Just in: Berlin bans Nutracker – it’s racist, apparently

Just in: Berlin bans Nutracker – it’s racist, apparently


norman lebrecht

November 26, 2021

The Staatsballett Berlin has quietly removed Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker from its year-end programme.

Director Christiane Theobald says it contains a Chinese dance and an oriental dance that amount to ‘a clear case of racism’ – even more so since the Berlin production follows Tchaikovsky’s 1892 original.

Report here:

In addition, according to a podcast by the State Ballet, the audience is not yet ready to properly understand what it is seeing on stage.

Does Germany’s new Green cultural commissar have anything to do with this?


  • La plus belle voix says:

    Nothing to do with the green Minister of Culture, Claudia Roth, as she is not yet in office. Entirely the decision of Christiane Theobald, as the FAZ article makes clear. The world has gone mad.

    • V.Lind says:

      Which is a hell of a lot scarier than if some politician stuck his/her oar in. Doesn’t this dame know anything about her art? Like enough to stand up for it? Does she really think national folk dances (there are some in Swan Lake, too) as part of a ballet are racially motivated? As caricatures?

      It is SHE who should be removed, if her ignorance of Tchaikovsky, of the practice of national groups to offer an example of their culture to the Court (something practised to this day, as Royals touring the former colonies know all too well), of the charm of these dances, is so great.

      But fired for cause, not cancelled.

  • I doubt Claudia Roth was any part of the decision. She is a federal minister. The state agencies are autonomous. About 90% of the public arts funding in Germany is raised and offered at the state and municipal levels. The decision was likely made because the performing arts have taken a strong turn away from racial caricatures in their work.

    • Michael Varcoe-Cocks says:

      You may not have intended it, but are you saying Tchaikovsky’s national dances are “racial caricatures”?

      • No, that’s not what I’m saying. Tchaikovsky did not stipulate how the Asian variation would be choreographed. The dance community has struggled with this problem for a long time. The recent production in San Francisco, for example, found solutions. (See below.) I wonder why some quick solutions were not found in Berlin.


      • Sue Sonata Form says:

        Yes, he did intend to say it. The Left loves to hate. And they’ll find anything and everything TO hate.

        • PFmus says:

          Standard far right trolling technique – accuse the other side of what you’re doing… yada yada. And this after you’ve spent years trying to brand the left as ‘luvvies’ for not hating enough of the people you hate. Too late everybody knows who the Make America Hate Again people are.

          Crawl back under your rock, commisar.

    • HugoPreuss says:

      She is not even in office yet! The last sentence of this article and its question are simply insane.

  • Bone says:

    Wokeness is destroying all culture.

  • Confucius says:

    Well it looks like Ping, Pang & Pong will soon be out of a job ..

    • Ms.Melody says:

      Been there, seen that. In one North American City , in the Robert Wilsons production, they were replaced by Bill, Bob and Jim, and this was before the pandemic. The Nutcracker was only a matter of time. Watch out for Swan Lake to go next or to be reworked beyond recognition.
      Get your DVDs folks.

    • Opera centric says:

      Saw recent ROH Turandot – Chinese eyebrows/make up will get Turandot the chop soon. Madama Butterfly, Pearl Fishers, L’Africaine, gone. Evil dwarves and incest in the Ring, so cancel that. Porgy and Bess requires an all-black but one cast – is that racist?

      • BrianB says:

        Not to mention The Mikado!

        • V.Lind says:

          He’s got ’em on the list — he’s got ’em on the list;/

          And they’ll none of ’em be missed — they’ll none of ’em be missed!

      • Sue Sonata Form says:

        Porgy and Bess, Showboat, Cabin in the Sky….the list is huge and will prove exhaustive. But the USSR managed it and all they need to do is to continue copying that regime. Which is, of course, in their DNA.

