Walter’s World: How Much Has The Arts Changed For Minority Performers?

December 7, 2011

By Walter Rutledge

This weekend the New York City Ballet production of the holiday classic The Nutcracker Live From Lincoln Center appeared on public television. The George Balanchine version was brilliantly danced, and the spectacle was complete with a flying sleigh and colorful sets and costumes. The only color missing from the entire production was Black.

For two hours a cavalcade of; children from the school, the large ensemble of corps de ballet, soloists, and principles dancers filled the stage of the David H. Koch Theater. As the ballet progressed it became visibly (or in this case invisibly) apparent the absence of dancers of color. To New York City Ballet’s credit the company was not totally color bias- I mean color blind. I did see one Asian child and possibly one African-American child, but if he was African-American he was barely Octoroon beige.

In the past Blacks were restricted from American ballet companies because of contrived physical limitations. Bad feet, big buttocks, and a lack of understanding and ability to adapt to the European esthetic were the excuses used to keep blacks out of ballet. The few who were allowed to participate had to be light enough to “blend in”. This was especially true for female dancers.

The propaganda of African-American inferiority was (is) also prevalent in sports. For many years Blacks were not considered for positions such as the quarterback in football or pitcher in baseball, because it was alleged they lacked critical leadership and thinking skills. And let’s not talk about tennis or golf.

The difference is sports are big money and in this country the love of green always supersedes the disdain for black. When you check the New York City Ballet company roster of the 85 dancers presently in the company only two are African-Americans; and both are men. In all fairness New York City Ballet it is not alone, Broadway ironically isn’t called The Great White Way for nothing. But this television production of The Nutcracker makes us ask, “How much has changed for minority performers?”

There should be a call to arms for community support of institutions that promote greater equality for minority performers. There should also be a call for more scrutiny of how city, state and federal funds (our tax dollars) are distributed to these institutions. In times of economical disparity the public’s need for escape through the arts tends to increase. We need to make sure that minority artists and art institutions also flourish, and if they don’t the public at large should become a nutcracker.

In Photo: 1) Raven Wilkerson 2) Grace Jones 3) Michael Vick 4) Misty Copeland

Photos By: 1) Maurice Seymore 2) Jean-Paul Goude 3) Justin Mertes-Mistretta 4) Weiferd Watts Photography

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