Royal Ballet goes woke: Dance company drops ‘harem scene’ in Nutcracker this Christmas ‘to make an inclusive environment for performers and audiences’

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  • Royal Ballet turns ‘harem scene’ into duets over fear of racial sensitivity
  • The scene was reworked as a duet instead of the usual three women, one male dancer.
  • Last month, the company removed caricatures from the Arab and Chinese sections

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The Royal Ballet has transformed the ‘harem scene’ at The Nutcracker for its Christmas show to ‘create an inclusive environment for performers and spectators’.

The scene was re-imagined as a couple, instead of the usual three women and one man, for fear that it was ‘offensive’. A production overhaul first occurred in 1972.

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The change comes after the owners of Scottish Ballet decided earlier this month to remove ‘elements of caricature’. A review from Arab and Chinese scenes found some scenes to be ‘racial stereotypes’.

The changes in the Royal Ballet production of Sir Peter Wright were written by senior ballet master and lead character artist Gary Avis, Wire informed of.

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Tuesday night’s performance of The Nutcracker, the first of production, featured only Melissa Hamilton and Lucas B. Brondsrod performing Arabian dance.

The Royal Ballet has altered the ‘harem scene’ in The Nutcracker (pictured) for this year’s Christmas show to ‘create an inclusive environment for performers and audiences’.

Tuesday night's performance of The Nutcracker, the first of the production, featured only two dancers performing an Arabic dance, as it was replaced for fear of being 'offensive'.

Tuesday night’s performance of The Nutcracker, the first of the production, featured only two dancers performing an Arabic dance, as it was replaced for fear of being ‘offensive’.

A spokesman for the Royal Ballet said: ‘The Royal Ballet regularly looks at classic repertory to ensure that these works remain as fresh and inclusive as possible for a wide audience.

‘The Nutcracker is one of the most famous ballets and is the perfect introduction to audiences new to the art.

Kevin O’Hare, director of The Royal Ballet, is keen to ensure that production elements are appropriate within the context of classical ballet.

‘In an ongoing process of discussion with company members and visiting guests, the Royal Ballet strives to create an inclusive environment for its cast and audience each season.’

Earlier in November, the dance company announced the changes. Scenes from the characters, costumes and choreography will be created in The Land of the Sweets in the Nutcracker, starring 40 children.

The second act of the ballet represents various nationalities through a ‘dance of sweets’, which includes Spanish ‘chocolate’, Arabic ‘coffee’ and Chinese ‘tea’.

Drosselmeyer, the enigmatic toy maker and magician character in a 19th-century ballet, will be played by both male and female actors for the first time in the company’s history.

An official announcement earlier this month said: ‘The Nutcracker is a timeless festive tale that has delighted audiences around the world for over a century.

“To ensure that it remains relevant today and for the future, we continue to make subtle, but significant changes to some of the characters, costumes and choreography.

‘The enigmatic Drosselmeyer in this tour will be played by both male and female dancers.

‘And, following ongoing consultation, The Land of Sweets will feature updated costumes and choreography to remove elements of caricature from the Chinese and Arab-inspired diversions and better represent the culture and traditions that have inspired them.’

The dance company would remove 'elements of caricature' from Arab and Chinese scenes in The Nutcracker, as part of an overhaul of a production previously staged in 1972.  Pictured: Two dancers dance coffee, Arabian, under the eyes of two ballerinas wearing white tutus.  is sitting behind them.  Italy, 2013

The dance company would remove ‘elements of caricature’ from Arab and Chinese scenes in The Nutcracker, as part of an overhaul of a production previously staged in 1972. Pictured: Two dancers dance coffee, Arabian, under the eyes of two ballerinas wearing white tutus. is sitting behind them. Italy, 2013

Dances of Sweets: Cultures Represented in The Nutcracker

The second act of The Nutcracker Ballet represents various nationalities through a ‘dance of sweets’.

Foreign cuisine was very rare and people did not travel nearly as much when the ballet was created.

The dance performed by the sweets represents the dishes featured in the fictional world of the main character, Clara.

The costumes of the dancers reflect the sweets brought from abroad.

Special dances include the Spanish ‘chocolate’, which includes lively trumpets and castanets; Arabian ‘coffee’, where women dance in veils; and Chinese ‘Tea’, which includes an exotic Asian flute chorus.

In the dance ‘Candy Canes’, the Russian doll follows a Mandarin tea dance with a rosin trapeze.

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Last year the Scottish Ballet acknowledged that its 50-year history “contains stale and racist artistic material”.

An article published on the Scottish Ballet’s website last year said: ‘Access to classical ballet and elite training includes racism: the spread of racial stereotypes (The Nutcracker and Petrushka are just a few examples).

‘Through examining our own history, understanding and acknowledging the ways in which Scottish Ballet has been part of and benefited from institutional and systemic racism, we need to encourage others to do the same. Let’s hope.’

Artistic director Christopher Hampson said: ‘We’ve had the opportunity to redress some of the choreography in The Nutcracker.

‘It was built at a time’ [in 1972] When it was acceptable to imitate cultures and represent them through imitation rather than through deep knowledge.

‘It’s really about representation, knowing that we’ve done our due diligence and that if we’re representing a culture, we’re doing it authentically.

‘I think the changes will enrich production.

‘The audience is probably more likely to see the difference in production on nights when Drosselmeyer is played by a woman.

‘This has changed when I started looking at who our heroes are in ballet. There was nothing in the role that made me feel that only a man can play it. I thought it could be a woman too.

After the fire last year, the company promised to ensure better representation of the Gypsy, Romani and Traveler communities in The Snow Queen.

It has surveyed all staff, dancers and board members on anti-racism issues and has also conducted anti-racism workshops.

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