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 Post subject: Race in the Arts
PostPosted: Sat Feb 16, 2002 8:47 am 
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A big deal?<P> <BLOCKQUOTE><font size="1" face="Verdana, Arial">quote:</font><HR>Ballet, opera have long cast roles across racial lines<P>Octavio Roca, SF Chronicle<P>Is there controversy afoot at the ballet? <P>Much has been made of San Francisco Ballet's forthcoming revival of Lar Lubovitch and Elliot Goldenthal's superb 1997 "Othello," which will be videotaped by PBS for national telecast, with a DVD likely to follow. The company is bypassing its own three Othellos -- Yuri Possokhov, Cyril Pierre and Pierre-Francois Vilanoba, all of whom are white -- in favor of Desmond Richardson, a black guest dancer brought in just for this production.<HR></BLOCKQUOTE><P><a href=http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/chronicle/archive/2002/02/17/PK236092.DTL target=_blank>More</a>


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 Post subject: Re: Race in the Arts
PostPosted: Sat Feb 16, 2002 12:08 pm 
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They failed to point out that Nutcrackers are almost cast across ethnic line. How many Russian, Spanish, Chinese or Arab dancers actually fill those respective roles in the divertessiments?<P>Overall, that's an encouraging note. There was a HUGE uproar a few years ago when a black actor was cast as Jesus in a prominent Easter pagent in New York. Many churches boycotted the event. It was very sad.<BR>


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 Post subject: Re: Race in the Arts
PostPosted: Sat Feb 16, 2002 1:08 pm 
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That is an incouraging note, but I think to use a work such as "othello"- where race issues within the story are the main focus- to show discomfort with using dancers of a certain race isn't quite right. I don't think that dancers HAVE to be put in roles according to their race, especially if they are great actors. But the style, or the way in which the chinese dancers in the nutcracker are introduced and made to dance makes it completely believable, despite the race of the performers. That in itself is not an integral part to fthe theme of that show. I think that that is perfectly fine to use dancers of any race to play othello, but one may not as well understand the extreme conflict that barbantio has with he and desdemona marrying if there is no racial difference between them. I don't want to cause any further issue, but I just had to make that point, even though i have NO OBJECTION to crossing racial lines within shows AT ALL. But I think that it is a little funny that people misconstrue the true race of characters when having issues with casting, such as the black jesus in that church. But, I believe that I am getting into a sensitive subject that has more to do with religious opinion, so I won't say more about that. <BR> That does make one think, though, about the impression one gets of characters. For instance, in the broadway version of "Aida", were the egyptians cast with white people because that is what they saw as egyptian, or because they were disregarding racial lines? Not to say that they should just go about looking only for light-skinned black people to play those roles, but that makes me think.<BR> And now my disclaimer:<BR> This is only based on the little knowledge that I have on these shows and subjects, I don't think that I know too much about any of it, that's just he impression tha tI get. (I'm not a racist, in short! Image )


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 Post subject: Re: Race in the Arts
PostPosted: Sat Feb 16, 2002 2:10 pm 
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Thanks Bebounce, I did not know that the racial issues in Othello were so central. That's probably why SFB chose to import someone for the title role.<BR>


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 Post subject: Re: Race in the Arts
PostPosted: Sun Feb 17, 2002 9:26 pm 
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Is this specific instance really that big of an issue? It seems very likely Richardson was brought in because he was the originator of the role. I'll admit to being not that impressed with the ballet (I loved the sets, but thought the ballet itself used far more resources than The Moor's Pavane to pretty much the same effect - so why all that money and dancers?) but I'm sorry not to get the chance to see Possukhov in the role. I find him a very powerful actor.


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 Post subject: Re: Race in the Arts
PostPosted: Mon Feb 18, 2002 9:16 am 
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Is that big of an issue? Well, it's more weird than anything else. Why bring in a guest when you already have some fine dancers within the company?<P>What amuses me is that Moors aren't black. Moors are a race of people descended from a mix of Arab and Berber, inhabiting mostly North Africa. If you want to be politically correct, you should cast an Arab-looking dancer for the part.


