May 26, 2019

Toning Down Asian Stereotypes to Make ‘The Nutcracker’ Fit the Times

Toning Down Asian Stereotypes to Make ‘The Nutcracker’ Fit the Times

Several have signed a “Final Bow for Yellowface” pledge, created by Ms. Pazcoguin and Phil Chan, an arts administrator and former dancer. The pledge is a commitment by the dance world “to eliminating outdated and offensive stereotypes of Asians (Yellowface) on our stages.” Signers include companies that dance other versions of “The Nutcracker” like the Royal Ballet in London, the Washington Ballet, the Louisville Ballet and Ballet West.

“Diversity onstage is paramount these days,” said Adam Sklute, the artistic director of Ballet West. “I want to populate my stage with the kind of world I want to live in, which is culturally diverse.”

When Mr. Sklute took over Ballet West about a decade ago, he was immediately troubled by the “Tea” section in the company’s “Nutcracker,” one of the oldest full productions in America, choreographed by Willam Christensen. “There was a lot of head-bobbing and parasol-swirling, smiley-faced action,” he said. “This was something that in 1944 would not have been considered inappropriate, but when I looked at it in 2007, I thought this isn’t right.”

He went to the Christensen family, which own the rights, and asked to borrow from the San Francisco Ballet’s version, which features a Chinese warrior fighting a Chinese dragon. “I felt like it was much more a celebration of the culture versus a mockery of the culture,” Mr. Sklute said. “I have not received a single complaint.”

Similarly, in October, the Boston Ballet announced that its artistic director, Mikko Nissinen, would “refresh” the choreography for his “Nutcracker,” which opens Nov. 29. And the Miami City Ballet will change “Tea” in its “Nutcracker,” which opens Dec. 7. As American Ballet Theater prepares to start rehearsals for its “Nutcracker,” by Alexei Ratmansky, opening on Dec. 14 in Costa Mesa, Calif., Kevin McKenzie, the artistic director said he was “considering” possible changes.

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