“I honestly don’t believe that you would come to the production and feel cheated,” Clark Charrington says. She says her aim in creating marketing material is to showcase the performers, and it’s striking that among the 76 dancers of the company there are dozens of nationalities, let alone ethnicities. The ballet’s production of Swan Lake features dancers from China, Germany, South Korea, England, Spain, the US, Scotland, Vietnam, Italy, France, Belgium, Australia, Brazil, South Africa, Japan, New Zealand, Puerto Rico, Paraguay, Mexico, Canada, Ukraine, Austria, Russia, Romania, and the Basque Country. No one could accuse the company of parochialism. 

ENB may be diverse, and dance as a whole is massively so. But being black and in ballet is still rare enough to be noticeable. Hence my call to Clark Charrington, and our discussion about shoes, which stemmed from a discussion about tights.

In September 2018, a minor furor broke out when Adams told the Evening Standard newspaper that she was reconsidering the pink tights she had habitually worn, and starting a conversation with ENB artistic director Tamara Rojo (who also still dances with the company, and has spoken on diversity and inclusion) about whether leg coverings that matched her torso would better emphasize her line. The remarks were taken out of context by other publications, Adams said on social media, and used to imply that she had “refused” to wear pink tights after suffering “attacks,” neither of which was true.

But it’s somewhat understandable why the ginned-up conflict seemed plausible to some people. Carlos Acosta, a Cuban dancer who was one of the first black stars in UK ballet and has played the male lead in other productions of Swan Lake, said in 2012 that most companies still didn’t know how to cast black dancers. “Still there is this mentality, especially with directors, that a black ballerina in the middle of a flock of white swans would somehow alter the harmony,” he told the Guardian. That assessment was questioned at the time, with arguments that ballet’s diversity problem is more likely an issue of money and access than institutional racism. In the years since, the makeup of companies has evolved—ENB’s casting being an illustration—but black performers in the discipline are still rare.

Clark Charrington, who is herself not white, says that things are changing, and posters like the one she made for Swan Lake are a part of that. “We really genuinely believe that ballet is for everyone, everywhere, there should be no barriers to it,” she said. “It’s that that I try to portray in all our marketing materials.”

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