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

PSHE Teachers needed for exciting project

Negotiable: Randstad Education Chester: Teachers with a passion for PSHE neede...

Cover Supervisor

£45 - £65 per day: Randstad Education Chester: Job Opportunities for Cover Sup...

EBD Teacher in Shropshire

Negotiable: Randstad Education Chester: EBD Teacher - ShropshireWe are current...

Teaching Assistant (complex needs)

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: We are currently looking for teachi...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

i Editor's Letter: Take a moment to imagine you're Ed Miliband...

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
 

Letters: No vote poses difficult questions – so why rush?

Independent Voices
Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits