Men in Tutus
Artscape Opera House, Foreshore, Cape Town
April 18 to 21
All the way from the flouncing rivalry in the Pas de quatre to Siegfried’s sexy arse … I mean … um … to Swan Lake – or a semblance of the second act of that great classic ballet – it was slapstick en pointe. Well, the men weren’t en pointe of course … oh, no, no … the men were en pointe. Except for those in the male roles – they weren’t en pointe; that would be silly. They weren’t in tutus either. Only the other men were in tutus.
Maria, Carlotta, Fanny and Lucile – that’s what I’ll have to call them, because there were no programmes for Les Ballets Eloelle’s Men in Tutus at the Teatro at Montecasino, Johannesburg. Those guys started the show in the delightful parody of the Pas de Quatre that was choreographed for the four greatest ballerinas in 1845. The originals must be turning in their 19th-century graves. But maybe not, because, really, it was such fun.
After that the lights came up again on an empty stage and then … those unmistakable notes of the introduction to the Le Corsaire Pas de Deux. For a second my heart sank. How could I watch a farcical interpretation of this tremendous ballet showpiece? But then I did. And it was fabulous. Medora was a petite little number and, boy, could she and her Ali dance. She may have flirted shamelessly with the guys in the front row before leaving the stage, but, you know, a guy’s got to do what a girl’s got to do.
I mention that Medora was dainty because some of the other ballerinas … weren’t. Take Columbine, for instance. A broad-shouldered lass. And so charmingly taken with her Harlequin.
We shifted to a more recent era with Go for Barocco, a take on Mr B’s love of the ballerina. Without knowing George Balanchine’s 1941 Concerto Barocco I can’t judge this take on it but this was my favourite of the evening. There was less burlesque and more dancing. Six gorgeous guys in their simple but stylish little black numbers, dancing light-heartedly and enjoying the breadth of movement. For me, pity about the relentless Bach.
Then … The Dying Swan. This particular swan must sing its song. It’s too much. It’s been done before by others and better. Even the spotlight searching for the swan has been done with more character. The parody was taken into the music as well. There’s over the top and then just … enough already.
However, the other swans … those at/in the lake … there was some poignancy there. And the swimming and underwater gestures were a masterstroke. The somewhat staunch Odette really has to escape from the evil Liberace … uh … whatshisname? … Von Rothbart (that bejewelled cape!), and sees Siegfried’s backside … sees Siegfried as her saviour. She and her swans prance around on their toes with eager determination and the four cygnets dance with gay abandon.
Having twice seen all these betutued pieces done by another male comedy ballet company, Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo – with whom Eloelle’s artistic director Victor Trevino danced for 10 years – in years gone by, I would have preferred to see this company take on other classics. But, the years pass and there’s a younger generation for whom this is new.
Lately I’ve been going through a phase of being tired of the itsy-bitsy, too sweet, too pink nature of some approaches to ballet. Well, this was another kind of pink altogether. Although there’s mostly an absence of subtlety in the show, hoofing it up rather than gently playing, it was an entertaining evening and the audience cheered and rose to their feet at the end. After which we were rewarded with a brief spectacle of just what these guys … these girls can do … those fouettés!
It’s amazing the way an audience can become so energised by a live performance that they want to prolong it with encores and then meet the cast after the show. The foyer was buzzing with enthusiasm as people tried to reach the dancers who had come out for selfies. Some of us even hugged the performers. I hope the Men in Tutus (and the three who weren’t) know how rejuvenating their entertainment is … thank you to them.