Australian Ballet criticised for ‘lazy approach’ to combating racism

Australian Ballet criticised for 'lazy approach' to combating racism
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An Australian Ballet spokeswoman said the company was committed to reflecting the country’s diversity and “particularly aware” of the importance of paying respect to First Nations People.

“As a company we believe in diversity, inclusion and equality,” she said. “Along with dance companies around the world, we are committed to listening, learning and growing in support of the journey towards equality.”

Ballet’s issues with race have been highlighted over the years, with renowned African-American dancer Misty Copeland triggering a discussion about racism after posting a photo of dancers in blackface. Debate has also raged over the lack of diversity on stage and racist stereotypes in shows that are an integral part of the repertoire.

The Australian Ballet’s 2019 production of The Nutcracker was criticised for presenting “racialised stereotypes of Chinese characters, complete with Fu Manchu moustaches, upward pointing index fingers and fast shuffling runs”.

Abas Mirzaei, senior lecturer in marketing at Macquarie Business School, said the Australian Ballet risked looking opportunistic by failing to back up its Instagram post with concrete action.

“Posting a black square was a lazy approach to express solidarity, and to support black lives matter,” he said.

The corporate world has rushed to support the Black Lives Matter movement, but Dr Mirzaei said it was risky for brands to pretend to care for a particular social issue if claims were not backed up by meaningful action such as promoting racial diversity on stage.

“And of course it falls flat with customers,” he said.

The West Australian Ballet also posted a black square on Instagram with the comment: “As we #BlackoutTuesday, we also recognise the anniversary of the Mabo Decisions and the final day of National Reconciliation Week.”

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A WA Ballet spokesman said the company had received a positive response to its #blackouttuesday posts.

“West Australian Ballet has strongly worked towards diversity in both its company of 39 dancers, as well as its onstage repertoire with Milnjiya, Milky Way – River of Stars, a work created in collaboration with First Nations artists and people,” he said.

Dilshani Weerasinghe, executive director of the Queensland Ballet, said the company supported new works as well as “considered revisions” to ensure historic works remain culturally appropriate.

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“Like other ballet companies throughout the world, Queensland Ballet faces the challenge of being ahead of the times and changes in attitudes, while still being able to respect time honoured traditions and historic stories,” she said.

Dancewear manufacturer Bloch announced last week that it would introduce darker shades of pointe shoes and address colour names, which include suntan, tan, toast, black and white.

“We have been intently listening, reflecting on what we are doing and what we can do better and acknowledge we have not been moving fast enough,” the company’s website said.

Dr Mirzaei praised Bloch for adjusting its marketing and revising product lines.

“Compared to Cookie Cutter tweets, and Instagram posts, such a decision is much more impactful, and shows real commitment,” he said.

A Bloch spokeswoman said the company had introduced darker shades of products such as leotards, ballet flats and tights over the years.

“We do acknowledge that the expansion of colour selection in the pointe shoe range has not happened expeditiously and are making it our priority to address this,” she said.

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