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Odyssey Dance Theatre revamps choreography after feedback from local Asian community

SALT LAKE CITY (ABC 4 News) - With less than a week before the opening night of ReduxNut-Cracker, leaders in the local Asian community have given Odyssey Dance Theatre the green light to proceed.

On November 14th, performers with Odyssey Dance Theatre were shown on KSL's morning show making bobbing head and goofy facial expressions during a tease for their 'ReduxNut-Cracker' show, a recreation of the Nutcracker with a pop and hip-hop twist.

The gestures immediately sparked outrage on social media and with members in the local Asian American community.

On November 19th, members from the local Asian community met with officials and performers from Odyssey Dance Theatre to talk about what happened and how they could move forward. In the meeting, members from the local Asian community explained why their gestures and movements in the KSL segment was offensive and the racial stereotypes that were perpetuated.

The full cast of Odyssey Dance Theatre apologized.

"It was clear to me that this incident was grounded in ignorance and not malice. I say this as someone who has had more than 250,000 cases come through his court, has heard tens of thousands of defendants speak about their crimes, heard apologies and denials countless times. I feel somewhat confident in my ability to spot B.S. being shoveled my way," said Michael Kwan, President of the Chinese Railroad Workers Descendants Association, who is also a Justice Court Judge for the Taylorsville Municipal Justice Court.

Dancers with Odyssey Dance Theatre also performed the Chinese scene from ReduxNut-Cracker in its entirety to members of the local Asian community for feedback and suggestions.

"The entire Odyssey Dance Theatre organization welcomed the opportunity to meet with these community leaders to ensure that Odyssey is not perpetrating harmful and hurtful depictions of their community,” said Derryl Yeager, co-founder and artistic director for Odyssey Dance Theatre. “We were interested and anxious to learn from those involved about our misinformed cultural stereotypes so we can adapt our works to accommodate current sensibilities moving forward.” 

Members of the local Asian community pointed out several inaccuracies with wardrobe and props as well as concerns with ODT's choreography and verbal expressions in the scene.

"We had a candid discussion on some anachronism inherent in their staging and costuming. They seemed to want to present a portrayal that is not culturally insensitive. But they will definitely need our help to get there," said Kwan after the meeting on November 19th.

Since the meeting in November, ODT made several changes to their choreography, wardrobe, and props in the Chinese scene.

“We were happy to make the necessary adjustments and we have been grateful to those who came forward to point out the changes that needed to be made," said Yeager.

"We are pleased that ODT’s company and management has made a sincere apology and sought our input to avoid further unfortunate mis-steps. As a result of our input, portions of the program have been reworked," said Kwan. "Keep in mind that the sequence you will see represents a fantasy world and is not an attempt to portray our Asian American community. While this, and every ODT performance, is a work in progress, we are pleased that our collaboration has led to a better understanding and a new relationship between the company and our community."

In addition to the changes made to ODT's choreography, leaders in the local Asian community have requested that:

  • ODT participates in a cultural competency workshop series
  • ODT dancers to be compensated to participate in a cultural and racial mentorship program
  • ODT to join the Utah Cultural Alliance
  • Mutual cross-support and promotion (i.e. through festivals and conferences , outreach to promote arts among youth in the local Asian community)

ReduxNut-Cracker will take place from December 12th to 22nd at Kingsbury Hall. For more information, click here.


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