Nicholas Rose, corps de ballet member at The National Ballet of Canada (NBoC), posted a video on Instagram calling out the company for not addressing the recent Black Lives Matter protests, for failing to reach out to their Black employees and for discriminating against him and other dancers.
This video came after the death of George Floyd, who was killed by a Minneapolis police officer, set off protests across the world over police brutality and systemic racism.
Rose’s first video, posted on June 1, was viewed more than 80,000 times and received more than 500 comments. It has since been deleted from Instagram.
Poised in front of NBoC’s studios in Toronto, Rose said: “You guys are utilizing our artistry, our choreography and our energy, but you guys cannot even take a second to suspend your own company’s pride to look into the psychology of how a Black artist’s mind works.”
In the video, he described discriminative actions, mentioning being mistaken for Siphesihle November, second soloist, and that his lips had been altered using Photoshop software on his company headshot. In an email to The Dance Current, The National Ballet of Canada denied that Rose’s headshot was altered.
The next day, Rose posted a black square with a caption that said he had met with the ballet and that he will be moving forward with a “solution based” mindset. Finishing, he wrote: “Thank you for standing with me. And yes, I’ll be getting a new headshot.”
Over Zoom on Tuesday, Rose and other dancers from the company met with Barry Hughson, executive director. The meeting was facilitated by charles smith and Kevin Ormsby of Cultural Pluralism in the Arts Movement Ontario (CPAMO), who hold the roles of executive director and program manager, respectively. Ormsby and smith are also the NBoC’s Equity, Diversity and Inclusion advisors.
Ormsby said that the meeting was successful and noted that the company has been involved in Pluralism and Organizational Change, a CPAMO program, for the past two years.
“They’re in a moment of change, and I think it means a definite rethinking of the ways they’ve been working as an organization in the past and what [it means] for them as an organization in the future,” he said. He also said the company has been rethinking how to support its increasing number of diverse dancers; it just hasn’t been public knowledge.
In an email, NBoC noted the past work they’ve done including establishing a cross-departmental equity, diversity and inclusion task force and participating in The Equity Project: Increasing the Presence of Blacks in Ballet, an initiative by The International Association of Blacks in Dance.
“Ballet, as an artform, has a long history of inequity and racial discrimination,” reads an official statement sent to The Dance Current from Hughson and Artistic Director Karen Kain. “In the last several years, The National Ballet of Canada has significantly increased our roster of Black and brown artists, but increased visibility is not enough. Every artist at The National Ballet of Canada needs to feel safe, respected and supported. We must always do better, and we will.”
The company’s statement also listed its next steps, including hiring a director of equity, diversity and inclusion, holding monthly town halls for their racialized artists and staff and including an updated link on their website to their equity, diversity and inclusion work.
Ormsby said these initiatives have been in development, but Rose’s Instagram video “showed the importance of those particular things and the immediacy of them happening sooner.”
After the meeting on Tuesday, Rose deleted the video and posted Instagram stories about how he felt after the meeting. “Because of that one video, something sparked and now, guess what? The National Ballet of Canada is explicitly talking about race and explicitly talking about work culture, and we are moving forward,” he said in the story. “It’s happening, baby, and I encourage your company to do the same. … I feel so respected and I feel so loved, and I feel equal for the first time, truly. I feel heard.”