SHARE
COPY LINK

RACISM

Black ballet dancer wins payout in Berlin racism row

A black ballet dancer has been awarded €16,000 in compensation and the renewal of her contract at the Berlin State Ballet in an out-of-court settlement over allegations of racism.

Black ballet dancer wins payout in Berlin racism row
Gomes in Berlin in January. Lopes Gomes in front of the Deutsche Oper in Berlin. Photo: Odd Andersen/AFP

Chloe Lopes Gomes, the first black dancer to be hired by the company in 2018, began legal action after her fixed-term contract was not renewed last summer, accusing her bosses of forcing her to wear white make-up, among other things.

“Lopes Gomes’ contract will be renewed for one more season and will be terminated at the end of the 2021/22 season,” the company said on Thursday after a settlement was reached in a Berlin court.

The 29-year-old French dancer said in a video posted on Instagram that she would receive €16,000 in compensation.

“It’s a small victory but already a big step for the ballet world and I think this will make a huge change,” she said.

Lopes Gomes, who has also performed with the Opera de Nice in France and Switzerland’s Ballet Bejart, told AFP in January she had been subjected to continual “harassment” by the company’s ballet mistress.

READ ALSO: Berlin State Ballet’s first black dancer stands strong in racism row

In one production, when the ballet mistress was handing around white veils for the dancers to wear, Lopes Gomes said she was was told, “I can’t give you one. The veil is white and you’re black.”

On another occasion she was asked to wear white make-up, which felt like “denying my identity,” she said.

Christiane Theobald, acting director of the Berlin State Ballet, said the dispute with Lopes Gomes had been “a wake-up call” and the company had a “zero-tolerance policy with regard to racism and any form of discrimination”.

The company has embarked on a “structural transformation”, she said, setting up an office where employees can anonymously report experiences of racism or discrimination.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.

CULTURE

German town resurrects 400-year-old biblical play tradition

Walk around the German Alpine village of Oberammergau, and the chances are you'll run into Jesus or one of his 12 disciples.

German town resurrects 400-year-old biblical play tradition

Of the 5,500 people living there, 1,400 — aged from three months to 85 — are participating this year in the once-a-decade staging of an elaborate “Passion Play” depicting the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Dating back to 1634, the tradition has persisted through four centuries of wars, religious turmoil and pandemics — including the most recent Covid-19 crisis which caused the show to be postponed by two years.

“I think we’re a bit stubborn,” says Frederic Mayet, 42, when asked how the village has managed to hold on to the tradition.

Mayet, who is playing Jesus for the second time this year, says the Passion Play has become a big part of the town’s identity.

Oberammergau Passion Plays

Posters for the 42nd Oberammergau Passion Play – which was originally scheduled to take place in 2020. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Angelika Warmth

The only prerequisite for taking part in the five-hour show, whether as an actor, chorister or backstage assistant, is that you were born in Oberammergau or have lived here for at least 20 years.

“I remember that we talked about it in kindergarten. I didn’t really know what it was about, but of course I wanted to take part,” says Cengiz Gorur, 22, who is playing Judas.

READ ALSO: REVEALED: The best events and festivals in Germany this July

‘Hidden talent’ 

The tradition, which dates back to the Thirty Years’ War, was born from a belief that staging the play would help keep the town safe from disease.

Legend has it that, after the first performance, the plague disappeared from the town.

In the picturesque Alpine village, Jesus and his disciples are everywhere — from paintings on the the facades of old houses to carved wooden figures in shop windows.

You also can’t help feeling that there is a higher-than-average quota of men with long hair and beards wandering the streets.

Religious figurines Oberammergau

Religious figurines adorn a shop window in Oberammergau. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Angelika Warmuth

An intricate image of Jesus graces the stage of the open-air Passion Play theatre, where the latest edition of the show is being held from mid-May to October 2nd.

“What has always fascinated me is the quality of the relationship between all the participants, young and old. It’s a beautiful community, a sort of ‘Passion’ family,” says Walter Lang, 83.

He’s just sad that his wife, who died in February, will not be among the participants this year.

“My parents met at a Passion Play, and I also met my future wife at one,” says Andreas Rödl, village mayor and choir member.

Gorur, who has Turkish roots, was spotted in 2016 by Christian Stückl, the head of the Munich People’s Theatre who will direct the play for the fourth time this year.

“I didn’t really know what to do with my life. I probably would have ended up selling cars, the typical story,” he laughs.

Now, he’s due to start studying drama in Munich this autumn.

“I’ve discovered my hidden talent,” he says.

READ ALSO: Nine of the best day trips from Munich with the €9 ticket

Violence, poverty and sickness

Stückl “has done a lot for the reputation of the show, which he has revolutionised” over the past 40 years, according to Barbara Schuster, 35, a human resources manager who is playing Mary Magdalene.

“Going to the Passion Play used to be like going to mass. Now it’s a real theatrical show,” she says.

In the 1980s, Stückl cut all the parts of the text that accused the Jews of being responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus, freeing the play from anti-Semitic connotations.

“Hitler had used the Passion Play for his propaganda,” Schuster points out.

Stückl

Christian Stückl, the director of the Oberammergau Passion Play, holds a press conference announcing the cancellation of the play in 2020. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Angelika Warmuth

The play’s themes of violence, poverty and sickness are reflected in today’s world through the war in Ukraine and the Covid-19 pandemic, say Mayet, the actor playing Jesus.

“Apparently we have the same problems as 2,000 years ago,” he says.

For 83-year-old Lang, who is playing a peasant this year, the “Hallelujah” after Christ has risen for the final time in October will be a particularly moving moment.

“Because we don’t know if we’ll be there again next time,” he says, his eyes filling with tears.

By Isabelle Le Page

SHOW COMMENTS