In June 2020, against the backdrop of the most recent Black Lives Matter movement, Scottish Ballet shared an article, ‘Black Lives Matter’ in solidarity against racism. Since then, as an organisation we have made the commitment to joining the drive for anti-racism within our industry by becoming a more visible, active ally to people and organisations who have demonstrated a sustained commitment to anti-racism. But we also recognise where we have more to do.
Classical ballet and access to elite training has included racism: proliferating racial stereotypes (The Nutcracker and Petrushka are just a couple of examples), focusing on and promoting the aesthetics of white dancers through pink shoes, costuming and hair styles, while exoticising and exploiting Black, Brown and Asian dancers to ‘tick the box’ of diversity. Through scrutinising our own history, understanding and accepting the ways in which Scottish Ballet has been part of and benefitted from institutional and systemic racism, we hope to encourage others to do the same.
We aim to help drive anti-racism within our industry by committing to improving Black, Asian and ethnically diverse representation on and off the stage. To do this, we are asking ourselves:
- What are the changes we will need to make?
- How will we commit to re-examining our views and actions to ensure anti-racism is integrated in all that we do?
- Ultimately, where can we be better?
We are holding ongoing discussions with our staff, our dancers and across every part of the organisation to confront these questions and ensure we implement a lasting anti-racist action plan and culture at Scottish Ballet.
Where we are now, and actions we are taking
We have been guided by the suggested framework from our friends and colleagues at Ballet Black. We encourage all our fellow dance companies to do the same, and use their ‘concise guide to equality’ as a way to genuinely assess our collective past and make a difference to our future. We have mapped out the below areas that we feel are particularly relevant to Scottish Ballet, which include some new additions to Ballet Black’s list:
While working with our partners at the National Libraries of Scotland and the Scottish Theatre Archive, we have examined our 50-year history, which we are aware includes outdated and racist artistic content. To best represent our journey as an organisation we are now working to ensure our archive of past productions acknowledges this history with transparency. We can’t change the future without examining our past, and so we are adding this to Ballet Black’s concise guide to equality.
Audiences and supporters
We recognise our audience and supporters are overwhelmingly white. Currently, we do not collect data on the ethnicity of our audiences but we now commit to doing so, to help us identify gaps and work to ensure greater diversity in this area.
Auditions and recruitment
We have not been explicit enough that we seek Black, Brown and Asian dancers to join our company and young Associates programme, and we commit to doing this from now on. We will also explicitly recruit staff from diverse backgrounds for a range of specialist and skilled roles across the organisation.
There is a lack of diverse representation on our Board of Directors and the Board is committed to improving this. It has been agreed as the top priority for our new Chair, Jim Pettigrew, when he takes the helm in December 2020.
We’re proud of our pioneering projects like Safe to Be Me, an initiative in primary schools which explores racism and other important themes through dance. We are now focused on making our Dance Health classes more inclusive, and considering how we engage more with the communities on our doorstep in Pollokshields, one of the most diverse areas in Scotland.
The overwhelming majority of the choreographers, designers, composers, conductors and other creatives within the dance industry are white, and male. We have made great progress on levelling out gender representation in our artistic programme, and we will also commit equal effort to increasing ethnic diversity by seeking out and nurturing talent.
We are forming a company-wide Equality, Diversity & Inclusion steering group, chaired by our CEO/Artistic Director, Christopher Hampson. This group will lead on implementing our action plan, evolving it over time to continue meeting new challenges, and keeping this subject central to our internal communications.
Press & Marketing
We acknowledge that the dance critics and writers we have engaged with are overwhelmingly white, and we will actively seek to collaborate with and commission new voices from more diverse backgrounds. We would also like to add this suggestion to the list from Ballet Black.
We are committed to removing racist stereotypes from ballet and have been reviewing our own repertoire, past and present, to do so. We are having honest conversations with dancers, choreographers and designers, in dialogue with community leaders, to ensure that we represent characters of different ethnic backgrounds sensitively and appropriately. Our consultations with Ballet Black, Final Bow for Yellowface, Intercultural Youth Scotland and Progress in Dialogue have already impacted on our existing repertoire, and we are committed to continuing this engagement, undertaking thorough research and ensuring better representation in our future productions.
Thanks to our friends, Ballet Black, and their pioneering work with Freed of London, we were proud to be one of the first dance companies to use the full range of bronze and brown shoes and tights on stage, and we now actively promote this range of options to our young Associates programme too.