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Royal Ballet Russian Tour - Should they go?


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Apologies if this has already been posted but I was just wondering what members here think about the Royal Ballet's proposed visit to Russian, given Putin's terrible state sanctioned homophobia. 

 

I know there are a few members of the company who are worried about their safety and at least one brave dancer who is refusing to go on the principle that to go would be like going to South Africa during apartheid. 

 

Do people think that the ROH or RB management should have to justify their decision to go?

Are there any ways in which the company could go and yet take a stand against human rights abuses?

 

Really interested to hear what people think.

 

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It's a difficult one. Do boycotts work generally? I'm inclined to believe they have an effect, but I believe that effect can be overstated.

 

It must be worrying for dancers who are gay, though I believe they would be completely safe going there. I also do understand the people who are saying that art/ sport/ whatever should remain separate from politics, so it's debatable whether some sort of statement would be appropriate.

 

Sorry, haven't really contributed much to the discussion, but i'm a bit torn about these things myself. I traveled to Burma about 10 years ago when I was in Thailand, at the time when there were loud calls for an international boycott of the country on human rights grounds, but I figured I was traveling independently, and perhaps by going there and supporting tourism and local operators I would maybe be helping them to make money. Difficult though.

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I have little doubt too that the dancers would come under personal attack -but I was thinking more with regard to whether we should look to such institutions as ROH and RB to lead by example, i.e. take a stand against Putin's attempts to criminalise homosexuality. But  as Chris says can or indeed should we say that sport/art should try not to get involved in politics?

 

I think the arts cannot remain neutral, but at what point does one draw the line? Or even personally - if one is gay or supports gay rights should Russia be off limits or is that giving power to those who are trying to marginalise and discriminate? Does silence on such matters equate to a collusion or tacit approval of things happening in Russia and elsewhere.

No right or wrong answers just really curious about what people think. 

Thanks for response MAB and Chris

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I do not think it is a question of the dancers themselves having problems MAB, but a point of principle.  

 

Putin's anti-gay agenda is currently a big issue in the classical music world, with protests at Gergiev's appearances in the West (Gergiev for anyone who doesn't know is a big Putin supporter) and many performers refusing to work in Russia.  I think it would be very healthy for the ballet world (which, under the cloak of being apolitical, is generally very conservative indeed) if the Royal Ballet management was to make a point of expressing support for LGBT rights in Russia, or even making gestures, like President Obama's meetings with representatives of LGBT groups when he visited St Petersburg or his deliberately choosing openly gay representatives (Billy Jean King and Caitlin Cahow) to lead the US delegation in Sochi.  If the RB goes there with nothing being said and gay members of the company "flying under the radar" I think dancers should absolutely refuse to participate.  It would be an absolute disgrace if any such refusal were subsequently to hinder their careers with the company.

 

In my view art does not and cannot exist in a "neutral" vacuum.  It is a product of its creators,participants and funders who are sentient beings shaped by the world they live in.  

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If we're talking human-rights abuses, it should be pointed out that it's only a few years ago since the RB went to China.  As I recall, most of the discussion then revolved around the fact that Rio Tinto were one of the sponsors.

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But where do you draw the line? I disagree with a certain government policy in Canada for example, so should I boycott Canada? I don't like much of what the US government does, but I watch US films. Does that make me a hypocrite? It's difficult, but I think sometimes boycotts just hurt the little people who often have nothing to do with the issue. If you are a huge fan of the Bloshoi and were really looking forward to seeing them perform here, it would be a little frustrating if they announced they were boycotting the UK because of our government's foreign policy decisions. The UK government wouldn't care and the only people that would really notice would be ballet fans (I could be wrong though).

 

Mara Galeazzi, for example, has danced lots of charity galas in parts of Africa where it is illegal to be gay and people are murdered for it. Should she have boycotted these countries, or is it ok because she was doing charity work for children? It's a very complicated issue.

