Racist stereotypes removed from Kansas City Ballet’s “The Nutcracker”

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“ECB-auburn-nutcracker-1570” by evergreencityballet is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The Kansas City Ballet’s annual holiday production of “The Nutcracker” continues this year, but in recent years, productions across the country have received backlash for their portrayal of Asians in the Chinese Tea Dance.

The show used to feature dancers in pointy hats, dancing in a caricature-like manner, while wearing yellow-toned makeup and sporting Fu Manchu mustaches.

However, KCUR reported that the Kansas City Ballet signed on to the campaign Final Bow for Yellowface. This campaign’s mission is as follows: 

“In the same way that Blackface is limiting and degrading to African Americans, continuing to present a 19th-century view of Asians does not allow for character nuance for Asian American dancers today,” the campaign says.

The campaign’s website also says that by portraying Asians as caricatures on stage, it could send the wrong message to Asians who wish to dance themselves or to non-Asians who take this caricature image of Asians as reality. More information on the pledge can be found here.

In addition, KCUR noted that Devon Carney, KC Ballet’s artistic director, said that the KC Ballet will follow in New York City’s Ballet footsteps, which removed racist costumes, makeup, and choreography from the Chinese Tea Dance in 2017.

In 2015 Carney changed the choreography to no longer include dancers pointing both index fingers in the air, as this is an offensive dance move, according to the Kansas City Star.

Now, more changes are being made. The pointy hats will be replaced with hair combs decorated with flowers and ribbon and the Fu Manchu mustache will no longer be used. The parasols and lion dog will be kept, as Carney believes these positively reflect Chinese culture.

The same source said that Carney also stated that more changes could be made after feedback from this season’s show.

“The guy in charge needs to continually be cognizant of this,” Carney said of himself. “I feel the weight of this in a very substantial way.”

The Kansas City Star also wrote that their production of “The Nutcracker” has increased its diversity in recent years, as about one-fourth of the dancers are people of color. In 2017 Whitney Huell became the first black Snow Queen for Kansas City’s “The Nutcracker.” In 2018 she played the role of the Sugarplum Fairy and will play the role again this year.

Kansas City’s “The Nutcracker” will run from Dec. 5-24 at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. Tickets can be bought here.

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