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“Will ballet ever ignore skin color as long as there are some artistic directors who think a ‘unified aesthetic’ means that skin color should match, as well as the costumes?” The question is posed in The Oxford Handbook of Dance and Ethnicity.
As ridiculous as it might sound, the notion that a darker skin tone can ruin the uniformity in a ballet performance has been, and continues to be, accepted and even respected. The striking sameness of ballerinas in American Ballet companies, despite an increasingly diverse U.S. population, is evidence that change is occurring in the ballet world at a glacial pace.
Black Ballerina, Fleetwood Jourdain’s world premiere play by Tim Rhoze and Stephen Fedo, personalizes the exclusion of women of color in classical ballet with the story of three generations of black ballerinas who pursue their dream of dancing on the world’s biggest stages.
Evanston native and professional ballerina Kara Roseborough, cast in a dual role, delivers a luminous performance as Olivia in the 1950s and Adrienne, the granddaughter of Olivia, in the present day. Olivia maintains her passion for classical dance, despite being told by an artistic director (Jen Gorman) that her gracefulness is stunning, but her athletic build is “not really suitable for the classical ballerina.”
It is cruel and disheartening when, decades later, Adrienne faces many of the same barriers that her grandmother, Olivia, faced. The strong desire for a happy ending to this deeply touching story could be felt in the audience.
It can be said, without disclosing too much, that Adrienne’s happy ending is within herself.
Throughout the play, the audience seemed captivated by the stage presence of Ms. Roseborough, who danced beautifully, powerfully and inspiringly while leaving no doubt that she is a fine actress.
“The story of the Black Ballerina must be told,” wrote Tim Rhoze in his Director’s Notes. And it could not have been told any better.
There are two remaining performances on Aug. 24 at 7 p.m. and Aug. 25 at 3 p.m. at The Theatre at Noyes Cultural Arts Center, 927 Noyes St. Tickets are available at fjtheatre.com or at the door.