Steel Ballerina

September 19, 2009 at 11:29 pm | Posted in Play Review | Leave a comment
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September 16, 2009 by Show_Hanger

I went to the opening night of Jacqueline Coats’ one act play, Steel Ballarina, the other night, at BATS Theatre. This performance played to a full house.

This play is inspired by the latter half of Dame Margot Fonteyn’s life. At the age of 42, on the verge of retirement, she establishes a dance partnership with Rudolf Nureyev – recently defected from Russia. Thus probably the dancer of his generation and the dancer of a prevous generation unite to form one of the most well known partnerships in ballet; thereby cementing Nureyev’s place in history and placing Dame Margot at the fore of another generation.

The play explores Dame Margot’s motivation for dancing another 20 years past the time when most other ballerinas normally retire. The play exposes both Fonteyn’s and Nureyev’s need to dance, and the support they gave each other as time finally caught up with Fonteyn (both with her and her husband Tito) and as AIDS caught up with Nureyev.

The play has two actors: Mel Dodge and Pagan Dorgan. One plays Fonteyn’s fictional companion and caregiver – Ana; the other plays Fonteyn the dancer. The programme does not say who is which so I will refer to them as ‘Ana’ and as ‘The Dancer’. The play is a little complicated as Ana is sometimes Fonteyn addressing the audience, and sometimes herself. Ana has most of the dialogue; sometimes conversing with apparent recordings of Nureyev. The Dancer dances – to classical or other music – whenever the playwright wishes to reinforce the mood of Fonteyn dancing.

The play begins with a rather confusing sequence which appears to be the two characters being driven to the hospital, when Fonteyn is very ill. The majority of the play is one long flashback picking up the highlights of Fonteyn’s life from the time just before she partners with Nureyev to her retirement. The play ends with Fonteyn’s death. The death scene consists of The Dancer doing a variation of the Dying Swan, complete with a shower of feathers.

I went away a little disappointed that there was not more dancing, what there was was technically adequate, but not light or soft as Dame Margot would have done it. But after consideration, I decided that it is a play, and not a dance; so what dancing there was, was adequate and sufficient to create the right mood. And besides there is only one Dame Margot, what accomplished ballet dancer would want to hold herself up for direct comparison?

All-in-all worth going to: strong story and innovative direction.

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