The Kansas City Ballet, which has been performing productions of “The Nutcracker” for decades, was recently called out for its problematic depictions of Asian characters.
It has become a holiday tradition for the Missouri-based professional ballet company, which held its first “The Nutcracker” performance in 1972. However, a local woman has urged the ballet company to make some changes in their production to make “The Nutcracker” more culturally appropriate, reports WDAF-TV.
“I think the Kansas City Ballet has an incredible reputation in the community,” arts advocate Kerri Voyles was quoted as saying. “And I know there is a national conversation happening about Asian Americans in the Nutcracker, and I thought it was important to raise this in the community on a local level, as well.”
According to Voyles theater and dance exceeds being “just a hobby.”
“I am a fan of the ballet, especially the Kansas City Ballet,” she said. “I don’t take classes there or anything, but I have seen a number of productions. And everyone who knows me I am always pushing more people to get into ballet and see it because I think it’s just a beautiful art-form.”
Voyles shared that she fell in love with theater and dance when she was younger. She even performed in a number of “Nutcracker” productions in her younger years. But as she grew older, she noticed stereotypical depictions in the production and wondered why no one else recognized this.
“There is a variation in the ballet, and historically it has portrayed a stereotype, generalizing Asian Americans as a whole, with movements, costumes and makeup exaggerating Asian American features,” Voyles said. “Overall, it just generalizes the Asian American experience.”
She particularly referred to the Chinese Tea Dancers who appear during the production’s Act II. In the play, the dancers are depicted with exaggerated makeup, highlighted with slanted eyes, pointed fingers, ponytails and mustaches.
Voyles has generated public support since creating a petition on Change.org about her cause to “Remove Yellowface from the Nutcracker.”
“Asian Americans have such few representations in the media, in arts, and in leadership, that when we are represented with nuance, so we can really be a character and not a caricature,” Voyles said.
After two days, her petition reached Kansas City Ballet Artistic Director Devon Carney who released a statement the following Friday morning:
“We have long been committed to diversity and inclusiveness in all elements of the company. Last year New York City Ballet made the changes to its second act Chinese Tea variation, removing elements of racial caricature from the costumes, makeup and choreography. This has spurred a national effort, and we are pleased that Kansas City Ballet has joined the conversation along with the ranks of other companies to make these needed changes.”
Voyles appreciated the response noting that the changes are a welcome development.
“I am happy to know that changes are being made, and I also hope they continue the conversation,” Voyles said.
Kansas City Ballet’s “The Nutcracker” is set to return to the stage at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts from December 5-24.
Feature Image via Change.org