I have long had a fondness for men in drag I take it back to a balmy spring afternoon of childhood yore when I first discovered my grandmother’s jewellery box (and my mother looked on aghast) and of course I adore Classical Ballet, so, like a pilgrim to Canterbury (or, rather like a drag queen to the stage) I travelled to the Peacock Theatre in Holborn, which, until 8th April, plays host to their Imperial Highnesses, the Prima Ballerinas of Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo.
In this wonderful company’s second programme we traverse a vast landscape of balletic style and technique. We begin in the Romantic dream-world of Fokine’s evocation of the ballet blanc, Les Sylphides, created on his muses Pavlova, Karsarvina and Njinsky. The poet, Stanislas Kokitch, wanders through the moonlit glade conjuring up an opiate-induced fantasy of ballerinas in white tulle, deliriously unaware and absolutely vacant of manner. His Romantic vision, with whom he engages (but seems never to engage) is Margeaux Mundyen, possessed of a miraculously lyrical style (beautifully recalling the poetry of Pavlova’s dancing) in spite of her elephantine size. She has a meltingly lovely back, soft and willowy arms and the gentlest of expressions, yet when she jumps the tremors are felt for miles and lower and lower go the legs of the girls in the corps.
There is more of Fokine’s choreography for Pavlova in The Dying Swan, which is a great joke improving with each telling. Ida Nevasayneva has relaxed her (iron) grip on the role and this time it was danced by Lariska Dumbchenko, deliciously curdling the cream of the Fokine choreography until she falls victim to an off-stage gunshot (perhaps it is the jealous Miss Nevasayneva) first goes a wing, then goes a leg but never, ever, goes the wondrously narcissistic egotism.
But there is more to the company than slap-stick humour, for great comedy is much more than that. From Aristophanes upwards we see comedy as a manipulation of the highest of art forms. Thus when Anna Russell used to parody Wagner’s Ring Cycle, she did so with the greatest of Wagnerian techniques and when Les Dawson used to mangle Chopin’s Preludes, he did so with an absolute technical command of the instrument. So we see in these ballerinas (and their cavaliers) peerless artistry and total integrity. It is no surprise perhaps that on the same evening as the Bolshoi Ballet opened in Birmingham we could also see perfect Bolshoi bravura technique from (the artist formerly known as) Prince Myshkin in The Flames of Paris Pas de Deux, executing the barrel turns as perfectly as we have seen in the video clips of Lavrovsky or Vasiliev and when the company dances the Raymonda Act 3 they do so perfect in step, if somewhat bawdy in manner, most especially the glorious Olga Supphozova. And there she is again in the marvellous Go for Barocco, set to the Bach Double Violin Concerto and a brilliant parody of Balanchine figures which wind in and out of each other, tangling and (somehow) untangling up. It fizzes in shape and movement; it is cool, clean and cries out “That’s New York, Baby!”
This is not just a fabulous evening of Travesti, but a stupendous evening of Classical dance and a stunning evening of theatre. We are amused, we are amazed and I am wondering whatever did happen to Granny’s jewellery box?