Posted on December 18, 2020

Beside the Pointe

Heather Mac Donald, City Journal, December 16, 2020

The New York Times has published the latest installment in its running tally of alleged racism in the high arts: the Staatsballett Berlin (Berlin State Ballet) treated a black ballerina differently because of the color of her skin. Oh, wait! That was yesterday’s template. Today’s is that a black ballerina was treated the same as white ballerinas. {snip}

Since the nineteenth century, dancers in a corps de ballet often applied white body paint in works, such as Giselle or Les Sylphides, that feature a supernatural element. The intent was to create an impression of ghostly creatures from beyond the grave who might doom any red-blooded prince who crosses them. The use of white makeup was not a statement about white supremacy: there were virtually no black dancers in Russian or Parisian ballet troupes at the time against which a statement about skin color might be made. {snip}

In 2018, the Staatsballett Berlin mounted Swan Lake, another ballet where white body paint has traditionally been used, in this case to increase the illusion that the dancers were swans. One of the company’s ballet mistresses told the company’s one black dancer, Chloé Lopes Gomes, to use the paint as well. Gomes says she told the ballet mistress, “I’ll never look white,” to which the mistress responded: “well, you will have to put on more than the other girls.”

This incident dominated the front page of the Times arts section and was flagged on the front page of the paper itself—it was that important. The Staatsballett Berlin issued a groveling apology, taking responsibility for society’s “structural racism.” The company has promised to hire the usual phalanx of diversity trainers to provide mandatory antiracism workshops. The organization will also examine its repertory for “outdated and discriminatory ways of performing” and will “re-evaluate” its “longstanding traditions,” it says.


The destruction being carried on in this post-George Floyd moment cannot be overstated. Everything in the West’s cultural inheritance, whether in music, literature, or art, is coming down. A former director of the Paris Opera Ballet expressed the idea behind the assault. To defend an artistic tradition on the ground that it is seeking a stage illusion is “not a valid argument in a context in which one race had oppressed another,” in the Times’s paraphrase. {snip} If the relevant “context” for all European art is what the Left claims is the West’s centuries-long assertion of white supremacy, then every Western artistic tradition must be overthrown, since there was never a moment when that “context” was allegedly not in play. {snip}