      • Ms.Melody says:

        From now on only the hunchbacks can sing Rigoletto; La Cieca and Timur must be blind, and no woman must ever go near a trouser role. Mimi and Violetta must be cured of their TB. After all, neither would die now, so to make it relevant, they must live. Desdemona should use her pistol ( from the Naples production) and shoot Otello in self-defence. She should then go on to marry Cassio who is the better man, anyways.
        Of course, La Bayadere and the ballet Le Corsaire must never again see the light of day.

    • N/A says:

      Racist and discriminative comments in the comment section of a Norman Lebrecht? Shock horror.

  • GiveMeStrength says:

    The Magic Flute may be next.
    Soon we will be living in a world where only muzak is politically correct. Or maybe silence.

    • James Weiss says:

      But apparently rap which loudly uses such words as “bitches” and “niggas” is perfectly acceptable. We live in a topsy-turvy world.

      • andrey says:

        would the important distinctions be that rap makes lots of money while classical arts are subsidised therefore subject to more scrutiny and being held to certaint quote-unquote academic standards?

      • Bone says:

        But that’s their CULTURE, James; who are we to question?

    • GGV says:

      Oh, yes «Ein Weib tut wenig, plaudert viel» will soon disappear from the first act of Die Zauberflöte.

      • John Borstlap says:

        What about ‘Die schweigsame Frau’ (Strauss)? A caricature of the entire female race.

      • HugoPreuss says:

        Not to mention “Weiß ist schön / Ich muß sie küssen / Mond verstecke Dich dazu” and basically everything else Monostatos sings. Some of it is indeed hard to stomach, but in the 18th century enlightenment context it is a day vs. night metaphor, not really racism. Still, the words are there.

        Some years ago I watched a performance of the Magic Flute at Northwestern U. I was anticipating with some curiosity how they would handle the offensive phrases. Simple: they were sung (in German) but NOT translated in the surtitles. Quite a (dis)ingenious cop-out…

      • Novagerio says:

        GGV: and don’t forget the line “Weil ein Schwarzer häßlich ist! Ist mir denn kein Herz gegeben?” (Monostatos) from the same opera 😉

    • BrianB says:

      Magic Flute has been in their sites for quite some time. Truthfully, the words of Monastato’s song are certainly problematical. So much so that when Ruth and Thomas Martin made their singing English translation way back in 1940 (published in the Schirmer vocal score) they considerably bowdlerized it.

  • Alexander says:

    the impact of vaccination apparently 😉

  • Minutewaltz says:

    This will be the start of cancelling a huge number of ballets and operas for ‘incorrect’ views.

    • N/A says:

      ‘Incorrect’ and ‘racist’ are not the same mate.

    • Tamino says:

      Basically humanities past must be cancelled. Easy to do in Zuckerberg‘s Meta Matrix.
      Red pill or blue pill anyone?

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      The Thought Police and its Lefty minions really are in control. What in the world could go wrong??

      Better to start with indoctrination in schools….oh wait…!! That’s what they’re doing already!!

  • Michael Varcoe-Cocks says:

    I’ve seen dozens of Nutcracker performances and have always thought the “national” dances were Tchaikovsky’s and his choreographers’ homage to those folk-inspired dances. Surely the logical conclusion of this cultural appropriation/racism development is that non-Russian companies must not dance Petipa/Ivanov and non-English companies must not be allowed anywhere near Ashton’s quintessentially ENGLISH choreography! Surely any czardas or polka dance in Tchaikovsky or any other ballet – or opera for that matter – must fall! The Berlin Staatsballett is also depriving old and young of the glory of this (the) greatest of ballet scores, sublimest of orchestral works. At one RB Nutcracker I had forgotten who was conducting and – from high in the Amphitheatre – was wallowing in the amazingly beautiful playing by the orchestra of this beautiful music – it was Rostropovich!

  • Peter says:

    Haha! This is getting more and more funny. Tchaikovsky will survive. And Christiane Theobald is already a big zero in our history. Bless her and all other lost souls!

  • Michael Varcoe-Cocks says:

    Surely if these dances cannot now be shown, will we be allowed to hear their music in the concert hall? Surely if there is “a clear case of racism” in the staged dances, it is even more evident in the music itself. Tchaikovsky invited us to make national association when we HEAR the music of these dances! Banning of concert performances or cutting out all sections that are not pure Russian cannot be far behind.

