- The Latest
- Breaking Stereotypes
- Rant & Rave
- Dance As Activism
- Dancers Trending
- Viral Videos
- The Dancer's Toolkit
- Health & Body
- Dance Training
- Career Advice
- Style & Beauty
- Dance Auditions
- Guides & Resources
- Performance Calendar
- College Guide
- Dance Magazine Awards
- Meet The Editors
- Contact Us
- Advertise/Media Kit
- Buy A Single Issue
- Give A Gift Subscription
Burning Question: Is Nutcracker Racist?
Program director of the professional training programs at Steps on Broadway and the director of Harlem School of the Arts Prep Program.
The whole ballet tradition is inherently racist, so the traditional productions of Nutcracker can also be seen as racist. In many versions of Nutcracker, one sees overt racial stereotypes. In the second-act divertissements, many of the dances or variations are borderline caricatures, if not downright demeaning. For example, the way in which Asians have been portrayed in the Chinese variation—with heads bobbing up and down, index fingers protruding, and happy smirks of joy plastered on the dancers’ faces—is insulting and embarrassing.
But recently, some versions have attempted to portray a more positive image. The San Francisco Ballet’s Nutcracker has a Chinese divertissement that represents a dragon from Chinatown, which is culturally specific but more importantly, not demeaning. It is not a difficult thing to do but requires a revisionist attitude toward these dances. The same kind of change could be made to the Arabian dance: In many productions, the female dancer is a seductress with navel exposed as she is lifted to and fro from one male partner to another. What does this say to young children watching and dancing in The Nutcracker? I am sure the people of Arab countries do not like to see their women presented in such a manner.
New York Theatre Ballet's Nutcracker by Keith Michael
Several years ago, I was asked to choreograph a Chinese dance to be performed by a reputable ballet school in Connecticut. I again ran into the expectation of caricature. But I choreographed a dance that I felt was not as stereotypical as the previous version, downplaying the Chinese stereotypes and emphasizing substantial choreography and the beautiful Tchaikovsky score. It was well received but was eventually replaced with the original version that I thought was demeaning to Asians.
Examples of how nationalities can be portrayed without stereotyping include Donald Byrd’s excellent 1996 Harlem Nutcracker. Set to David Berger’s version of the Duke Ellington-Billy Strayhorn arrangement of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite, the divertissements were drawn from the Harlem Renaissance, celebrating positive images of African Americans. Another is Keith Michael’s one-hour Nutcracker set in Art Nouveau style circa 1907, performed by Diana Byer’s New York Theatre Ballet. It features innovative choreography devoid of all caricatures and stereotypes.
I feel that more Nutcrackers venturing beyond demeaning stereotypes would invigorate and sustain this joyous holiday classic.
Founding artistic director, Richmond Ballet
There’s not one single thing about The Nutcracker that’s racist. In terms of casting, we’ve always cast—this is the 30th season—completely color blind. Beautiful dancers are beautiful dancers.
Last year, with our two Claras and three Sugar Plums, we had a tremendously diverse cast. They each got the part because they were the best for the role. I love that the production looks the way our audience and our community look. And we get a lot of racial diversity through the children in our school.
Richmond Ballet added a dragon to the Chinese dance
Photo by Sarah Ferguson, Courtesy Richmond Ballet
I did our original Nutcracker in 1984, the first full-length performance ever of the professional company. After 19 years the sets and costumes were getting worn so I decided to redo it. I had noticed the children in the audience were so engaged in Act I, but the second act didn’t keep the children’s interest as much. I knew children love animals. I made Act II focus on the animals. For the mirlitons I made a shepherd and shepherdess and six little lambs. In Spanish we have two couples—the guys are toreadors with capes à la Don Q, the women running through, making horns like bulls. In the Russian, we decided to do a dancing bear with two side Russians.
For Chinese I decided I wanted a dragon; it’s something sacred in the Chinese culture. I invited Michael Lowe—he’s Chinese and an Oakland Ballet veteran—to choreograph it. When the dragon came, it had a little shade over its eyes. We had a dragon blessing to take the shade off the eyes. We tried to do all the respectful things.
Artistic director, Spectrum Dance Theater, Seattle
I don’t find The Nutcracker racist. I think it’s Eurocentric in terms of its perspective. You’re being told a story—even when it’s set in America—from the perspective of a traditional 19th-century European household. Anybody that was not European is presented as exotic—the notion of the Other. I would say it’s exclusive rather than racist. It excludes the Other and reserves its experiences for a particular group: Anglo-Europeans. This group is mirrored back to itself onstage in The Nutcracker.
The Harlem Nutcracker that I created had its own form of exclusivity: It was directed at the African American family. The question I asked myself at the time was, How can I include the African American family into the Nutcracker experience? I wanted to make a Nutcracker that reinforces some values that are important to the African American family just as the traditional Nutcracker reinforces values important to Anglo-American families.
A chorus line of snowflakes in Donald Byrd's Harlem Nutcracker
Photo by Gabriel Bienczycki, Courtesy Byrd
As for representation of various racial/ethnic groups in the Nutcracker divertissements, like Spanish Hot Chocolate, Arabian Coffee, and Chinese Tea: At worst, they are insensitive, and at best, irrelevant or indifferent, especially when viewed through a 19th-century imperialist lens. How else should the representation be of a world that exemplifies the privilege of an imperializing Europe, other than indifference to the people and places that provided the commodities that supported their comfort?
