Patti McGill Peterson Center for International and Intercultural Studies
The ballet has remained an ethnically homogenized art, accessible only to the white aristocracy of developed nations since when it first began in the 15th century. Thanks to a generous grant from the Giltz family I had the wonderful opportunity to travel to the Royal Opera House in London, England to attend three ballet performances by a world renowned company that has made great strides in breaking down these ethnic barriers. The Royal Ballet of London has gained notoriety for seeking out inter-cultural dancers and embracing multiculturalism. Among the company, a mere three out of the eighteen principal dancers are from the United Kingdom, and six of the principal dancers are from South America. Notably, the London company “Ballet Black” that began in 2001 as an opportunity for dancers of ‘black’ and Asian descent to take part in classical ballet. Throughout this experience I was led by the question of what is meant by multiculturalism, and I challenged myself to reflect on how this concept may or may not be reflected in the Royal London Ballet.
The first evening’s performance was a compilation of three modern ballet dances: Viscera, Infra, and Fool’s Paradise, which were an inspiring insight into contemporary ballet. The next evening was a full-length ballet, the traditional Swan Lake by Tchaikovsky. This performance is especially significant because it has pushed the boundaries in featuring Carlos Acosta, a Hispanic principal dancer from Cuba, as the lead male role. The final performance was entitled FAR, another contemporary piece, performed by students at the Royal Ballet School and choreographed by the internationally acclaimed artist Christopher Wheeldon.
In my off time I was able to explore London and to soak up the cultural context surrounding the Royal Opera House. A trip to the National Gallery and the Tate Modern allowed me to compare ballet with other forms of contemporary and historical art that have sought to overcome similar cultural boundaries. Through this experience I have come to see ballet as a globalized art form, which facilitates inter-cultural collaboration and looks to the future as well as remember the past through the reproduction of regional stories. The Royal London Ballet has evolved along with the multi-ethnic population of London and has led the way forward for other ballet companies across the globe.