Ballet Black is a wonderful company. But it's a shame on the arts that it still exists

If the Royal Ballet are not recruiting sufficient dancers from ethnic minorities then we need to know about it - and challenge the mainstream to do much better

Share

Ballet Black has been delighting crowds and critics at the Royal Opera House this week. The company, founded in 2001 to create opportunities for dancers of black and Asian descent, has, according to our critic’s review, “never looked better”. They are good, so good that I want to pay them the ultimate and richly deserved accolade – they should be abolished.

For I have to pinch myself when I see that the Royal Opera House is hosting several nights devoted to a company purely for artists from certain ethnic minorities. Why? If companies such as the Royal Ballet, which is in the same building, are not recruiting sufficient black or Asian dancers, and ignoring their talent, then we need to know about it.

The solution is to hold those national companies to account, not to go off and form a separate and separatist outfit, however brilliant. The arts have to be totally inclusive, or they are worthless. I took a look at Ballet Black’s statement of intent on the company’s own website. It says: “Our ultimate goal is to see a fundamental change in the number of black and Asian dancers in mainstream ballet companies, making Ballet Black wonderfully unnecessary.”

Well, I’d say that after the reviews that this week’s performances achieved, it already is wonderfully unnecessary. If there is evidence that the big companies really are not recruiting talented black and Asian dancers, then it is imperative that we are given the evidence, and that the heads of these mainstream, and indeed national, companies are forced to explain themselves in public. The danger is that Ballet Black, understandably delighted with public and critical reaction, will strive less to make themselves unnecessary.

It’s a temptation that has to be resisted, because the existence of companies such as ballet Black perpetuate a belief that we can categorise the arts by skin colour. That is as shocking as it sounds, yet what is Ballet Black doing if not exactly that?

That people can wander past the Royal Opera House in 2014 and say, “oh look, there’s a performance tonight by a company just for black people” is depressing. The dancers and choreographers of the acclaimed Ballet Black should be in the Royal Ballet, English National Ballet, Northern Ballet and the many other dance companies in the UK, classical and contemporary. Ballet Black makes no more sense to me than Opera Black or Film Black or Stand-up Black. In virtually every art form there have historically been difficulties for black and Asian artists in entering the mainstream. And it has been shameful. But, as the gradual success of colour-blind casting in mainstream theatre demonstrates, these difficulties can be addressed, not by forming distinct ethnic minority outfits, but by publicly challenging and even shaming the mainstream into recognising that talent has no ethnic boundaries. Cultural separatism, surely, has to be a thing of the past.

If this is the matinee, what  happens at the late show?

My rules for audience etiquette on this page last week have provoked suggestions on the subject from readers. I’m particularly intrigued by an email from Christine Arnold. She implores fellow theatregoers thus: “At a matinee, during a show, don’t bring out a pack of sandwiches and share them with your friends. Especially if they are smelly, egg sandwiches.” That sounds bad enough, but she goes on: “Don’t take off your shoes, then your socks, and start picking your toes/feet.” And you thought you had problems with the odd mobile phone going off.

I’m not sure where Ms Arnold sees her plays, but they are clearly venues to avoid. Just reading her email makes me feel I have been to the matinee from hell.

It’s a fabulous place, but the signs are not good for Bath

Travelling to The Independent Bath Literature Festival, I was struck that there is not a single mention of Bath on the M4 between London and the turn-off for Bath. Slough, Swindon, Bristol, even Newport (residents of Newport, please forgive the “even”) are all signalled well in advance, several times. But a city that is one of Britain’s greatest tourist attractions, and a centre of culture, doesn’t rate a mention. Tourists must find that mighty odd. I’m not sure whether it’s a matter for the tourism or highways authorities. But it’s a daft state of affairs.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant- NY- Investment Bank

Not specified: Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant Top tier investment bank i...

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Peter Mandelson first resigned from the cabinet on 23 December 1998  

2015's dim-sum index has too many courses

John Rentoul
 

I'm just as merry without a drink, thank you

Fiona Sturges
War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?
Finally, a diet that works: Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced

Finally, a diet that works

Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced
Say it with... lyrics: The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches

Say it with... lyrics

The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches
Professor Danielle George: On a mission to bring back the art of 'thinkering'

The joys of 'thinkering'

Professor Danielle George on why we have to nurture tomorrow's scientists today
Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Their outrageousness and originality makes the world a bit more interesting, says Ellen E Jones
DJ Taylor: Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

It has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's breakfasts will revitalise you in time for the New Year

Bill Granger's healthy breakfasts

Our chef's healthy recipes are perfect if you've overindulged during the festive season
Transfer guide: From Arsenal to West Ham - what does your club need in the January transfer window?

Who does your club need in the transfer window?

Most Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
The Last Word: From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015

Michael Calvin's Last Word

From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015