This is a timely book in terms of discussions of race in general and in the arts in particular. It’s also timely because we’re heading into Nutcracker season, and as much as I love the Nutcracker, many productions of it are cringe-worthy if not outright offensive in their depiction of Asian characters.
Phil Chan focuses specifically on portrayals of Asian characters in the Nutcracker and a lesser-known ballet, Chant du Rossignol, which was staged in 2019 by Ballet West in Utah. Chan (together with Georgina Pazcoguin) has taken on the fairly thankless task of trying to raise awareness of the pain and damage caused by stereotypical depictions in ballet. He encounters a lot of resistance from people either not understanding the repercussions of their outdated and offensive ballet productions, or not wanting to understand—or just not caring and concealing their lack of care behind arguments about artistic or historical “integrity”.
But it’s not all grim, and Chan offers a lot of very practical suggestions for ballet companies wanting to improve their efforts at inclusion, reach out to wider audiences and, frankly, just not be so damn racist. This an engaging, readable and important work.