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First black dancer at Berlin’s prestigious Staatsballett accuses it of racism

In 2018, Chloé Lopes Gomes became the first black dancer to join Berlin’s principal ballet company, Staatsballett, as a corps de ballet member. But almost immediately after joining, the 29-year-old French ballerina was allegedly subjected to racial harassment.

By: Express Web Desk | New Delhi | December 10, 2020 11:29:00 am
Right before a performance of Swan Lake, Lopes Gomes said that an instructor asked her to wear white makeup to “blend in” with the other dancers on stage. (Photograph: Instagram/chloeanaislopes)

The first black female dancer at Germany’s most prestigious ballet company has alleged that she faced constant racial discrimination and was even asked to whiten her skin to “blend in” during a performance.

In 2018, Chloé Lopes Gomes became the first black dancer to join Berlin’s principal ballet company, Staatsballett, as a corps de ballet member. But almost immediately after joining, the 29-year-old French ballerina was allegedly subjected to racial harassment, the Guardian reported.

Right before a performance of Swan Lake, Lopes Gomes claimed that an instructor asked her to wear white makeup to “blend in” with the other dancers on stage. On another occasion, the same teacher allegedly refused to give her a white veil for a performance of a 19th century ballet called ‘La Bayadère’ because she was black, she told the Guardian.

She was repeatedly told that her skin colour was not aesthetically appealing, and was made to pose in a picture recreating a painting of a black dancer surrounded by white dancers. She was told to share the image with her friends, to show them that the company “also has one of those”.

Despite alerting the ballet company’s administration of the instructor’s misbehaviour, the ballerina said the managers failed to act on her complaints. In an interview with Pointe magazine, the dancer claimed that the company “doesn’t have a safe way to report discrimination or harassment”.

“There is still this idea in the ballet world that you have to suffer to make it. We – the younger generation – can’t accept that anymore,” she said. “Ballet must reflect society. I don’t want to be abused just to be able to dance. I want to be happy in my life, not just when I step onstage.”

However, in a statement released soon after the scandal sparked outrage across social media, the Staatsballett’s interim artistic director, Christiane Theobald, said,”The racist and discriminatory behaviour that was brought to light in our company deeply moves us…The necessary skills and tools to deal with issues of discrimination need to be worked on thoroughly.”

Lopes Gomes’ story attracted the support of dancers from across the world, including American Ballet Theatre’s principal dancer Misty Copeland.

In October, Lopes Gomes was purportedly told that her contract, which was due to expire in July 2021, would not be renewed because of the Covid-19 pandemic. But the ballerina has hired a lawyer to fight the decision, as she believes she was fired because of her race, Pointe Magazine reported.

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