“The destruction being carried on in this post-George Floyd moment cannot be overstated. Everything in the West’s cultural inheritance, whether in music, literature, or art, is coming down….Visual and kinetic uniformity in a corps de ballet was an aesthetic ideal; it, too, had nothing to do with race. Yet that uniformity must now fall so that no individual ballet dancer feels that her precious diversity currency is devalued.”
Social commentator Heather MacDonald, in her depressing report, “Beside the Pointe:
Diversity and bias obsessions come for ‘Swan Lake’“
It’s a fascinating case study of how the George Floyd Freakout, combined with ruthless determination of minority activists to exploit that tragedy to grab power, and the utter failure of sniveling organization leaders to demonstrate the requisite spine that any institution requires in its leadership, is resulting in cultural carnage with few countervailing benefits.
The iceman cometh late for the weird world of classic ballet, as MacDonald, obviously a fan (I am not) points out:
Classical ballet has largely escaped the revisionist destruction that hit the opera and theater stages years ago. Amazingly, audiences could still see Swan Lake and La Bayadere as their choreographers and composers intended them, with all the conventions and costumes of nineteenth-century fairytale intact…. the adolescent politicizing that has been inflicted on defenseless operas has been absent from the ballet stage. That immunity has undoubtedly now ended. Expect to see classical ballets wrenched awkwardly into dumbshows about social justice.
Oh, I do, I do. She relates a race controversy from two years ago, when the Staatsballett Berlin mounted “Swan Lake,” in which white body paint has traditionally been used on the ballerinas to create the illusion that the dancers are swans. The company’s ballet mistress told the company’s one black dancer to use the body make-up like the rest of the dancers. When she protested that she’d never look white, the mistress responded, “Well, you will have to put on more than the other girls.”
I would have said, “I guarantee you will look exactly as much like a swan as anyone else on stage!'”
The episode was flagged as racist treatment of a black performer, and made headlines. The company groveled an apology, admitting that it was culprit in society’s “structural racism.” It promised to hire diversity trainers and hold mandatory antiracism workshops, as well as pledging to attempt to purge its repertory for “outdated and discriminatory ways of performing,” while “re-evaluat[ing]” its “longstanding traditions.” McDonald observes, and correctly,
“The accusations and the self-prostration would have been the same had the scenario been flipped. If the ballet mistress had told the black dancer: “Don’t bother with the body paint. You’re too black. It will never work,” this, too, would have been characterized as discrimination. Racism today is a non-falsifiable proposition governed by the principle: heads I win, tails you lose.“
Indeed. The latest ballet-related race-based power play came when that same black ballerina’s contract was not renewed for the coming season. Eleven white dancers were also let go, but only her fate could be blamed on racism, so racism it was. Says MacDonald,
“If a white person is dismissed, not hired, or not promoted, it is assumed to be for cause. If a black person suffers a negative employment outcome, the only reason must be racism.”
Eventually, the targets of this intensifying hustle will have to brace for the attacks to come and refuse to play the game. The ethics values at stake are fairness, responsibility and citizenship,, and the the activating virtues required are courage, fortitude and sacrifice.
Added: Heather MacDonald is usually not reticent about speaking plain, but she didn’t clearly make the point she was talking around.
Ballet is an art form that has everything to do about grace,symbolism, abstract beauty, geometric and aesthetic precision, escapism and beauty expressing music visually and viscerally. It has nothing to do with race. Achieving its artistic and entertainment goals often demand ethereal uniformity, as in the “Swan Lake” photo above. The perfect chorus, in many cases, should look like clones. There is nothing—nothing—wrong or unethical about that. Diversity is not always appropriate. Ballerinas, so matter how talented, are not assets to the artistic objectives of the ballet if they are six-feet tall, or five-foot-one. They are detrimental. Similarly, if the artistic effect desired is the uniformity above, there are a limited number of options. All the ballerinas can be white. They can all be black. The effect can be to have all white swans, and any black dancers have to use make-up to match the others. Or the effect can be to have all black swans, and any white dancers have to wear black—no, that’s not allowed, is it? The remaining options are not to do the work at all, as great and popular as it is, or to stage it in a manner that does not maximize the aesthetic virtues of the work, in order to meet a social engineering goal that has nothing to do with art.
The last two, the author is saying, are not rational and acceptable options. An art form that has value to society and the culture should not be rendered impossible because it does not advance a political agenda.