British theatre director Peter Brook scoops top Spanish prize

The acclaimed British theatre director Peter Brook has been honoured with one of Spain’s most prestigious prizes, scooping the Princess of Asturias Award for the Arts.

British theatre director Peter Brook scoops top Spanish prize
Photo: Peter Brook Official Site / FPA

The 94-year-old will join a roll call of Asturias Arts award laureates that include, Francis Ford Coppola, Norman Foster and Woody Allen.

Announcing the winner, the foundation said  in a statement that Peter Brook had been chosen for opening “new horizons in contemporary dramaturgy, contributing decisively to the exchange of knowledge between cultures as different as those of Europe, Africa and Asia,”

The jury said Brook “continues to thrill in an intense way through stage plays of great purity and simplicity”. 

Best-known for his 1985 masterpiece “The Mahabharata”, a nine-hour version of the Indian religious epic, Brook had moved to Paris in the 1970s, where he created the experimental Bouffes du Nord theatre. 

Born in London on March 21, 1925, he was directing professionally at the age of 17.

Brook was an established director of the works of Shakespeare, George Bernard Shaw and Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen by his early 20s, and of Broadway hits when not yet in his 30s.

Brook directed productions for London's Royal Opera House, known for putting on Richard Strauss' opera Salome in 1949, with sets and costumes  created by Spain's superstar surrealist artist Salvador Dali.   

The New York Times said in 2005 that Brook was one of the most successful directors “at bringing avant-garde approaches in acting and staging to institutional theatres and thus to mainstream audiences”.   

“The result was revolutionary; the staging of the classics was forever altered,” it said.

The Princess of Asturias Foundation hands its arts prize each year for a “contribution to the cultural heritage of mankind”, along with awards in seven other categories.

Martin Scorsese won the prize last year and other recent winners of the arts prize include US architect Frank Gehry and Austrian filmmaker Michael Haneke.

The awards will be handed out in a ceremony presided by Spain's King Felipe and broadcast live on Spanish television around October.

They were named the Prince of Asturias awards after Felipe, until he became king, passing the title to his now 13-year-old daughter, and heir to the throne, Princess Leonor.

READ MORE Gallery: Winners of Spain's most prestigious award

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

Berlin State Ballet's first black dancer Chloe Lopes Gomes said she has been made to feel different because of her skin colour since she first donned ballet shoes as a child.

Berlin State Ballet's first black dancer stands strong in racism row
Lopes Gomes in front of the Deutsche Oper in Berlin. Photo: Odd Andersen/AFP

But after she was again subjected to what she described as “racism” at Germany's largest dance company, she has launched a fightback that has forced the State Ballet to launch an internal investigation into her complaints.

In an interview with AFP, Lopes Gomes stood by her allegations against the Berlin company, arguing that it was time for the classical ballet world to address the issue.

Recalling instances where she was made to feel uncomfortable, Lopes Gomes cited a rehearsal for a production of the 19th-century ballet “La Bayadere”, when the company's ballet mistress was handing around white veils for the dancers to wear.

READ ALSO: OPINION: When will Germany deal with its casual racism problem?

When she got to Lopes Gomes, she laughed, the 29-year-old French dancer told AFP.

“I can't give you one. The veil is white and you're black,” she was told.

Another dancer from the company confirmed Lopes Gomes' account on condition of anonymity.

The ballet mistress “said it like it was a joke… I was completely shocked,” she said.


Lopes Gomes, who studied at the renowned Bolshoi ballet in Moscow, felt humiliated — but not surprised.

She had been subject to “harassment” at the hands of her boss ever since her arrival in Berlin in 2018, she said.

Lopes Gomes at the Deutsche Oper. Photo: Odd Andersen

“In our first rehearsal for 'Swan Lake', six of us were new but all of the corrections were directed at me,” she said.

The remarks continued for months. “She used to say to me, 'When you're not in line, you are the only person we see because you are black'” — comments also confirmed by the other dancer.

Lopes Gomes carried on, because she is a “hard worker” who wanted to show “that I deserved my place”, said the dancer, born to a French mother and a Cape Verdean father.

But the stress took its toll. She injured her foot, leading to eight months off and a course of anti-depressants.

READ ALSO: OPINION: My experiences of everyday racism in Germany

After her return, last February, she was asked to wear white make-up for a production following the departure of a director who had opposed the idea.

“Lightening my skin felt like denying my identity,” said Lopes Gomes, who has also performed with the Opera de Nice in France and Switzerland's Ballet Bejart.

When told of the allegations in the autumn, the company, which employs people of 30 different nationalities, responded with shock.

“We didn't think we could be affected by everyday racism simply because of our diversity. In fact, we never thought about it. But we were wrong,” acting director Christiane Theobald told AFP.

Asking a black artist to wear white make-up is an “absolute no-go”, she admits.

In December, the Berlin State Ballet launched an internal investigation into discrimination and racism.

“All employees can anonymously report any incidents of discrimination,” Theobald said.

The ballet mistress at the centre of the scandal has refused to comment and the company does not wish to speculate on possible disciplinary proceedings against her for legal reasons.

Lopes Gomes will leave the Berlin State Ballet in July as her contract was not renewed.

'Tuck in your black ass'

Lopes Gomes in front of the Deutsche Oper U-Bahn. Photo: Odd Andersen/AFP

In a world that is “very elitist and exclusive”, she knows she has taken a risk by speaking out.

But she has the support of others in the dance world, including her brother Isaac Lopes Gomes, a dancer at the Opera de Paris, and his colleagues.

“I don't know anyone who hasn't had racist comments like 'You have to straighten your hair because you have a lion's mane, you have to tuck in your black ass, you jump like Kirikou (the African child star of an animated film)',” Lopes Gomes said.

READ ALSO: 'Black lives need to matter in Germany': New project to uncover racism in everyday life

Since she began dancing as a child, she has been made to feel like an outsider.

“They never had the right make-up for my skin tone, I had to bring my own. And I was the only one who had to adapt my hairstyles” because the hairdressers didn't know how to style frizzy hair, she said.

She was always “so desperate” to fit in that she just went along with it. “But these are details that make you feel excluded.”

It's an uphill battle, given that classical ballet is governed by strict rules dating back to the 19th century that are designed to create an impression of homogeneity.

But it's time for that to change, Lopes Gomes said. “I'm tired of hearing that you can't hire black people because they don't have the bodies for ballet. It's just an excuse.”

By Yannick Pasquet