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Ballets Russes, the Musical

Posted on May 30, 2010

Perhaps the strangest and most small-scale tribute to the Ballets Russes centenary has been David Reiser’s pocket show, staged in London’s tiny pub theatre, The Rosemary Branch. Size is not, however, everything, as director Vik Sivalingam’s cast of eight tells the story with gusto of Vaslav Nijinsky’s time with Serge Diaghilev’s company.

Yes, Reiser does play loose with the historical facts (prima ballerina Matilde Tchessinska [sic] danced only one season with the company), and it does, admittedly, take a little time to adjust to the idea of a singing Nijinsky and a dancing Diaghilev, but there is much to commend in this little piece.

Reiser is at his best when his tongue is firmly in his cheek – the vaudeville number for Tchessinska, “When you’re intimate with the Tsar”, and the latino-rhythmed “We’re off to Buenos Aires” (for the company’s South American tour) are pure enjoyment; when he ventures into love songs à la Disney, it is all a little more shaky. If there is one major fault, it is that Nijinsky and his oddness only come to the fore in the second half, leading to a genuinely affecting break with Diaghilev.

With the minimum of props, the all-dancing, all-singing cast launch into the work with total commitment, the laurels going to Frank Loman’s measured Diaghilev whose loss of Nijinsky to the scheming Romola was keenly conveyed – he has a terrific singing voice to boot. Rapidly paced, with nothing outstaying its welcome, Ballets Russes, the Musical has secured not a little degree of success and deserves a further outing, with some work done to it and opened out somewhat.



Gerald Dowler writes for the Financial Times, Ballet 2000 and several dance publications and websites. His articles have included appreciations of both Bronislava Nijinska and Antony Tudor and he has interviewed extensively for Dancing Times. He teaches at the City of London School.

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