Misty Copeland Calls Out Iconic Russian Theater for Blackface Dancers

The Bolshoi Theatre is one of the most historic venues in the world

Photo: Unsplash/@alevtakil

Photo: Unsplash/@alevtakil

The Bolshoi Theatre is one of the most historic venues in the world. Even though it’s in Russia, the theatre, which opened in 1825, is renowned for its cultural presence in the art world. But like many historic institutions, they have yet to catch up to the offensive ways they have depicted the black community. Misty Copeland, the first black dancer to lead the American Ballet Theater, said she’d had enough of that kind of racism.

On Dec. 7, Copeland posted an image of two ballet dancers from the Bolshoi Theatre’s production of “La Bayadère” — a love story that takes place in India. The two female dancers were in full costume and in blackface. Copeland wrote, “And this is the reality of the ballet world.”

You would think in today’s culture that people would be appalled by this exhibit of blackface by a ballet company, but Copeland’s post actually attracted some backlash from her followers. 

For starters, some argued that she shouldn’t even bring up racism in regards to this post, especially because she is the principal dancer of the most significant ballet company in the United States. But that is such a bizarre argument to make because it concludes that a high-profile black ballet dancer is the result of a nonracist industry. 

“I’m tired of giving the oppressors the benefit of the doubt,” Copeland wrote on Instagram in response. “They need to be exposed, called out, educated, and more. I have lived in the ballet world for 25 years. I have silenced myself around ‘them,’ and made them feel comfortable and suffered in silence. At 37, I feel ready and free to stop.”

The Bolshoi Theatre responded to Copeland’s words and said in so many words they said they wouldn’t change the costume because they’ve been doing it for years without any issues. Furthermore, they don’t even want to discuss the issue. 

“The ballet La Bayadère has been performed thousands of times in this production in Russia and abroad, and the Bolshoi Theatre will not get involved in such a discussion,” Bolshoi Theatre director Vladimir Urin said, according to the BBC

Copeland later added on Twitter, “I get that this is a VERY sensitive subject in the ballet world. But until we can call people out and make people uncomfortable, change can’t happen.”

Spoken like a true professional who is frustrated by systematic racism and won’t put up with it anymore. 

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Misty Copeland
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