Chase Johnsey’s unlikely success is a bold and beautiful victory for ballet

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Classical ballet is notoriously an art form that imposes exacting standards of perfection on its dancers. But while it is the women who are presented as the principal victims of those standards – with some battling dangerously to maintain a low weight and lean physique – there are plenty of men for whom body image is problematic.

Chase Johnsey was a natural-born dance prodigy. A child champion in American clogging, he took his first ballet class at the age of 14 and displayed a startling aptitude. Yet, as Johnsey himself has acknowledged, he was an unusually short, skinny and effeminate teenager, very far from the “heroic” physique required for classical men; his teachers had to warn him that he stood little chance of a career in ballet. Johnsey, however, was undaunted – and identified the one company that could offer him a home.

Over the decades, the all-male troupe Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo has showcased every kind of maverick dancer in its witty, loving pastiches of the classical repertory. When Johnsey was hired by the Trocks in 2004, his talent found the perfect platform. Performing Prince roles under the stage name Roland Deaulin, he proved a hilariously virtuoso foil to the company’s biggest, beefiest “ballerinas”; cast as a ballerina himself (AKA Yakaterina Verbosovich), he utilised all of his natural speed and grace, along with his fabulously articulate pointe work, in tutu roles such as Kitri and Odette.

When the Trocks toured the UK last year, it was Johnsey’s performances that dominated their reviews, particularly the splendour of his dancing in Paquita. Fittingly, his gifts have been acknowledged at the National Dance awards, where he has won the headline award, best male dancer. In doing so, he faced off competition from the likes of Vadim Muntagirov and Alexander Campbell, both principal dancers at the Royal. Johnsey’s win is not only a celebration of his talent, but also a celebration of the fact that ballet, however rigorous its traditions, has an inalienable genius for the wayward, the comic and the camp.

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