    • Yvonne says:

      There’s a big difference between Tchaikovsky’s and his choreographers’ European national dances – which, while theatrical and highly stylised, are reasonably true to the musical styles and steps of these nations closer to home – and their interpretations of “Chinese” and “Arabian” dances, which are indeed caricatures and “othering”. The so-called “Arabian” dance, for example, uses a Georgian lullaby tune… And the Chinese tune and the original finger-pointing choreography and queue wigs are based on caricatures. Small wonder that Asian dancers (and many Asian audiences, for that matter) don’t regard this number as a tribute or celebration but as racist and outdated.

      But the solution is simple: update the choreography and costuming or even completely rethink the production. It can be done without losing what is good about the ballet. And in some cases it can make for a dramaturgically stronger work. (And let’s be honest, Nutcracker is pretty weak on that front.) One of the finest examples is Graeme Murphy’s Nutcracker: The Story of Clara, which is beautiful, moving and has a satisfying narrative arc that runs through both acts. And his treatment of the Chinese dance is, quite frankly, genius. It has become my preferred Nutcracker of the lot.

  • Roman says:

    I am yet to see a single Asian person who is offended by that dance. Nutcracker is performed regularly in Asia and no one sees an issue with that.

  • Piano Lover says:

    So when I play this piece on the piano I should be ashamed.
    Where is this musical world going?

    “”” the audience is not yet ready to properly understand what it is seeing on stage.”””
    No comment!

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      You need to apply, in triplicate, to your nearest government authority for permission to say things like this. And to ask permission about what you CAN hear and see. Thereafter somebody a whole lot less intelligent than you are will give you a self-justifying answer in the kind of double-speak for which Gilbert & Sullivan were famous.

    • Angela says:

      No, you need not be ashamed. So long as you’re not making up your face to look Chinese [I’m assuming you’re not], wearing a caricature of a wig and costume, and moving about the stage making stereotyped gestures.

      • Sam McElroy says:

        How else do you play a character if not by using make-up and costume to denote that character’s place and context in the world? Do I have to be Spanish to sing Don Giovanni (presuming you can get past the rape and murder of the opening scene to not cancel it in the first place?) Why is it “racist” for a white actor playing Otello to darken his skin to suggest the ethnicity of a Moor, and who gets to tell me it is “wrong” to do so? Is there no room left in this stupid world for an examination of intention? And who holds that sacred right of arbitration? How were they appointed? Racism is the suggestion of inferiority on the grounds of race. How the hell does wearing a costume or putting on make-up as an actor suggest “racism”? Where will this end? I saw Eddie Redmayne apologising the other day for playing a trans character. So should we now expect apologies from all the gay men who have ever played a straight character? It’s all totally f#$%@&g absurd.

        • John Borstlap says:

          Indeed. It is a form of populism: the voice of people who are ignorant of the performing arts and take everything literally. It is on the level of the story of Oscar Wilde making his tour through the USA where he also gave some lectures about the Italian Renaissance in little Western towns, where audiences got shocked on hearing that Leonardo da Vinci was no longer alive. On one such occasion a man got up and asked: ‘Who has shot him?!’

  • Carlo says:


  • Bet says:

    Of all the art forms, ballet is the most discriminatory: in terms of gender, age, and physical attributes, the last carried over into racial attributes.

    Ballet is one big discrimination law suit waiting to happen. In any other field, if a company put out an ad calling for “tall, thin, good lucking, young, non-pregnant” candidates, who “must wear body revealing tights to show crotch, ass, breasts”, it would find itself in court faster than a spinning pirouette.

    So to focus on the Chinese dance in the Nutcracker is to miss the forest looking at a tree.

    • Minnesota says:

      Cool your jets. Olympic and/or professional athletic teams require participants who can do certain things physically at a very high level. Fat people don’t do well in gymnastics due to the laws of physics. Same with classical ballet.