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 Post subject: Re: Race in the Arts
PostPosted: Mon Feb 18, 2002 9:45 am 
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I was thinking of starting a thread on this issue a week or two ago but things went totally crazy at work & I'm just catching up.<BR>First, on David Richardson. The Lively Arts column in the SF Chronicle a couple of weeks ago was very negative on casting him. The writer said he was good but Yuri Possokhov better. Roca apparently disagreed saying that Richardson originated the role and has the right to be on the video. Never having seen either I can't comment on their respective merits. But as others have pointed out, there is a larger issue. <BR>In a perfect world the best actor/singer/dancer would be cast regardless of ethnicity. In most roles this would not matter; Romeo & Juliet could be any color of the rainbow without altering the story's meaning. <BR>We don't live in a perfect world. It was discussed on another thread the obstacles African-American dancers face in ballet. And the fact is for decades the ONLY lead role an African-American man could play outside minstrel shows was Othello. (That Moors are not actually "African" I think is less an issue than that this role is seen as a "Black role".) Considering how under-represented African-American dancers are in ballet, when there is a qualified Black dancer who originated the role, should it be given to a Russian? Wearing blackface? I also wonder if Roca is aware of the historical implications of white actors/singers in blackface, that often this was done to ridicule the African-American population, i.e. "see how dumb these colored folks are" by whites in blackface acting like buffoons. Obviously SF Ballet would not be doing this with a Russian Othello any more than Placido Domingo does but I have to admit the idea of a white person in blackface leaves a bad taste in my mouth.<BR>OTOH, I have no problem with Yuan Yuan Tan playing Desdemona (or with Leontyne Price as Tosca). It's not "reverse racism" as Roca charges. The fact is white women have not been systematically excluded from lead roles in ballet or opera. Black and Asian women (and men) have.<BR>If I sound like I'm wandering, it's because my position is not firm. I'd like to think it doesn't matter but can anyone pretend it doesn't in this society?<BR>The good news is that SF Ballet is going to be on PBS! As I mentioned elsewhere, my chemical illness makes going to see them impossible except for the annual outdoor performance at Stern Grove. I live 20 minutes from SF and I've never seen SF Ballet perform a full-length ballet. There are no commercially available videos. I know TV is not like the real thing but is still considerably better than nothing.<BR>P.S. The "Black Jesus" point was interesting. I remember reading a biography of Elizabeth Blackwell when I was young. Her family was an offshoot of the Quakers and active in abolitionist causes. They once sheltered a white minister and his family when the minister was threatened by a lynch mob for saying in a sermon (accurately) that "our Lord Jesus Christ was of darker skin than we".


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 Post subject: Re: Race in the Arts
PostPosted: Mon Feb 18, 2002 9:57 am 
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Desmond Richardson, of course, not David. My bad. I know a David Richardson (not a dancer) and my typing finger got amnesic or something.


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 Post subject: Re: Race in the Arts
PostPosted: Mon Feb 18, 2002 10:07 am 
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<BLOCKQUOTE><font size="1" face="Verdana, Arial">quote:</font><HR>They once sheltered a white minister and his family when the minister was threatened by a lynch mob for saying in a sermon (accurately) that "our Lord Jesus Christ was of darker skin than we".<HR></BLOCKQUOTE><P>And he was! What were they thinking? That Christ was a white man living in the Middle East?<P>Good points you make, crandc. It's probably more so about political racial climate than anything else.


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 Post subject: Re: Race in the Arts
PostPosted: Mon Feb 18, 2002 10:12 am 
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Crandc...there is a David Richardson who is a dancer too! He danced with NYCB, and was a ballet master at ABT for a while. He may still be in fact.


