As ‘Nutcracker’ Returns, Companies Rethink Depictions of Asians


KJ Takahashi, a City Ballet dancer who stars in the Tea scene in this year’s “Nutcracker,” which opened the day after Thanksgiving, said he welcomed the changes. Takahashi, who is Japanese American, said the revisions made him feel more included. Still, he said, there was more that could be done, noting that he finds the costumes dated and inauthentic.

“The little things make a big difference,” he said. “We can go even deeper into accuracy.”

Colorado Ballet staged a “Nutcracker” this month with new costumes, including in the Tea scene. Rather than traditional red and gold attire, dancers are dressed in a variety of colors. A dragon that appears onstage is covered in images of Asian street food.

Some companies are reworking the Tea scene entirely, believing more can be done to make it resonate with modern audiences.

Peter Boal, artistic director of Pacific Northwest Ballet in Seattle, has been experimenting with ways to tone down Asian stereotypes in its “Nutcracker” since 2015. But as Boal saw the rise of anti-Asian hate this year, he set out to make further changes in time for opening night, on Nov. 26.

He had long wanted to add a cricket, a symbol of good luck in China, to “Nutcracker.” He gained permission from the Balanchine Trust, which owns the rights to the version the company performs, just a few weeks ago. (The trust had found early sketches too buglike, Boal said.)

During the visit to the Land of Sweets, the cricket now emerges from a box rolled onstage and performs a series of acrobatic moves, much like the choreography in the original, in which a man dressed in stereotypical Chinese clothes came out of the box.



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