A major production of The Nutcracker is to be overhauled over fears that one of Britain’s best-loved ballets is racist.
Scottish Ballet said it was making “subtle but important” changes to costumes and choreography in an upcoming run of the ballet, following concerns that how foreign cultures are portrayed could be deemed offensive by modern audiences.
The move is part of a Black Lives Matter-inspired anti-racism drive at Scotland’s national dance company, in which it had pledged to purge “outdated and racist artistic content” from performances.
A key character, Drosselmeyer, a magician and toymaker who gives a wooden nutcracker to the story’s heroine Clara, is also to be played by female dancers for the first time in the theatre’s history.
The Scottish Ballet's anti-racism drive will see changes to costumes, choreography and Chinese and Arabian-inspired scenes
Credit: Andy Ross/PA
Changes will be made to Chinese and Arabian-inspired scenes in The Nutcracker’s Land of Sweets, the setting for the second act of the ballet.
Clara and the toy, which has magically become life-sized and transformed into a Prince, travel to the Land of Sweets after they fight off an army of giant mice.
Dances from around the world are performed in Clara’s honour. This would have offered a whistle-stop tour of exotic foreign cultures for audiences of the original version, which was first performed in Russia in 1892.
Scottish Ballet’s production was first choreographed in 1972 and updated in 2014.
The founder of the Scottish Ballet and British choreographer, Peter Darrell
Credit: Fairfax Media Archive
Over recent years, there have been claims that “pointy fingers movements, rice-paddy hats, and Fu Manchu mustaches” depicted by Chinese dancers and overly sexualised dances from Arabia are culturally inappropriate.
Christopher Hampson, Scottish Ballet’s artistic director, denied that “rectifying inappropriate cultural stereotypes” would spoil The Nutcracker, claiming the changes for the upcoming run would lead to a “richer” production.
“At Scottish Ballet we want to drive anti-racism, clear and simple,” he said. “If we see racist stereotypes or if we hear about racism within the ballet world, it must be addressed.
“The Nutcracker was created in 1972, when it was acceptable to represent other cultures through imitation. If we are representing a culture, it’s important that we have done our due diligence to ensure it is done so authentically.”
Dancers from the Scottish Ballet company performing Peter Darrell's The Nutcracker
Credit: Andy Ross
Addressing the introduction of a female Drosselmeyer, Mr Hampson said there was nothing about the character that meant it had to be a man.
“Art must evolve to speak to our times, which is why our Drosselmeyer will be played by male and female dancers,” he said.
Scottish Ballet launched its anti-racism programme last year, and cited 1911’s Petrushka, which portrays a violent and lazy character who prays to a coconut in blackface, as another example of a production that is guilty of “proliferating racial stereotypes”.
It refused to specify exactly how costumes and dances would be changed in the upcoming production of The Nutcracker, saying the modifications were still being finalised.
The organisation admitted that it had in the past “benefitted from institutional and systemic racism.”
It pledged to remove “racist stereotypes from ballet” and have been reviewing their repertoire, past and present, to do so.
It has introduced bronze and brown shoes and tights, claiming that traditional pink shoes and white dress “promoted the aesthetics of white dancers.”
The Scottish Ballet production of The Nutcracker will tour Edinburgh, Glasgow, Inverness, Aberdeen, Newcastle and Belfast between December and February.