Feast of St David

Really there is no truth in the allegation, made privately to me by a woman who may have known me too long, that I am, like Louis-Ferdinand Céline, fatally attracted to ballerinas. It would be more accurate to call them coryphées.

The cat can look at the queen, as my mother used to say, and I will surely look in admiration upon she who rises to the station of ballerina — a term which, gentle reader should know, is parallel with diva in the opera. It is not a job description. It is an acknowledgement of genius and high art. The job description in English is merely, “ballet dancer.” At the top you have your prima, then your first soloists, then your second soloists — in our own (estimable) National Ballet. Eventually you come down to the corps de ballet, the footsoldiers of the outfit. (There are male dancers, too. Let us just ignore them.)

The coryphée, to my understanding, is somewhere between the soloists and the corps de ballet. At worst she may perform as a drill sergeant for the latter. In the gymnastic, athletic, almost football atmosphere of contemporary ballet, this is what it looks like. A cruelly limited popular repertoire focuses the attention on the play-by-play, as in any spectator sport. And this is the age of feminism, when our leading ladies of the dance present as tom-boys. I hardly ever go to the ballet any more; I used to when there was still some possibility of enchantment. But today the eternal feminine, the spookily erotic, has been replaced by “sex appeal” — the slab of meat laid out on the high-class butcher’s counter. Or shrink-wrapped by photography for the masses. I don’t like that.

Old-fashioned ballet was shapes and patterns and musical progressions; the new stuff is more like football, plus sex, right there on the field.

But it is true, all my life, or at least since I can remember (for even as a boy), I’ve been enchanted by coryphées. (Please do not say I am shallow; of course I am shallow, for I am a boy.)

An amateur of this business might call them “pretty girls.” There is more to it than that, however. Graceful movement comes into it: not so much a defiance of gravity, as a studied indifference to it. There was a time when mothers, in every known culture, taught their daughters how to walk; taught them how to bear a bowl or platter to the table; how to lift a vase of flowers. Perhaps no one today will know what I am talking about. But if I make any feminist good and angry, I will at least have accomplished something.

A prima ballerina assoluta I have never wanted, never needed: those you have to share with the world. My own aspiration never rose above a coryphée.