Edited by chrischris
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It is a complicated issue but boycotts can be a very effective tool chrischris.  The international isolation of South Africa was a key factor in changing the politics of that nation.  Look at the current strenuous efforts of the Israeli government to promote "Brand Israel" through its cultural institutions and you will see how concerned they are about the growing academic boycott of Israel.  

 

The Russian law passed last June  prohibits the "promotion of nontraditional marital relations to minors"; effectively forbidding any discussion of LGBT issues and criminalising homosexuals as paedophiles in language which is so vague that the police can interpret it however they wish to fine or arrest Russian citizens and arrest and deport foreigners. Personally I think that anyone who believes in human rights or civil liberties would think that is worth a statement of protest at the very least.

 

And the RB trip is not for charity.  

 

But we are perhaps being unfair.  It may be that the RB management will make some kind of statement on the issue before their trip.

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Will see what they say. I wouldn't hold it against them if they didn't say anything though, as these things are tricky and people will find their own way of doing things.

 

I don't personally agree with the academic boycott of Israel as it often hurts researchers who have nothing to do with the actions of the Israeli government.

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Did not the Russians come to the UK whilst Section 28 was thriving?  I believe they did, and I believe those performances were well attended.  A RB statement I think could be effective if framed in an appropriate light but I don't think the tour itself should be withdrawn.  Surely the arts must lead the way in keeping effective channels open.  

Edited by Meunier
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I think the case is slightly different Meunier.  Section 28, whilst clearly discriminatory, did not create a criminal offence and in fact no one was ever prosecuted for breaching it.  Sadly this cannot said to be the case with the Russian law.

 

Thank you for the clarification, Lindsay.  I do personally know several teachers for whom Section 28 had a serious impact.  I do, however, stand corrected as you clearly note.  

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Did not the Russians come to the UK whilst Section 28 was thriving?  I believe they did, and I believe those performances were well attended.  A RB statement I think could be effective if framed in an appropriate light but I don't think the tour itself should be withdrawn.  Surely the arts must lead the way in keeping effective channels open.  

 

I think you are right in that, if action is to be taken, it must be taken by the RB collectively, and not be left to individual dancers to make a stand. It isn't fair to put them in that position, just as I don't think it has been fair to put pressure on individual athletes in Sochi.

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To return to the first post here, is it worth my mentioning that the Royal Ballet Touring Company went to South Africa in early 1960 for some three months, during which the Sharpeville massacre took place?  I understand that an aircraft was then available to bring everyone out, but a free vote amongst the dancers resulted in their staying.  Tom Driberg asked a question in the House and the Hansard record is here:

 

http://hansard.millbanksystems.com/commons/1960/apr/07/union-of-south-africa-royal-ballets-tour

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I think you are right in that, if action is to be taken, it must be taken by the RB collectively, and not be left to individual dancers to make a stand. It isn't fair to put them in that position, just as I don't think it has been fair to put pressure on individual athletes in Sochi.

Yes, this is how I see it too. But it's important that that some form of protest/ action is made. I think boycotts only work if it they are part of a much bigger response, say the whole artistic community refusing to perform on Russia. So, the best the Royal Ballet can do in my opinion is to ensure they engage is dialogue about the issue wherever and whenever the opportunity arises, and perhaps look for an imaginative way of drawing attention to the issue.

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Thanks for that Ian Macmillan - fascinating.  And a reminder of how sluggish British governments were in condemning apartheid - remember that Thatcher called the ANC terrorists and the Federation of Conservative Students wore "Hang Nelson Mandela" stickers until the mid-80s.  Just because something is accepted at one stage does not mean it is ultimately right.....

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John Neumeier, living openly gay in Hamburg since many years, published a statement against the Russian anti-gay propaganda in September 2013 via the press office of his ballet company, sadly only in German language.

He writes that he deeply regrets the new law but that there should be no boycott because dialogue and exchange are very important; art should build bridges. He also reports that when Hamburg Ballet was in St. Petersburg in November 2012, they showed an excerpt from „Death in Venice“ with a male love pas de deux, and while some people left the theatre under protest, most of the audience stayed and cheered. He writes that he will not remove his „Lady of the Camellias“ from the Bolshoi because he promised it to Sergei Filin, and that while he is not somebody who waves the rainbow flag constantly, he will not change his behaviour being in Russia. And that he looks forward to visiting the „Camellias“ premiere in 2014 with his partner.

