Misty Copeland calls out Russia’s Bolshoi for use of ‘blackface,’ theater dismisses criticism

The world-famous Bolshoi Theatre in Russia dismissed criticism raised by American ballet dancer Misty Copeland about its use of performers in blackface.

Copeland, who made history as the first black female principal dancer in the American Ballet Theatre, sparked a debate on social media after posting an image last week showing two white Bolshoi dancers in black body paint rehearsing for a show.

They were rehearsing for the Russian production of La Bayadere, a tragic love story set in India, which Copeland said was racially insensitive.

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“And this is the reality of the ballet world,” Copeland captioned the image on Instagram.

In a subsequent post responding to a comment, she wrote: “There’s no way on earth, with the access we have to the media, social media, educating and exposing ourselves to the world, that they would be blind and ignorant enough to not know that this isn’t acceptable.”

Pictured: Robert Fairchild and Misty Copeland (Photo by Timothy Kuratek/CBS via Getty Images)

Pictured: Robert Fairchild and Misty Copeland (Photo by Timothy Kuratek/CBS via Getty Images)

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She continued: “I’m tired of giving the oppressors the benefit of the doubt. They need to be exposed, called out, educated and more. I have lived in the ballet world for 25 years. I have silenced myself around ‘them,’ made them feel comfortable and suffered in silence. At 37 I feel ready and free to stop.”

On Twitter, Copeland wrote: “I get that this is a VERY sensitive subject in the ballet world. But until we can call people out and make people uncomfortable, change can’t happen.”

“It is painful to think about the fact that many prominent ballet companies refuse to hire dancers of color and instead opt to use blackface.”

However, the Bolshoi dismissed Copeland’s criticisms, telling Russia’s RIA Novosti news agency that the ballet has been performed thousands of times in Russia and abroad.

“The Bolshoi Theatre will not get involved in such a discussion,” theater director Vladimir Urin said. “Finding some sort of deep insults in this is simply ridiculous. No one has ever complained to us or saw … an act of disrespect.”

Russia ballerina Svetlana Zakharova told broadcast Moscow 24 that performers in blackface are “nothing strange here, it’s absolutely normal for us… this is art.”

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Copeland has been vocal throughout her career about the lack of ballet dancers of color. Her criticism also comes as the New York City Ballet’s production of “The Nutcracker” cast its first-ever black girl as "Marie."

Charlotte Nebres, 11, was cast in the role of the young lead. She will be joined by a diverse group of young leads, including Nebres’ "Prince," Tanner Quirk, who is half-Chinese. Sophia Thomopoulos, who also will play "Marie," is half-Korean, half-Greek. Sophia’s "Prince" will be played by Kai Misra-Stone, who is half-South Asian.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.