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High-bounding Bounders: The Cads of Ballet
Every cad deserves a come-uppance! Here are some of ballet's most memorable players.
23 May 2011
Danilo, The Merry Widow
Danilo, the dashing Pontovedrian playboy, is not only a cad, he’s a snob. Although he falls in love with the peasant girl Hanna in his youth, he’s persuaded by his aristocratic parents to jilt her. When she reappears years later, remade as a glitteringly rich sophisticate, he falls for her all over again. Tiffs, huffs and jealous rages keep the lovers apart – until, at the very last moment, Danilo relents and woos Hanna into his arms for a rhapsodic romance-sealing waltz.
Like Danilo, Albrecht is a nobleman who trifles with a peasant girl. Just how caddish Albrecht is depends on the interpretation of the dancer playing him. Does he flirt with Giselle as a diversion, heedless of the consequences, or does he fall so deeply in love with her that he genuinely forgets his responsibilities (including a high-born fiancée)? Either way, Albrecht is transformed – saddened and deepened – by the death of Giselle and his night in the wili-haunted forest.
One of the viler sorts of cads, Lescaut is a boozer, a philanderer, a girlfriend-beater and the kind of man who doesn’t hesitate to pimp his own sister. The pas de trois where he dangles Manon under the nose of the sleazy Monsieur GM, encouraging him to fondle her, is one of ballet’s creepiest moments. Lescaut also commits a male dancer's greatest faux pas – making his partner look like a sack of lard – in the cunningly clumsy ‘drunken pas de deux’ with his prostitute mistress. And yet, he’s one of the most mesmerising characters in Manon.
There’s no cad like a Russian cad. Onegin affects a Byronic scorn for the besotted country girl Tatiana; he mercilessly breaks her heart, dallies with his own best friend’s best girl then kills him in the ensuing duel. Years later, a come-uppance awaits. He discovers a transformed Tatiana (like the Merry Widow, she’s acquired a rich husband, some town polish and some drop-dead dresses) and falls for her. Tatiana, though she loves him still, will have none of it. Like Albrecht, Onegin seems doomed to a future of empty yearning.
Pinkerton, Madame Butterfly
The boorish Pinkerton, an American sailor, ‘weds’ the innocent Japanese girl Butterfly, despite being promised to his sweetheart back home. Butterfly takes the marriage seriously, even converting to her new husband’s religion. Pinkerton, although infatuated by the shy beauty, treats it as an interlude and breaks his promise to return. When he finally does show up, it’s with his American bride in tow. Does Pinkerton feel real remorse when it all ends in tears and blood, or is it just momentary shock?