Woman starts petition to eliminate ‘yellowface’ from Kansas City Ballet’s ‘The Nutcracker’

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The Kansas City Ballet is busy as they prepare for their upcoming production of “The Nutcracker.”

The lavish production is a holiday tradition, dating back decades.

But now, one Kansas City woman is challenging the ballet company to make "The Nutcracker" more culturally appropriate.

“I think the Kansas City Ballet has an incredible reputation in the community," local arts advocate Kerri Voyles said. "And I know there is a national conversation happening about Asian Americans in the Nutcracker, and I thought it was important to raise this in the community on a local level, as well."

For Voyles, she said theater and dance is far more than just a hobby.

“I am a fan of the ballet, especially the Kansas City Ballet," she said. "I don’t take class there or anything, but I have seen a number of the productions. And everyone who knows me I am always pushing more people to get into ballet and see it because I think it’s just a beautiful art-form."

Her love of theater and dance began when she was young, even performing in a number of "Nutcracker" productions.

As she grew older, she began recognizing the lack of acknowledgement in the stereotypical depictions in the production.

"There is a variation in the ballet, and historically it has portrayed a stereotype, generalizing Asian Americans as a whole, with movements, costumes and makeup exaggerating Asian American features," Voyles said. "Overall, it just generalizes the Asian American experience."

She's specifically talking about the Chinese Tea Dancers who appear during Act II, often depicted with over-drawn, slanted eye makeup, pointed fingers ponytails and mustaches.

To address her concerns, Voyles created a petition on Change.org, garnering more than 100 signatures and overwhelming amount of public support within hours.

"Asian Americans have such few representations in the media, in arts, and in leadership, that when we are represented with nuance, so we can really be a character and not a caricature," Voyles said.

Within two days, the petition caught the attention of Kansas City Ballet Artistic Director Devon Carney.

He released the following statement Friday morning:

"We have long been committed to diversity and inclusiveness in all elements of the company. Last year New York City Ballet made the changes to its second act Chinese Tea variation, removing elements of racial caricature from the costumes, makeup and choreography. This has spurred a national effort, and we are pleased that Kansas City Ballet has joined the conversation along with the ranks of other companies to make these needed changes."

Voyles said she's encouraged and excitement about the new chapter in the arts.

"I am happy to know that changes are being made, and I also hope they continue the conversation," Voyles said.

Kansas City Ballet's "The Nutcracker" runs Dec. 5-24 at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. For tickets, click here.

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