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Ballet companies have shaken up the festive season classic ‘The Nutcracker’, in an effort to make Pyotr Tchaikovsky’s fairytale less offensive to Asians and more in tune with modern racial sensibilities.

The Pacific Northwest Ballet, as well as dance companies from Tulsa and Boston, are among those to have taken steps to counter racial stereotypes as Tchaikovsky’s ‘Nutcracker’ returns for the festive period, The New York Times reported on Monday. 

In response to a wave of anti-Asian sentiment, this year, Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Nutcracker features a Green Tea Cricket character, a superhero-like figure included to counter ethnic stereotypes, while the Tulsa Ballet has added elements of martial arts to its production, choreographed by a Chinese-born dancer.

Meanwhile, the Boston Ballet has gone to new lengths to ensure the production won’t offend anyone, including by introducing a Chinese ribbon dance-inspired pas de deux number. 

“Everybody learned a lot this year, and I just want to make sure there’s absolutely nothing that could ever be considered as insulting to Chinese culture,” Mikko Nissinen, artistic director of Boston Ballet, told the Times.

Theater bosses are also abandoning traditionally accepted elements like the bamboo hats and pointed finger movements, which are often featured in the second act’s Tea scene.

However, the Berlin State Ballet has gone one step further, quietly pulling the fan favorite from the Christmas schedule and replacing it with Don Quixote – a classic, albeit less frequently associated with the holiday season. 

“With the current discussion about which repertoire is still acceptable in post-colonial times, we have to ask ourselves whether elements from the period of origin are problematic,” acting artistic director Christiane Theobald told Germany’s Bild.

Theobald stated that the theater is working with Roma representatives to ensure the ballet is not offensive, adding that a scene featuring a band of gypsies is actually a “romantic cliché.”

The Nutcracker features a number of cliches about cultures which were perceived as exotic at the time of its original production. Another recurring complaint is that two of the child dancers dress in blackface.

Despite Western efforts to ensure holiday productions are not offensive to Asians, this year’s Chinese TV Lunar New Year gala featured the usual blackface performers and a man dressed as a monkey – although the producers did appear to dispense with the oversized butt pads seen in previous years.

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