      • rxc says:

        But all sorts of actions are taken to include people without skills or with different abilities from all sorts of activities, from hiking in nature, to sailing, to all intellectual fields. Why don’t we allow short, fat, awkward guys who want to call themselves ballerinas from dancing in Swan Lake?

    • V.Lind says:

      Gee, I missed that ad. And — innit funny — even in litigious America, ballet has been around a long time, and there has been acceptance of the fact that to be in a ballet company you have to be able to dance. And anyone who has reached that level has been at it since childhood, and has been aware of the need to stay trim, and fit, and what the costumes would be like when they got on a stage.

      Anyway, the wokies do not proceed by lawsuit — they would be laughed out of any court and they know it. Ballet is safe from the barbarians at the gate, but this story is alarming because it is about the enemy within.

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      Ballet is almost entirely a female-centred art form.

      • V.Lind says:

        Quite a lot of major choreographers have done quite a lot to try to reverse that in the last 40 years or so. with considerable success.

    • William Evans says:

      One male and one female, rather than one male and three female dancers (the latter hints at the harem, don’t you know). Oh, and a male AND a female Drosselmeyer (Clara’s GodFATHER)! How does this work; will one be able to select one perferred sex for Herr/Frau D., based on performance date? Where will this all end?

      • V.Lind says:

        I worked with many companies when I worked as a dance critic, and nearly all of them stuck to the basics for the overall ballet but took their own view on the national dances — they were unrecognisable from one company to the next, which provided half the interest for someone who had to sit through several Nutcrackers every Christmas season.

        They also messed with some of those in other ballets, including Swan Lake, while of course not touching Odile’s steps.

  • David A. Boxwell says:

    Seasonal “Nutcracker” runs keep for-profit dance companies and venues financially afloat. Berlin can presumably afford to relegate it to the dustbin.

  • Colin says:

    The only way to stop this wokeism and cancel culture in the arts is for patrons and subscribers to stop their financial support. Institutions will then get the message.

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      Wrong. It is to NEVER vote for the Left, and especially the extremists in the Greens. That Germany has now opted for another extremist political party such as that one is surely a matter of concern.

  • MacroV says:

    I’m as woke and PC as anyone, but this is absurd. But if it’s a problem, change the choreography (or the costumes). Dropping the ballet in the U.S. isn’t really an option, as most companies rely on Nutcracker for a huge portion of their annual revenue.

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      I wouldn’t brag about that in the least!

      • V.Lind says:

        They’re hardly alone. But I do note that Australian Ballet takes a different route, and if |I were ever to return to dance criticism I would pray to do it in Australia.

        When I lived in Hong Kong, still very professionally active but having had it in my contract with self for several years by then that I would do “no more Nutcrackers” it was the first thing I had to do, given the time I arrived there.

        Later, in Canada, I had to sit through a couple more with my niece and nephew as they arrived at their first experience of ballet.

        Took years for me to be able to return to it voluntarily, after too much stuff I didn’t like and no Swans, Beauties or Giselles on the immediate menu. By then it was just a lovely classical ballet to see — even though I could still hum every note of it from those years of overexposure, seeing every cast, etc.

        Despite the length of the run, compared to other ballets, it was a tough ticket.

        I can certainly say that the national dances were among the things I could not have danced in my sleep, as they changed so much.

    • Douglas says:

      I see that changes have already been made in 2018 to the Tea Dance in that other Christmas ballet, “Balanchine’s” (sic) Nutcracker.

  • James Weiss says:

    We’re at a point of such woke ridiculousness that it seems the only option is for clear thinking people to take to the streets and say ENOUGH.

  • BigSir says:

    White liberals doing the complaining on behalf of people of color who actually don’t particularly care.

    • John Borstlap says:

      Because that kind of complaining creates a good feeling about oneself, compensating for one’s own discriminatory ideas that sometimes bubble-up uninvited.

  • M McAlpine says:

    These people who go on about ‘a clear case of racism’ are usually the biggest bigots themselves.

    • David K. Nelson says:

      But you do concede, do you not, that “The Nutcracker,” of all the great ballets, is the most virulently anti-rodent?

