Skating on thin ice: Russians' Aboriginal routine fails to amuse

It was certainly an arresting performance: the Russian world figure skating champions, clad in dark-toned bodysuits and red loincloths, performing a routine based on an Aboriginal dance. It won Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin a gold medal at their national competition last month. But in Australia, Aboriginal leaders were not amused.

The Moscow-based pair, who plan to repeat their performance at next month's Winter Olympics in Vancouver have been accused of gross insensitivity and cultural theft.

Sol Bellear, from the New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council, described the dance as "very offensive". "We see it as stealing Aboriginal culture, and it is yet another example of the Aboriginal culture of Australia being exploited."

The Russian routine includes ceremonial dance steps, performed in costumes adorned with eucalyptus leaves and white swirls representing traditional-style body paint. But the designs, according to Bev Manton, chairwoman of the Land Council, are "no more 'authentic'... than the shiploads of cheap 'Aboriginal' tourist trinkets that pour into our country from overseas".

As if offending the custodians of an ancient culture were not bad enough, Domnina, 25, and Shabalin, 27, have also been accused of appropriating the idea from rival Australian skaters, Danielle O'Brien and Greg Merriman.

The Australian pair staged their Aboriginal-themed routine at a competition in Korea in 2008. But, according to the The Age newspaper, that was only "after spending a year in consultation with the indigenous community to ensure their performance, music and costumes respected Aboriginal culture".

So what research did the Russians – world champions last year, European champions in 2008 and three times national champions – conduct? "We've watched video clips on the internet of these dances, and it really is like this, complete with the leaves around the knees," Domnina told the ice skating website Golden Skate.

She said: "We did not want to create another Slavic dance and have considered a lot of options, including Scottish folk. But eventually we settled on this one. I thought it was just crazy, but once we have tried it, we immediately fell in love with it."

The pair, who turned heads when they unveiled their routine at the Russian figure skating championships in St Petersburg, are favourites to win gold in the ice dance competition in Vancouver. Their Australian rivals failed to qualify because of injury.

Ms Manton told The Age: "Aboriginal people, for very good reason, are sensitive about their cultural objects and icons being co-opted by non-Aboriginal people, whether they are from Australia or Russia. It's important for people to tread carefully and respectfully when they are depicting somebody else's culture and I don't think this performance does."

Mr Bellear, who plans to protest to the Russian ambassador in Canberra, said: "It's absolutely been stolen without our permission, and without consultation of the relevant dance groups within Aboriginal Australia. It's not just intellectual property; it's straight-out cultural theft."

The authenticity of the music has also been questioned. Local media say ice skating fans have identified the track as having been composed by Sheila Chandra, a Briton of Indian descent.

The Russians are to perform their Aboriginal dance today at the European championships in Estonia.

Rink-side scandals

* Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan were the great rivals in American women's figure skating in the build-up to the 1994 Winter Olympics. Then Kerrigan was brutally attacked by a thug hired by Harding's ex-husband, injuring her knee. Harding was eventually fined $160,000 for her role in covering up the crime – but retained her place in the Olympic team. She finished eighth; Kerrigan recovered to win silver.

* Double gold medallist Katarina Witt was nearly as well-known for her costumes as her skating: her skirtless feather-trimmed outfit at the 1988 Olympics led the authorities to modify the rules to insist on more modest clothes. Witt won gold anyway, and went on to appear in Playboy.

* When the Canadian pair of Jamie Salé and David Pelletie finished their routine at the 2002 Olympics, most observers were sure that gold was theirs. But to general shock, and outraged headlines in Canada, the judges disagreed, placing a Russian pair first by a whisker. There it might have rested – if a French judge had not allegedly made a tearful confession (later denied) that her score was rigged. The Russians kept their gold – but at least the Canadians got one too.

Archie Bland

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Arts and Entertainment
Eye of the beholder? 'Concrete lasagne' Preston bus station
architectureWhich monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?
News
Lizards, such as Iguanas (pictured), have a unique pattern of tissue growth
science
Extras
indybest
News
Anna Nicole Smith died of an accidental overdose in 2007
people
Life and Style
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
'The Great British Bake Off' showcases food at its most sumptuous
tvReview: Bread-making skills of the Bake Off hopefuls put to the test
Extras
indybest
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Digital Project Manager/BA

£300 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: An experienced Digital/Ecommerc...

Creative Content Executive (writer, social media, website)

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum + 25 days holiday and bonus: Clearwater People Solut...

Test Lead (C#, Java, HTML, SQL) Kingston Finance

£40000 - £55000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A Global Financial Service Organi...

Access/Teradata Developer, Banking, Bristol £400pd

£375 - £400 per day: Orgtel: Access / Teradata Developer - Banking - Bristol -...

Day In a Page

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home