Chloé Lopes Gomes, the first black ballerina at Germany’s leading ballet company, has spoken out against the racism that she experienced within the company.
The 29-year-old French dancer, who joined the Staatsballett Berlin in 2018, said in an interview with the Guardian she faced reoccurring racial harassment from her ballet mistress over two years.
Lopes Gomes said the ballet mistress told a fellow dancer right after her audition that it had been a mistake to hire Lopes Gomes because “a black woman spoils the aesthetics.” Besides refusing to give her a white veil for a performance of La Bayadére “because you’re black,” the ballet mistress also told Lopes Gomes to use white makeup to color her skin for “Swan Lake.” “I told her I would never look white, I am black.
She told me I’d simply need to use more powder,” Lopes Gomes said. She reported the incident to the then co-artistic director, who instructed her not to use the makeup.
However, after he left the company in January, Lopes Gomes said she was told to use it again, the New York Times reported. In September, she wrote a letter, signed by several members of the company, to Staatballett management, detailing the incidents.
But in October, she was told her contract, along with those of 11 other dancers, would not be renewed. The company denied that her dismissal was racially motivated, saying that it due to “artistic reasons,” the New York Times reported.
Staatsballett issued a statement on Monday saying it had a zero tolerance policy for discrimination and racism and had begun an investigation, adding that it would also restructure the company and revise outdated customs.
The interim artistic director said the ballet mistress has since been subject to “disciplinary measures” but said she was unable to specify what they were due to legal reasons, according to the Times.
Lopes Gomes’ story has since triggered an outpouring of support from the ballet community, including Misty Copeland, American Ballet Theatre’s first black woman principal, and the “Blacks in Ballet” organization.