Scottish Ballet rejects censorship claims over changes to The Nutcracker

Scottish Ballet has dismissed suggestions that it has censored The Nutcracker or taken away from the heritage of the famous ballet by tackling “inappropriate cultural stereotypes” in its new festive production.

The company has made headlines around the world since announcing “subtle, but important” changes were being made to its version of the 19th century, which it first staged in 1972.

Scottish Ballet has overhauled the costumes and choreography in the sequences depicting Chinese and Arabian culture, as well as having some of its female dancers, play the key role of the magician Drosselmeyer for the first time in its history.

Artistic director Christopher Hampson has admitted the company would not have been discussing making such changes in its shows five years ago, but insisted art had to “speak to our times”.

Scottish Ballet dancers Alice Kawalek and Kayla-Maree Tarantolo worked with traditional Chinese fan artist Annie Auare before appearing in The Nutcracker. Picture: Andy Ross

He insisted making key changes to The Nutcracker this year would add to and strengthen the heritage of the show, which has just opened at the Festival Theatre in Edinburgh and will go on tour around the UK next year.

In the wake of the Black Lives Matter move, Scottish Ballet publicly admitted its 50-year history “includes outdated and racist artistic content”.

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The company, which has set up an equality and diversity steering group, has previously pledged to ensure better representation of the Gypsy, Romany and Traveller communities in The Snow Queen after reviewing previous depictions.

It has surveyed all of its staff, dancers and board members on anti-racism issues and also held anti-racism workshops.

Madeline Squire is one of the dancers playing the magician Drosselmeyer in Scottish Ballet's production of The Nutcracker. Picture: Andy Ross

An article published on Scottish Ballet's website last year stated: “Through scrutinising our own history, understanding and accepting the ways in which Scottish Ballet has been part of and benefited from institutional and systemic racism, we hope to encourage others to do the same.”

When the changes to The Nutcracker were announced last month, the company said they were being made to ensure it “remains relevant today and for the future”.

An article in the official programme for the show recalls how The Nutcracker had “historically perpetuated racial stereotypes and even yellowface”, adding the production had often been “played for laughs, involving pointy finger movements, Fu Manchu moustaches, rice paddy hat and a long ponytail hairstyle called a queue, all often worn by white performers”.

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Mr Hampson states: “Art has to reflect who we are, it has to help build empathy for people.

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

"When we put stereotypes on stage again and again, we are complicit in recreating those stereotypes.

"Why don't we play against that type, create something new, innovate or try new stories?

"I’ve heard arguments that we’re taking something away [by making changes], but I just don’t buy that.

"By rectifying inappropriate cultural stereotypes, we’re adding to the production’s heritage, we’re strengthening it.

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"Long after me, this production has a life and will continue and I’m sure it will evolve again for the next few decades. That’s how art survives – it evolves to speak to our times.

"I don’t think we’d have been having this conversation even five years ago.

"Within the wider art form, things like diversity and inclusion are only beginning to be discussed. If we see racist stereotypes or if we hear about racism within the ballet world, we need to be addressing it.”

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