Black dancer told to whiten skin onstage by top German ballet company
Black dancer is ordered to whiten her skin to ‘blend in’ during performance of Swan Lake at prestigious German ballet company
- Chloé Lopes Gomes was the first black dancer at the Staatsballet in Berlin
- She claims she was subjected to racial discrimination by a ballet instructor
- The woman allegedly ordered the ballerina to whiten her skin and made derogatory comments about her not fitting in due to her race
- The unnamed woman has not responded to the allegations but the company has issued a statement promising an investigation
Germany’s most prestigious ballet company has come under fire after a black dancer said she was ordered to whiten her skin to ‘blend in’ during performances.
Chloé Lopes Gomes became the first black dancer in the Staatsballet’s history when she joined the Berlin company in 2018.
But almost immediately the French ballerina was the target of racial discrimination, she told The Guardian. On Tuesday, the company released a statement announcing an investigation into ‘outdated and discriminatory styles of performance’.
Lopes Gomes, 29, claimed that an instructor frequently derided her in class and commanded that she apply white makeup to her body in order to ‘blend in’ with the other dancers during a performance of Swan Lake.
On another occasion, the same teacher refused to issue her with a white veil for a performance of the 19th-century ballet La Bayadère, saying she could not have one because she was black, the ballerina said.
Chloé Lopes Gomes became the first black dancer in the Staatsballet’s history when she joined the Berlin company in 2018 but the French ballerina said she immediately became the subject of racist comments by a ballet mistress
Lopes Gomes was trained at Russia’s prestigious Bolshoi Ballet and did not speak German when she joined the Berlin company as a corps de ballet member in 2018.
The teacher in question did not speak French or English so the pair communicated in Russian initially, which Lopes Gomes said meant her classmates did not pick up the offensive comments.
She told The Guardian that these included being told she didn’t fit in because of her skin colour and said that the ballet mistress had her pose to recreate a painting of a black dancer surrounded white dancers.
The teacher said she would show her friends that the Staatsballet ‘also has one of those’.
Lopes Gomes said she complained about the teacher’s behaviour to the company’s co-artistic director at the time Johannes Öhman.
He said she should never have to whiten her skin but that there was little he could do as the ballet mistress had a lifetime contract.
For performances of Swan Lake, it is common practice for dancers to whiten their skin with powder but Lopes Gomes pointed out the futility of this in her case as no amount of powder would render her skin the same shade as the already white dancers who had made themselves even lighter with the powder.
Lopes Gomes said she was told in October that her contract would not be renewed. The company cited the effects of the coronavirus pandemic as the reason for cutting staff.
However, the ballerina has hired a lawyer to fight the decision, according to The Times.
Lopes Gomes said she was told in October that her contract would not be renewed. The company cited the effects of the coronavirus pandemic as the reason for cutting staff. However, the ballerina has hired a lawyer to fight the decision, according to The Times
The newspaper also reported that another member of staff at the Staatsballet has been accused of making ‘strange noises’ in front of Asian dancers, apparently intended to cruelly mimic their language, and of comparing a Mexican ballerina to Pocahontas – who was Native American.
Interim artistic director, Christiane Theobald, commented on the allegations in a statement released by the company on Tuesday:
‘The racist and discriminatory behaviour that was brought to light in our company deeply moves us … The necessary skills and tools to deal with issues of discrimination need to be worked on thoroughly.’
The unnamed ballet mistress has declined to respond to the allegations against her.
A number of influential figures in the dance world have voiced support for Lopes Gomes, including US ballerina Misty Copeland and dancers from the Ballet Opera de Paris and the English National Ballet.
The scandal is the latest blow to Berlin’s ballet world, which was rocked by an investigation confirming years of physical and psychological abuse of pupils at the state ballet school.
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