests. From my vantage point, they seemed to be sort of puny.  But of course, I wasn't on site to observe the number of participants nor the length of time they demonstrated.

But yes, yes, yes. Ballet has a massive PR problem that the art's gatekeepers seem at best, unable to tackle and at worst, seem indifferent to. The Russian  guardianship seems to be particularly static and proud of it. 

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2 hours ago, On Pointe said:

...because indigenous Canadians living a thousand miles west of Toronto have it worse.

Why thousands of miles west of Toronto? Do you believe that Indigenous Canadians live only on reservations in the northern prairies? That would betray a fundamental misunderstanding about life in Canada and its urban centers in particular. Not unlike the way that Hollywood used to put totem poles in movies set in Quebec. :dry:

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