      Bureaucrats look after their own.

  • J Barcelo says:

    And some people think this lunacy is an American thing. Ha! For the past 15 years I have played in a pit orchestra for Nutcracker performances – the ballet company is owned by two fine dancers who escaped communist China 30 years ago. Never once has anyone made any suggestion that the Divertissement dances from Act II are in anyway racist. Woke liberals are ruining the world.

  • Staal Burger says:

    There appears to be no end to the self-ascribed analysts of everything irrelevant, yet potentially inflammatory.

  • John Borstlap says:

    But the Swan Lake is filled to the brim with cruelty inflicted upon animals. Is nobody spotting this? What an impression this must make upon the vegetarian members of the audience.

  • Bonetti Micaela says:

    Un tale livello di ottusa stupidità merita solo le parole più volgari, che non mi va di scrivere qui!

  • Surely some clever choreographer and designer can find a new way to do Chinese Dance without a tired cliche.

  • Peter says:

    So have they gone nuts, or crackers ?

  • William Evans says:

    Further to my earlier comment on a male and a female Drosselmeyer, The Royal Ballet cast still lists stalwart Gary Avis as Herr D. There appears to be no Frau Drosselmeyer participating in the merriment, after all!

  • Mary Ross says:

    Utter rubbish. The Chinese and Arabian dance are beloved and cherished parts of the Nutcracker. There are no racial slurs in any production that I have ever seen. Quite the contrary.

  • degenerate american says:

    the rest of the world should enjoy more american wokeism

  • Roy Gilbert says:

    Banning the NUTCRACKER !!!! Holy shit. How moronic is the world becoming.

  • Jan Kaznowski says:

    Remember the lines from Seinfeld

    JERRY : Should’ve talked to her; I love Chinese women.

    ELAINE : Isn’t that a little racist?

    JERRY : If I like their race, how can that be racist?..Hellooo??..

  • Sune says:

    It wasn’t on the programme in Berlin this year. So…. Fake news. They only said that a discussion about the subject is welcomed.

  • Chris Ennis says:

    Perhaps they should replace the traditional dances in question with some interpretive dances on say the plight of the Uyghurs or the murder of Jamal Khashoggi and so bring the ballet up to date.

  • Marc Feldman says:

    Before everybody clutches their pearls and wags their fingers about a so-called cancelation of a beloved classic (that can be tired and hackneyed even in the most lavish productions), I have just three things to say about reality. 1) Other companies are performing the Nutcracker in Berlin this season. 2) Why don’t people simply read the Staats Ballet website for their point of view https://www.staatsballett-berlin.de/en/blog/wir-lieben-den-nussknacker/118. 3) They will be programming a new Nutcracker next season!
    Throughout the ages pieces are always reworked and art has always evolved in ways that are bothersome to the temple gardians. That is also why the performing arts are living and breathing entities and are not simply folkloric and fetishistic in their uniformity. The very fact the Staat Ballet has decided to take a look at 19th century stereotypes in the arts and are looking for ways to present the Nutctracker (and perhaps other works) in the future can also bring the freshness and inclusivity that we have almost all been looking for in the classical arts world, for years. This their point of view and an expression of their values.

    The real problem is that these healthy debates about the arts and their role in society are all too often manipulated for obvious political reasons, many times by non-artists, on both sides of the spectrum. That leaves many arts professionals caught in fights that are not winnable for anybody and only serve to divide us further. This in turn keeps feeding the political extremes that are tearing down open our societies today.

    So, how about this : Let those artists and institutions who wish to experiment, explore and ask hard questions about who we are in a contemporary world do so freely. And – let’s see the artistic outcomes and what they have to express to audiences.

    In turn, let’s let those who wish to perform and produce classical arts in their purest forms do so as well, as long as everybody is admitted to the process along the way. Audiences will chose and some will even chose experimentation AND classicism. There is an absolute need for both for us to grow and evolve in a changing world.

    Marc Feldman, Director Orchestre National de Bretagne