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I actually agree with Don Q Fan.  The odd foray out of London to the rest of the country would be really nice.  The Company used to tour outside London every couple of years - I have seen them in Manchester and Birmingham and a friend told me that they used to come to Liverpool occasionally too.  After all BRB, NB and ENB perform in London!

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I actually agree with Don Q Fan.  The odd foray out of London to the rest of the country would be really nice.  The Company used to tour outside London every couple of years - I have seen them in Manchester and Birmingham and a friend told me that they used to come to Liverpool occasionally too.  After all BRB, NB and ENB perform in London!

I don't want to de rail this thread, but I would add that the occasional exchange of dancers for a season would be welcome. It's happened in the past - certainly between BRB and RB. (BRB also had a period of exchange with Stuttgart.)

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I don't want to de rail this thread, but I would add that the occasional exchange of dancers for a season would be welcome. It's happened in the past - certainly between BRB and RB. (BRB also had a period of exchange with Stuttgart.)

 

Wondering if anyone has heard if the dancer exchange between the RB and ABT is to be continued????? .... or was it just a one season wonder????

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  • 2 weeks later...

Funny, I now wonder - while sincerely respecting the discomfort over the situation with gay rights in Russia - IF in fact the RB tour would/should/will go ahead given the current/on-going situation in the Ukraine with Russia - and certainly were it to escalate even more - or, indeed, no more than it already dangerously has just now.  I could very much understand the RB cancelling/delaying that tour given the current situation involving those two countries over a question of ultimate sovereignty  ... if for no other reason than safety/security concerns.  [i say this too in light of the fact that the US,Canada and UK governments have currently pulled out of preparations for the G8 meetings in June in Sochi which had too been long planned.]

 

I also wonder - if Russia takes Crimea, say, [which in all but name - or is that insignia - it seems to have done already] and were it to incite a Ukrainian civil war so that Russia could be legally said [e.g., given international reason] to deploy Russian troops in other Ukraine regions such as the current Duma has already granted Putin permission for - if, indeed, the Mariinsky tour to London's ROH in the summer would/should/will go forth?  I would understand - should the itemised situations prevail - if the Mariinsky too were to cancel/delay..  

 

I do realise - and agree/support - that the arts should be above politics - but, as with everything - it must be relative to the situation at hand.  Certainly Swan Lake and Romeo and Juliet WILL survive.  They still will be there if situations needed to be waylaid.  That much we already DO know.  

Edited by Meunier
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The arts have, in my opinion, never been above politics.  Rather art is a product of and a reflection of the reality of the world we humans create.

 

We act, paint, dance, sing our dreams, hopes, visions, fears and goals through art - it is not something separate.

 

Dance especially is deeply a part of the human condition: a stimulus for warriors, a celebration of victory, a plea for rain, a hope for a good harvest, an adjunct to religious fervor - whether it be a plea to a Creator or to accompany a sacrifice to that creator.  

 

The very need for art tells us how deeply inbedded it is within us.  We can't pretend it is "above."  The day that is true is the day when it is not the product of the human mind with all its potential for good and evil.

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  • 2 weeks later...

I think it is a good and healthy sign that dancers feel able to debate this (whether to go to Russia or not in (semi) public.

And I agree with the ever eloquent Meunier that the current Ukraine/Russia situation might mean that RB and Marinsky tours might be cancelled due to escalating political tensions. 

Great to hear so many peoples varied opinions on this and other related issues. 

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Hmm, I can't see why the Mariinsky would have problems travelling to the UK, or why the UK should not welcome a ballet company for political reasons. Depending on developments, there might be concerns about the RB traveling and the company might have to cancel due to safety concerns. I'd be surprised if the polital situation in the UK would be in enough of an upheaval by August to pose a risk to the safety of Mariinsky dancers.

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