The first black dancer of the Berlin Staatsballett, Chloé Lopes Gomes, claims to have suffered racism within the company, an accusation that has led the management to order an internal investigation.
One day the ballet teacher of the prestigious company distributed to the dancers a white veil that they had to wear for a scene from La bayadera, a work from the classical repertoire of the 19th century.
When it was the turn of the 29-year-old French woman, the teacher “blurted out, laughing: ‘I refuse to give it to you because this veil is white and you are black‘”, The dancer told AFP.
Chloé Lopes Gomes, trained at the Bolshoi school, felt humiliated but not surprised. Since he arrived in Berlin in 2018, he claims to be a victim of “harassment” by that teacher.
“During the first rehearsal of Swan Lake, there were six of us new but all the corrections were directed at me,” he insists.
The comments went on for months. “She told me: ‘when you’re not in line, you only see yourself because you’re black.’
The young woman, with a French mother and Cape Verdean father, went ahead because she is a “worker” who wants to show “that she deserves her place”.
But the stress took its toll. He injured his foot. After her return, last February the teacher wanted to force her to wear white makeup.
“Whitening my skin was like giving up my identity,” protests the ex-dancer.
When he found out in the fall, the address of the Staatsballett, which employs people of 30 different nationalities, was stunned.
“Because of our diversity, we just didn’t think that we could be affected by racism on a day-to-day basis. We never actually think about it. But we were wrong, ”acknowledges Acting Director Christiane Theobald.
In December, Staatsballett created an internal investigation cell.
The ballet teacher refuses to express herself and, for legal reasons, the management does not want to comment on possible disciplinary measures.
Chloé Lopes Gomes will leave Staatsballett in July because her contract was not extended. But he wants to end the racism suffered by black or mixed race dancers in classical ballet.
“I don’t know of one who hasn’t had to put up with racist comments like ‘you have to straighten your hair because you have a leonine mane, you have to put your black butt inside, you jump like Kirikú (the African boy from a cartoon movie) ‘”.
“I had never adapted makeup for my skin tone, I had to bring my own“, Explain. “I was also the only one who had to create my hairstyles because hairdressers don’t like kinky hair.”
She was “so eager” to fit in that she accepted it. “But it’s the details that make you feel left out,” she says.
It is a difficult battle. Romantic ballet is governed by strict rules dating from the 19th century that are designed to give an impression of homogeneity.
Chloé Lopes Gomes objects. “I’m tired of hearing that you can’t hire blacks because they don’t have the bodies for classical dance. It’s just a pretext ”.
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