“Swans of Color” and Wokeness on the Old Continent

As I have pointed out in the past with respect to the indigenous, home-grown Neo-Liberalism that swept through Continental politics over the past two decades in parallel to and not as derivation from the same development in the Anglo-Saxon world,  I point now to the latest manifestations of an indigenous “wokeness” in Europe that is following a parallel track of righteous intolerance that we see in the United States as promoted by Black Lives Matter and the anti-Culture bandwagon.. In both parts of the world the result is stifling political correctness that threatens anything resembling humanism, sophistication and breadth of thinking.

The latest outbreak of this insanity in Europe is in the ballet world.

In Berlin, we read the following in the online website “Slipped Disc” datelined November 26:

“The Staatsballet Berlin has quietly removed Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker from its year-end programme. Director

Christiane Theobald says it contains a Chinese dance and an oriental dance that amount to ‘a clear case of racism’ – even more so since the Berlin production follows Tchaikovsky’s 1892 original”

A fuller explanation of this cancellation may be found on thegoaspotlight.com, which quotes from the Russian business information website RBK.  As becomes clear in this article, the Russians are very interested party in the production and take the cancellation personally. Here we read:

“The directors did not like the appearance of children, whose faces are painted with dark paint, as well as the ‘stereotypical’ images of China and India in the ballet. The production will be presented to the audience, but later and in a revised version.

“The state Ballet of Berlin has refused to stage the Nutcracker by two Russian choreographers due to racial stereotypes, the acting head of the troupe Christian Theobald told Bild..

“She recalled that the play is a reconstruct of the original production of 1892 However, some elements that were acceptable at the time raise many questions in the modern world and need to be revisited, Theobald noted.

“For example,the directors were embarrassed in the appearance in the second act of children with faces painted with dark paint…

“Also criticized were the Chinese dance, where the dancers move with very small steps, and the oriental dance, in which the girls from the harem and the soloist with dark makeup participants.”

We may possibly explain these decisions in Berlin as anticipatory and precautionary measures of the management to cover its ass ahead of the installation in office of the new federal cabinet where the position of ‘commissar of culture’ has been assigned to a leading figure from the Greens Party, who are in general at the forefront of the new bigotry and self-righteousness to which German politics is prone..

However, the same virus seems to have attacked brains in the French cultural world, and did so at the very start of this calendar year, as we read in the web pages of REMIX News, www.rmx.news datelined 4 January 2021

“The recently appointed director of the Paris Opera House, Alexander Neef, plans to remove three of the best-known ballet choreographies from the repertoire on account of those allegedly promoting White dominance, Neef told Le Monde . The three ballets in question are The Nutcracker, Swan Lake and Die Bajadere… all choreographed by the late Rudolf Nureyev, considered the best ballet dancer of his generation, according to Origo . The conflict goes back to September, incidentally, the month when Neef was appointed director. Then the artists of the Paris Opera House issued a manifesto entitled “On racial issues at the Paris Opera”, in which they said, among other things, that performers of colored skin will refuse to be masked as white when, for instance, dancing the role of a white swan.

“ While the management of the Paris Opera House denied the information in a somewhat lukewarm manner, French-Canadian academic and political commentator Mathieu Bock-Côté, in a commentary in Le Figaro, attributed the issue to the Black Lives Matter movement.

According to Le Monde, the three ballets in question have been targeted for the following reasons. In Swan Lake, the white swan is a symbol of good while the black swan that of evil. In The Nutcracker, critics found issues with the Arabic-themed dance Coffee…”

The spineless behavior of the directors in Berlin and Paris will lead to the utter gutting of repertoire if pursued without  resistance from art lovers.

Yes, indeed all of these classical gems from the 19th and early 20th century repertoire imbedded in their choreography features from the mental outlook of high society of their age. The remarks about national, ethnic, racial stereotypes in Tchaikowski’s works are accurate, but attempts at cleaning up the act, if the political will is there at the top of the troupes to do just that will run straight into the stereotyped musical composition which dealt in the popular melodies of flamenco, 1001 Nights Arabia, the Chinese Empire, Polish petty nobility, Russian folk ensembles and the like.  If the steps taken over from the Mariinsky choreographer of 1892, the brilliant French-Russian Petipas are found to be offensive to today’s thinking, what would one say of his follower, Fokin, who was the Russian impresario Diaghilev’s first choreographer for the Ballets Russes that brought these and contemporary masterpieces to Europe.  Yes, Fokin, had very cute tribal dances of blacks and other stereotypes in his pieces.  And so what?

The argument of the Paris Opera for delisting Swan Lake is even more strained, or shall we say, absurd.  Black Swan versus White Swan!  

This very same censorious behavior can sweep away most of Western classical literature.  I am now re-reading for the n’th time Dostoevsky’s incredibly rich Brothers Karamazov, which has vastly more to it than the dialogues from the Grand Inquisitor by which it is best known in Comp Lit 101 courses of American colleges.  It also speaks of patriarch Fedor Pavlovich Karamazov’s dealings in Odessa with Zhids and his even befriending Jews. It paints Poles in the most unflattering light as born card cheats, utterly dishonest people.  Yes, indeed, Dostoevsky had his own little prejudices.  And so what.  Only a certified idiot would tamper with his works, which are among the most brilliant contributions to world literature of all time not only in terms of the religious, ethical discourses of his protagonists but in the remarkable diversity of speech ranging from Old Church Slavonic to standard Russian of the street at the time to Frenchified Russian of the noble class, including the reprobate Fedor Karamazov.

As for the Russians’ view of the ongoing self-destruction of Western Civilization by their neighbors to the West, they have absolutely no problem with blackface, with Black Swans, and with stereotyped Chinese.  As they say, they never had black slaves, as did the Anglo-Saxon nations and the French, by the way. Instead they had and have today a ‘person of color,’ an offspring of Black Africa, Alexander Pushkin, as their national poet and universally recognized cultural hero.  Full stop.

©Gilbert Doctorow, 2021

One thought on ““Swans of Color” and Wokeness on the Old Continent

  1. Sounds like it won’t long before they go after Gilbert and Sullivan. One fears for the fate of The Mikado.


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