British ballerina dances into political storm
LONDON, Jan 13 (Reuters) Around 50 protesters shouting the slogan ''Ballet not bigotry!'' staged a noisy protest outside a London theatre where a ballerina and member of a far-right British political party was due to perform.
The demonstration outside the Coliseum threatened to upset the genteel world of pirouettes and arabesques as Simone Clarke prepared to play the lead in the romantic classic ''Giselle''.
The English National Ballet's principal dancer was named in a newspaper last month as a member of the British National Party (BNP), a minority anti-immigration party.
Campaign group Unite Against Fascism has called for Clarke, 36, to stand down, saying she has been used to ''promote and prettify extreme right-wing politics''.
''There is no place for fascist ideas in the arts,'' said Donna Guthrie, 36, a campaigner for the group. ''We're calling on her to resign from the party or leave the company.'' Demonstrators shouted ''Stop the fascist BNP! and carried placards saying ''Dance against racism!'' As the row escalates, Clarke has refused to back down.
''I will be known as the BNP Ballerina. I think that will stick with me for life,'' she told the Mail on Sunday newspaper.
''I would rather it wasn't like that but I don't regret anything.
I will stay a member.
''I have been labelled a racist and a fascist because I have a view on immigration -- and I mean mass immigration -- but isn't that something that a lot of people worry about?'' She said her partner Yat Sen-Chang, a dancer with Chinese-Cuban roots, had urged her to join the party. Clarke could not immediately be reached for comment.
IMMIGRATION ISSUE Immigration has become one of Britain's key political issues, with mainstream parties pledging to tighten the borders.
Political opponents say the BNP is racist. Conservative leader David Cameron has said its members ''thrive on hate''.
BNP member Richard Barnbrook was outside the theatre, where he was greeted with shouts of ''racist dog'' and ''Nazi scum''.
''There's no reason why she should be ousted,'' he said. ''She supports a legitimate political party.'' Clarke's stance has angered race groups and, media reports say, some other members of the company. One major sponsor has expressed its ''unease'', according to the Independent newspaper.
The English National Ballet said it ''fully supports the democratic right of people to mount a legal protest''.
''Any personal view expressed by one of our employees should not be considered as endorsed by the company,'' it said.
Ballet lovers are divided. Users of an Internet chatroom debated whether the dancer's private views had any bearing on her job. Some saw her as misguided, but many were sympathetic.
''Why should her career be in jeopardy for making a choice to support a legal, if repugnant, political party in a free society?'' asked Helene on the Ballet Talk Web site.
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