Scottish Ballet's changes to The Nutcracker to remove racist stereotypes are not cultural vandalism – Scotsman comment

The Nutcracker has delighted audiences for more than a century.

Alice Kawalek and Kayla-Maree Tarantolo perform the revamped Chinese Tea Dance sequence of Scottish Ballet's production of The Nutcracker (Picture: Andy Ross)
Alice Kawalek and Kayla-Maree Tarantolo perform the revamped Chinese Tea Dance sequence of Scottish Ballet's production of The Nutcracker (Picture: Andy Ross)

However, as Scottish Ballet points out in its programme for a new festive production, it has contained some “historically perpetuated racial stereotypes” with usually white dancers in “yellowface” and “Fu Manchu moustaches” giving performances that are “played for laughs”.

There are some who appear to think that The Nutcracker should be treated as a somehow untouchable or even ‘sacred’ work of art and that any attempt to change it to remove such scenes is a form of censorship.

However, art, almost by its very nature, is something that has always and will always change. When a musician covers a song by another artist, the point is to create something new, to add their own touches, not simply recreate the original. Similarly, plays by Shakespeare are regularly given modern settings to revitalise the story or help us see it in a different way.

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Scottish Ballet rejects censorship claims over changes to The Nutcracker

When Scottish Ballet, or anyone else, decides to perform The Nutcracker, they are making an active choice to do so. And that also applies to the way they perform it.

And so if their performances perpetuate outdated, abhorrent stereotypes – that were perhaps uncontroversial in the 19th century when The Nutcracker was written – they cannot avoid their responsibility for doing so. They are free-thinking individuals, not slaves to the past.

So changing the play to remove the offensive scenes is far from an act of cultural vandalism as some apparently claim. Instead, it is a profound appreciation of the work that helps avoid the alternative choice: consigning a wonderful ballet to the dustbin of history.

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