The Berlin State Ballet has agreed to pay compensation to its first and only black dancer Chloé Lopes Gomes after she exposed racism in the company, and also to renew her contract.
The labour court ordered that the French ballerina should be awarded €16,000. She said that a ballet teacher had told her to apply white powder for Swan Lake, said that she had been hired only because she was black, and told a colleague that “she thought it had been a mistake to hire me because a black woman spoils the aesthetics”.
A statement by the Staatsballett’s provisional artistic director, Christiane Theobald, stated:
Today, the Bühnenschiedsgericht – the German Labour Court for stage employees – dealt with the non-renewal of Mrs. Chloé Lopes Gomes fixed-term contract. I am glad that we reached an agreement today, settling the legal dispute.
I regret Chloé Lopes Gomes’ experiences of discriminatory behaviour which we take very seriously and are currently processing in depth.
At the Staatsballett Berlin, we uphold a zero-tolerance policy in regards to racism and any form of discrimination. Therefore, we began a structural transformation with the goal of putting independence, collegiality and artistic freedom at the centre of the entire company’s work process.
A great opportunity to change lies in the current situation; it is a wake-up call.
The court determined that Lopes Gomes’ contract should be renewed for one more season and terminated at the end of the 2021/22 season.
All employees of the Staatsballett Berlin have been encouraged to anonymously report experiences with discriminatory behaviour and the company will publish the results and consequential recommendations.
It was reported that Lopes Gomes had been ridiculed by an employee the contrast between her white veil and dark skin during La Bayadère, with a coach making “strange noises” in front of Asian dancers, mocking their foreign accents, and of comparing a Mexican dancer to Pocahontas.
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano’) about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman’s Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia’ column for Dancing Times magazine.