Up to 100 protesters demonstrated outside the London Coliseum theatre this lunchtime against the first performance by Simone Clarke, principal dancer at the English National Ballet (ENB), since she was revealed as a card-carrying member of the fascist British National Party (BNP).
The protest, organised by Unite Against Fascism, was lively with constant chanting against the BNP. Demonstrators carried placards reading “Ballet not bigotry” and “No to fascism and racism at the ballet”. The demo also attracted significant interest from the mainstream media.
Clarke’s membership of the BNP was revealed in the Guardian newspaper over Christmas. She responded by giving a lengthy and unrepentant interview with the Mail on Sunday where she showered praise on the BNP’s anti-immigration agenda.
The actual performance of Giselle was disrupted by protesters from Love Music Hate Racism shortly after Clarke made her entrance on stage. They stood up and shouted that her presence was a disgrace, that there should be no racism in the arts, and that the BNP was a fascist organisation.
A group of a dozen or so Nazis were also at the performance, huddled around Richard Barnbrook, the BNP’s mayoral candidate and lead councillor in Barking & Dagenham. They loudly applauded and cheered when Clarke made her entrance.
Emma Blackwood, a visual artist and musician from west London, was on the Unite protest outside. She highlighted the BNP’s bigoted attitudes towards lesbians, gay men, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people.
“Simone Clarke represents a fascist organisation. That seems to me to be incongruent with the arts world, which involves lots of LGBT people,” she told Socialist Worker.
“Clarke’s allegiance to the BNP must be distressing for her colleagues as well as for artists in general. She’s being employed by a publicly funded organisation, so she should not be publicly aligning herself with a fascist political party.”
Renowned classical pianist Ian Pace was also on the Unite protest. “It is incompatible for Clarke to be an active BNP member – going to meetings and using her prominence to promote the organisation – while also being in a multicultural state funded arts organisation,” he said.
“If she were to leave the BNP, then fine. But if not, she cannot remain part of a company with an extremely diverse group of dancers, many of whom are immigrants – she has to go.
“I also think she should say what she thinks about the politics of the BNP – which include Holocaust denial, racism and criminal violence.”
According to an article in today’s Independent newspaper, Clarke’s fascist sympathies have attracted anger from colleagues and workers at the ENB.
It reports “growing frustration among the troupe’s 150 dancers and backstage staff that Clarke has not been publicly challenged about her views when nine out her ten fellow principal dancers are immigrants”.
Both the Musicians’ Union and the Bectu theatre workers’ union have spoken out against Clarke and condemned the BNP. The actors’ union Equity, in contrast, has failed to comment.
Gerry Morrissey, Bectu’s assistant general secretary, said, “Simone Clarke earns her living in the subsidised arts and with this goes certain responsibilities, with which she has failed to comply. She has brought our industry into disrepute.”