Controversies continue to proliferate over 19th- and early 20th-century classics, reflecting the racial/ethnic/cultural stereotypes of their times, that grate against current-day sensitivities and provoke calls for “cancellation.”
The latest flashpoint is the Berlin State Ballet’s decision not to stage Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker” this season. Not a cancellation driven by cultural sensitivity, the company insists – but: “It was brought to our attention that some parts in our current ‘Nutcracker’ version – a reconstruction of the original from 1892 – could be perceived as discriminating. For example, costumes of the ‘Chinese Dance’ are based on costume drawings from that time, which have a caricaturistic touch that has nothing in common with authentic Chinese culture, thus evoking negative stereotypes.”
Marc Feldman, director of France’s Orchestre National de Bretagne (Brittany), writes that producers and performers are trapped in the middle of “healthy debates about the arts and their role in society [that] are all too often manipulated for obvious political reasons.”
Feldman proposes a common-sense solution:
“Let those artists and institutions who wish to experiment, explore and ask hard questions about who we are in a contemporary world do so freely. And – let’s see the artistic outcomes and what they have to express to audiences.
“In turn, let’s let those who wish to perform and produce classical arts in their purest forms do so as well, as long as everybody is admitted to the process along the way. Audiences will chose and some will even chose experimentation AND classicism. There is an absolute need for both for us to grow and evolve in a changing world.”
Feldman’s full statement, on Norman Lebrecht’s Slipped Disc blog: