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Kickoff

By Philp, Richard | Dance Magazine, April 1994 | Go to article overview

Kickoff


Philp, Richard, Dance Magazine


Kenneth MacMillan's production of Romeo and Juliet for London's Royal Ballet (see story about the Royal's current U.S. tour, page 14) was at the center of a scandal that raged across the front pages of Great Britain's newspapers for several weeks this past winter. Jane Brown, headmistress of the poor, multi-ethnic Kingsmead School in Clapton Park, East London, was offered a heavily subsidized trip for her school's children to see the MacMillan classic at the Royal Opera House, followed by an opportunity for some of the children to work with "a professional choreographer" and to produce "their own version."

Ms. Brown, whose concern for political correctness had already raised community hackles when she banned the school's traditional Christmas Nativity play and Santa's visit with packages for the poor, as well as insisting that students call their teachers by their first names and that children not address male teachers as sir, refused the offer of a school trip to Covent Garden on the grounds that Romeo and Juliet was "too heterosexual." A fuller statement, released later, elaborated, "Until books, films, and theater reflected all forms of sexuality," Ms. Brown "would not be involving her pupils in heterosexual culture."

She made an absurd mistake, of course, and publicly apologized for what the London Times called her "blinkered political correctness," but the toothpaste was out of the tube. She was ordered by school officials not to comment further, but her private life was soon subjected to ongoing scrutiny in the tabloids, and she faced the unhappy prospects of dismissal and an investigation on charges of influence peddling. The dispute over her refusal to take children to the ballet resulted in a constitutional debate in Britain about authority in education. Parents who came to her support said that she was a good headmistress who got excellent results, particularly among underachievers just learning to read. One of her critics, however, complained, "This sort of silly example of political correctness can ruin years of good work and give our school a bad name."

Well. It's true that Ms. Brown became a victim of her own zealous nature, but the children are victims too. She had a general point about sensitivity to political correctness being part of the educational process, but what happened to reason? She practiced a kind of censorship on impressionable young children entrusted to her care that in America would have met with ferocious protest--if, for example, Sen. Jesse Helms, who is no friend of the arts, had prevented school children from going to a free dance performance on any grounds. Ms. Brown's worst living legacy is that some children now think that there is something terribly wrong about attending the ballet Romeo and Juliet.

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