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 Post subject: Re: Race in the Arts
PostPosted: Mon Feb 18, 2002 10:40 am 
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Good point Azlan. Image


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 Post subject: Re: Race in the Arts
PostPosted: Mon Feb 18, 2002 11:51 am 
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Yes Jesus was and I think that its right there Color does not matter at all,or should I say it should not matter.


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 Post subject: Re: Race in the Arts
PostPosted: Tue Feb 19, 2002 10:56 am 
With Misty Copland,Lauren Anderson,Aesha Ashe(spelling wrong)visible in the Ballet scene,this seems to be a great timme FINALLY for Black ballerinas.<BR> What I'd LOVE to see next is MORE Black male tenors in leading roles in opera performances--I hope the days of male classical singers like Paul Robeson having to go to Europe to fully express themselves,where performing along side white women isnt an issue and being successful is finally over.<BR> (has anyone seen 'THREE MO TENORS' on PBS?)<p>[This message has been edited by angela (edited February 19, 2002).]


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 Post subject: Re: Race in the Arts
PostPosted: Wed Feb 20, 2002 12:43 pm 
Its important to remember Shakespeares play and the words used to describe Othello;for ex.'old BLACK ram(othello)topping your white ewe(Desdamona).Theres was enough of a physical difference as well as a cultural difference between Othello and Desdamona to make a big deal WITHIN THE PLAY; people needed to understand why characters in play felt disgusted and angry by their marriage.<BR> It this case I think a very dark skinned actor/dancer IS neccessary;Othello not only reveals racial bigotry within the play,but I challenges THE AUDIENCES feelings toward race,skin color,etc(my OWN sentiments toward the subject is the same as bebounces I'd like to add).I think its neccessary therefore to have a very fair skinned Desdamona(whether Asian or White).<BR> Whats totally ironic is the reason White Othellos were chosen in the past was this EXACT racial attitude suggested above.Sorry to say the biotry has crossed every part of society-including certain areas of the arts.Theres STILL a HUGE predujice concerning romance and sex between Black men and White women particularly;in real life AND on stage.It was better to cast a White man in Blackface in the part then REAL Black men so not to genuinely ruffle public sensibilities.Paul Robeson and Utta Hagen made stage history by being the first real interracial Othello/Desadamona on stage(I cant think of any others).Ironically the actors had a real affair offstage as well-both suffered,particularly Utta,suffered for it.<BR>And I think that is important to remeber that Arabic people range-from say light tan to dark brown,green/blue eyed to dark brown.I'm sure there are ones who go outside those ranges as well.It has nothing to do w/ skin color but language and religion.<p>[This message has been edited by angela (edited February 20, 2002).]


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 Post subject: Re: Race in the Arts
PostPosted: Thu Feb 21, 2002 1:56 pm 
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A remarkable interview today on BBC Radio4's 'Front Row' arts programme with the wonderful bass-baritone Willard White who is from the Caribbean. The interviewer was the impeccably liberal Mark Lawson, but he managed to rile White. First we heard about White's problems in the Southern States of the US in the early parts of his career and his leaving of the Met as they could not provide him with sufficient opportunities at a crucial stage of his career. <P>The interview then turned to race in present day Opera. White said that it was only because people like Lawson raised it as an issue that it was an issue. As far as White was concerned the only thing that mattered was what abilities any individual has in whatever field. He gave the example of people saying to him how much they enjoyed his singing and how they would like to hear him perform 'Othello'. He takes a deep breath as he knows that they are looking at the colour of his skin as the role is for a tenor and not suitable for him. Lawson persisted with this out of genuine concern to address a potential problem and White became angry in a controlled way. White is currently playing Bluebeard in the Bartok opera.<P>Having played Basilio in 'Don Q', Siegfried in 'Swan Lake', the black Cuban, Carlos Acosta, is currently performing Solor in 'La Bayadere', without anyone batting an eye-lid. I'm looking forward to mixed race choruses and hope that the Royal Ballet can retain future black artists that they recruit.<p>[This message has been edited by Stuart Sweeney (edited February 21, 2002).]


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