Saturday, 25 April 2009

23 Reflections on Men in Tutus

I went to the ballet a few weeks ago. I’m not a big fan of the ballet and I’ve only ever previously seen one ballet-Giselle at Sadlers Wells theatre when I was a young and impressionable 21 year-old on his first gay date with an older and more sophisticated guy. It didn’t appeal to me at the time and the whole stuffy upper class atmosphere didn’t do it for me. However the ballet on this occaision was a whole different kettle of fish!
Les Ballets Trocadero de Monte Carlo is a troupe of some 20 guys in tutus putting on a show which was in equal parts accomplished artistry and comical spoofery. Just to imagine a hairy bloke in a tutu is comical! And this performance fitted with a tradition of men dressing as women in the theatre- early actors, pantomime dames, drag queens and so on. But the very high calibre of the dancing athleticism took this genre to a whole new level.
It got me thinking about how gay men are generally constrained by societal gender norms to behave, think and feel in predefined ways which they generally, at one level or another, ultimately disregard but for which they pay the price of invalidation. The world of ballet similarly expects male dancers to move and perform as stereotypical males and female dancers to move and perform as stereotypical females. This dance troupe showed what was possible when feminine acting men [note- I’m not using the word effeminate] push themselves into female dancing roles. The effect for me was a celebration of what has been referred to as the Third Gender-neither male nor female but an equally exciting and authentic gender capable of excellence in performing either performance role no less validly.
Sadly the spoofery had to be part of the performance because, I suppose, as a society we aren’t ready to accept men dressing and performing as women unless it is done as a joke. Sadly, still, there are only two boxes to tick on the form asking about gender. Growing up as gay men there are generally only two types of gender role stereotypes for us to identify with –Straight Acting Bloke or Camp Queen.
However there were moments during that ballet performance, mixed in with all the campery, buffoonery and drag-queenery, when there emerged a powerful, capable, creative, disciplined, athletic, professional presence; mesmerising and enchanting!
Now wouldn’t that be a worthwhile stereotype for us to get to see more of around the place?
Let’s see more of Men in Tutus! Let’s stop the impulse to smirk, and instead, let us appreciate creative beauty in all its forms wherever and however it manifests itself!

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