Royal Ballet tweaks ‘Arabian dance’ scene in The Nutcracker to ensure show is inclusive

26 November 2021, 12:15

Royal Ballet tweaks Nutcracker scene to make Christmas show more inclusive
Royal Ballet tweaks Nutcracker scene to make Christmas show more inclusive. Picture: Getty

By Sophia Alexandra Hall

The Royal Ballet has altered the Arabian Dance from its annual Christmas production of the Nutcracker, to make sure it remains “fresh and inclusive”.

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The 37-year old production of The Nutcracker, performed by the Royal Ballet every Christmas, has hardly changed since director, Sir Peter Wright, choreographed the first staging for the company in 1984.

Written in 1892 by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, the two-act ballet tells the story of waltzing snowflakes, a handsome prince and some warring mice, and a Christmas adventure which transports two young children, Clara and Fritz, into a magical wonderland.

Sir Peter Wright, now director laureate of the Birmingham Royal Ballet, has made changed to his original choreography, specifically, the Arabian Dance, which takes place in Act II. Instead of a dance involving three female dancers, and one male, the new choreography, which debuted on Tuesday night, is performed with one female dancer and one male.

This change reportedly comes as concerns over ‘harem’ overtones from the scene, may offend modern audiences.

Read more: What makes The Nutcracker the perfect Christmas ballet?

The previous choreography of the Arabian Dance
The previous choreography of the Arabian Dance. Picture: Alamy

A spokesperson for the Royal Ballet said: “The Royal Ballet regularly looks at the classic repertory to ensure these works remain fresh and as inclusive as possible to a broad audience.

“The Nutcracker is one of the most well-known ballets and is the perfect introduction for new audiences into this art form.

“Kevin O’Hare, director of the Royal Ballet, is keen to ensure that the production elements are appropriate within the context of classical ballet.”

Last year the Chinese and Arabian Dances, which take place in Act II of the Nutcracker, were cut completely from the production, though at the time the company said this was due to COVID-19 regulations and social distancing measures.

O’Hare is one of the signatories in the ‘Final Bow for Yellowface’ campaign, whose pledgees ‘commit to eliminating outdated and offensive stereotypes of Asians (Yellowface) on our stages’.

On signing the pledge, O’Hare wrote, “On behalf of The Royal Ballet I am delighted to be supporting this campaign to ensure that dance and ballet continue to be a force for diversity, inclusion and equality, with everyone represented respectfully on our stages.”

Read more: Paris Opera bans ‘blackface’ after staff pressure to end racism

Alastair Marriott (as Drosselmeyer) performs in the Royal Ballet&squot;s production of "The Nutcracker,"
Alastair Marriott (as Drosselmeyer) performs in the Royal Ballet's production of "The Nutcracker,". Picture: Getty

Earlier this month the Scottish Ballet also announced a series of changes to characters, costumes, and choreography for the Chinese and Arabian Dances.

The company said: “The Nutcracker is a timeless festive story that has delighted audiences around the world for over a century.

“To ensure it remains relevant today and for the future, we continue to make subtle, but important changes to some of the characters, costumes and choreography.

“Following ongoing consultancy, the Chinese and Arabian-inspired divertissements in The Land of Sweets will have updated costumes and choreography to remove elements of caricature and better represent the culture and traditions which have inspired them.”

The role of Drosselmeyer, Clara’s mysterious godfather and toymaker, will also be played, for the first time, by both a male and a female lead.