It’s hard to imagine now, but when The Nutcracker premiered at St. Petersburg’s Mariinsky Theater in 1892, it was a dud… Now, The Nutcracker is one of the most popular ballets in the world; the story is as much a part of the Christmas canon as Rudolph or Frosty, and many dancers credit The Nutcracker with inspiring their own careers… Companies rely on The Nutcracker to sustain them for the rest of the year; at NYCB, Nutcracker generates about 40 percent of the annual revenue.
It is also traffics in blatant and offensive stereotypes. Dressed in harem pants and a straw hat, eyes painted to look slanted, the white man playing “Chinese Tea” jumps out of a box and bows; two white women, wearing chopsticks in their black wigs, dance with their index fingers pointed in the air.
In a dance conceived as “something for the fathers,” a woman portraying “Arabian coffee” slinks around the stage in a belly shirt, bells attached to her ankles. (Choreographers in different genres continue to reinterpret it; in Austin McCormick’s Nutcracker Rouge, “Arabian” is a pole dance.)
It’s a beloved Christmas tradition—but parts of The Nutcracker haven’t aged well.
This continues throughout Act II, as dancers representing different parts of the world entertain the two young (European) heroes. It hasn’t gone totally unnoticed; Dance Magazine published a short debate on the issue last year, and ballet-goers like Feministing’s Chloe Angyal have criticized the ballet’s ethnocentrism. “I spend large portions of the second act cringing and rolling my eyes, because I’m reminded all over again that this ballet contains some unbelievably offensive racial and ethnic stereotypes,” she wrote…
But the racial insensitivity of The Nutcracker is symptomatic of a bigger issue. Ballet is, to put it mildly, not a progressive art form…
The article is being heavily criticized in the comments. That might, of course, reflect the sudden change in editorial direction. It may be just a question of shedding the politically incorrect readers and replacing them with a lefty crowd.
There is certainly plenty of those. Race grievance mongering has never been more popular.
As was noted on this blog a few months ago, the Gilbert & Sullivan operetta The Mikado was attacked for being racist too. But, hey, diversity is our strength.
What is the downside of losing a few popular cultural icons when they are being replaced by wonders such the new Aga Khan’s museum?