Taking it a step further: Think of the Mouse King and his marauding horde as foreign, alien elements that sneak in under cover of night to infiltrate, undermine, and disrupt the order of “the house,” i.e. country, kingdom, Europe. They are vanquished by the Nutcracker/Prince and Clara. In this context, the second act is a vision of European supremacy. The rest of the world and its people are there only to “sweeten” the lives of the dominant Europeans.
What do you think? Send your response to this question—and these points of view—to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Portrait photos from top: Greg Rourt, Courtesy Alexander; Sarah Ferguson, Courtesy Richmond Ballet; Courtesy Brooklyn Academy of Music
Season 2 of World of Dance is almost here! The new season officially kicks off on Tuesday on NBC, and it's bringing a whole new crew of talented dancers with it (plus, some old favorites). Dance pro judges Jennifer Lopez, Derek Hough and Ne-Yo are back, too, with Jenna Dewan serving as the show's host.
Obviously we'll be watching, but just in case you're not completely sold, here's why you're not going to want to miss out:
JLo Might Be Performing
Earlier this week, JLo (who serves as the show's executive producer) posted this insane promo clip to her Instagram. Dancing to a mashup of Cardi B's "Bodak Yellow" and her new single "Dinero," JLo reminded us all of her dance skills while also leading us to believe she might just hit the stage herself for a performance.
Travis Wall draws inspiration from dancers Tate McCrae, Timmy Blankenship and more.
One often-overlooked relationship that exists in dance is the relationship between choreographer and muse. Recently two-time Emmy Award Winner Travis Wall opened up about his experience working with dancers he considers to be his muses.
"My muses in choreography have evolved over the years," says Wall. "When I'm creating on Shaping Sound, our company members, my friends, are my muses. But at this current stage of my career, I'm definitely inspired by new, fresh talent."
Wall adds, "I'm so inspired by this new generation of dancers. Their teachers have done such incredible jobs, and I've seen these kids grown up. For many of them, I've had a hand in their exposure to choreography."
A few weeks ago, American Ballet Theatre announced the A.B.T. Women's Movement, a new program that will support three women choreographers per season, one of whom will make work on the main company.
"The ABT Women's Movement takes inspiration from the groundbreaking female choreographers who have left a lasting impact on ABT's legacy, including Agnes de Mille and Twyla Tharp," said artistic director Kevin McKenzie in a press release.
Hypothetically, this is a great idea. We're all for more ballet commissions for women. But the way ABT has promoted the initiative is problematic.
On the occasion of its 70th anniversary, the Ballet Nacional de Cuba tours the U.S. this spring with the resolute Cuban prima ballerina assoluta Alicia Alonso a the helm. Named a National Hero of Labor in Cuba, Alonso, 97, has weathered strained international relations and devastating fiscal challenges to have BNC emerge as a world-class dance company. Her dancers are some of ballet's best. On offer this time are Alonso's Giselle and Don Quixote. The profoundly Cuban company performs in Chicago May 18–20, Tampa May 23, Washington, D.C., May 29–June 3 and Saratoga, New York June 6–8.
Considering we practically live in our dance clothes, there's really no such thing as having too many leotards, tights or leggings (no matter what our mom or friends say!). That's why we treat every sale as an opportunity to stock up. And thanks to the holiday weekend, you can shop all of your dancewear go-tos or try something totally new for as much as 50% less than the usual price.
Here are the eight sales we're most excited about—from online options to in-store retailers that will help you find the perfect fit. Happy Memorial Day (and shopping)!
Now through Monday, Danskin's site will automatically take 25% off your entire purchase at checkout. Even new items like their Pintuck Detail Floral Print Sports Bra and Pintuck Detail Legging (pictured here) are fair game.
"The sun may be shining brightly, but we are not in a very sunny mood today!" said New York State assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal during yesterday's rally for the Artists of Ailey.
The dancers and stage crew are demanding increased wages and more comprehensive benefits, what they have termed "reaching for the standard" and "fair wages."
Pain is an inevitable part of a dancing life and dancers have a high tolerance for it, according to Sean Gallagher, a New York physical therapist whose practice includes many professional performers. "So when dancers complain, it really means something," he says.
But women and men experience pain differently, and tend to be treated for it differently as well. Female dancers need to understand those differences before they go to a doctor, so they can make sure they get treated promptly and effectively.
Rebecca Warthen was on a year-long assignment with the Peace Corps in Dominica last fall when a storm started brewing. A former dancer with North Carolina Dance Theatre (now Charlotte Ballet) and Columbia City Ballet, she'd been sent to the Caribbean island nation to teach ballet at the Dominica Institute of the Arts and in outreach classes at public schools.
But nine and a half months into her assignment, a tropical storm grew into what would become Hurricane Maria—the worst national disaster in Dominica's history.
Sidra Bell is one of those choreographers whose movement dancers are drawn to. Exploring the juxtaposition of fierce athleticism and pure honesty in something as simple as stillness, her work brings her dancers to the depths of their abilities and the audience to the edge of their seats.