Berkeley Ballet Theater student dancers cut from a scene in Mariinsky Ballet performance

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After tensions regarding potential racial insensitivity, student dancers at the Berkeley Ballet Theater, or BBT, were cut from a scene of the Mariinsky Ballet’s “La Bayadère” in UC Berkeley’s Zellerbach Hall between Oct. 30 and Nov. 3.

The performance, which was established in 1877, includes scenes that use skin-darkening tools. This provoked concern among families of students involved in the performance. Some components of Mariinsky’s set and costumes were the same ones used when the performance was first created, according to Katy Tucker, Cal Performances’ director of artistic planning.

“Cal Performances was aware that, as with many historical productions of its day, there would be aspects of this work that might be challenging for modern audiences,” Tucker said in an email.

BBT asked for confirmation from Mariinsky that students would not be dressed in costumes that could make them appear to be members of another race, according to a BBT statement. The statement alleged that Mariinsky confirmed students would not be painted in blackface when they were invited in August.

After students were invited to perform with Mariinsky, Cal Performances consulted the company regarding particular scenes that could be interpreted as “problematic,” according to Tucker. One of these scenes was “The Golden Idol,” which historically employs the use of skin-darkening makeup.

Closer to the performance, however, when BBT asked Mariinsky to send photos of the costumes to reassure concerned families, a spokesperson for Mariinsky allegedly replied that “students would ‘wear whatever was created for the production,’ ” according to the statement from BBT.

The students from BBT who were supposed to appear in “The Golden Idol” scene were replaced by Mariinsky members because the company allegedly would not be able to make adaptations in time, according to Tucker.

According to the BBT statement, the Mariinsky members used costumes from another part of the performance for “The Golden Idol” scene.

“Since the company was unable to make costume adaptations so close to the performances – the difficult decision was made to cut the part of that scene that might have been unacceptable to our community,” Tucker said in the email.

While many of the student dancers were in the omitted “The Golden Idol” scene, some were still able to perform with the ballet company in a different scene, according to the BBT statement.

Although the Mariinsky Ballet is an internationally renowned company, problematic elements still remain in classical ballet, highlighting current disagreements between social standards and the industry today.

“BBT recognizes that classical ballet is filled with cultural appropriation, gender stereotypes, and other socially problematic elements,” the BBT statement reads. “Although there is much room to grow, BBT is dedicated to passing along the passion, rigor, and discipline associated with classical ballet to all of our students without perpetuating outdated, hurtful traditions that don’t lift up all members of our society.”

Contact Emma Rooholfada at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @erooholfada_dc.