Ballet Companies: Stop Tokenizing Dancers of Color in Your Marketing Materials
Fans of the sublime English National Ballet first artist Precious Adams were probably excited to see her image splashed across the company's website in a promotional image for an upcoming production of Swan Lake.
But those who took a closer look were met with a disappointing reality: Adams, who is the only black woman in the company, is not listed on the principal casting sheet for the production.
Luke Jennings, dance critic at The Observer, first pointed out the issue on Twitter, and the company responded:
Yes, Adams is only a first artist, so it would have been unusual—though not unheard of—to see her perform Odette/Odile. And the company argues that the photo depicts her as Lead Swan, a respectable but not particularly significant role. But wouldn't anyone looking at the photo assume that Adams would be playing Odette?
It's a misleading choice at best; a manipulative one at worst. But ENB isn't the only company to use dancers of color in their marketing more than they feature them onstage. New York City Ballet prominently features black dancers Olivia Boisson and Christopher Grant in their marketing, but rarely casts them in proportionate roles. (They feature some of their other dancers of color—like Rachel Hutsell and Preston Chamblee—rather frequently, too, but at least these dancers get the roles to match.)
This is not an argument for whitewashed marketing. But companies can't slot dancers of color into their photoshoots and marketing videos to make themselves appear "diverse"—a term that has come to be a commodity for institutions vying for funding and audiences—and then not give them casting opportunities (or promotions, for that matter). This amounts to tokenism, and taking advantage of dancers who deserve better.
So please, use images of your dancers of color. (We know how powerful representation is for aspiring dancers, after all.) But also cast them. Invest in their success. Promote them. Acknowledge the emotional labor that it takes to be an artist of color in such a white art form. Because otherwise, the image of "diversity" you're hoping to portray is just a sham.
Every dancer knows that how you fuel your body affects how you feel in the studio. Of course, while breakfast is no more magical than any other meal (despite the enduring myth that it's the most important one of the day), showing up to class hangry is a recipe for unproductive studio time.
So what do your favorite dancers eat in the morning to set themselves up for a busy rehearsal or performance day?
When it comes to dance in the U.S., companies in the South often find themselves overlooked—sometimes even by the presenters in their own backyard. That's where South Arts comes in. This year, the regional nonprofit launched Momentum, an initiative that will provide professional development, mentorship, touring grants and residencies to five Southern dance companies.
You ever just wish that Kenneth MacMillan's iconic production of Romeo and Juliet could have a beautiful love child with the 1968 film starring Olivia Hussey? (No, not Baz Luhrmann's version. We are purists here.)
Wish granted: Today, the trailer for a new film called Romeo and Juliet: Beyond Words was released, featuring MacMillan's choreography and with what looks like all the cinematic glamour we could ever dream of:
While you might think of dance as a primarily visual art form, performances engage us on multiple levels. Our ears take in the score, the artists' breathing patterns, fellow audience members' reactions, and the physical percussion made by the dancers' footfalls and partnering. All of this information is available to audience members with limited to no vision, and when it comes to providing them with the rest, there are multiple approaches being refined by experts in the field generally referred to as "audience accessibility."