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September 28, 2009 | by  | in Theatre | [ssba]

Steel Ballerina


Dame Margot Fonteyn was one of the defining voices of modern ballet. Easily one of the greatest classical ballet dancers ever, she bucked many a trend of the short-lived dancer’s career by continuing to wow audiences well into her forties. So, it pains me, insufferable culture vulture that I am, to admit that there lies all my knowledge. I am annoyingly ignorant when it comes to dance, and going into Brave theatre company’s semi-biography of Fonteyn, Steel Ballerina, I feared for the worst. Would be stupid ignorance leave me lost in the mud? Would I have a clue what was going on? I shouldn’t have feared. Steel Ballerina hits a striking balance of context and expostion without condescension. I have no doubt whatsoever that even the most dance-dyslexic audience member could attend Steel Ballerina and they would still get a lot from it.

Steel Ballerina is in many ways a rather standard biographic play, it is lifted way out of the deep mores of its genre by the sheer skill of its execution. Mel Dodge gives a series of tour-de-force performances as Fonteyn herself and Anna, our fictional narrator. Dodge is infinitely watchable and gives touching and detailed performances in all roles asked of her. Pagan Dorgan plays a much more nebulous role, mostly mute, she expresses, complements, interacts and explores through dance the more literal narrative presented through Dodge’s performance. The two performers work exceptionally well together, making what could easily have been a disjointed show infinitely harmonious.

The narrative flits back and forth through time, which could have been more confusing than necessary if not for Jacqueline Coats’ assured and clean direction. The design was all extremely pretty, if somewhat utilitarian.

The only real issue I can find with Steel Ballerina is with its somewhat spasmodic use of narrative techniques. When Dodge would speak to an off-stage character sometimes we could hear them, some times we couldn’t. This made the piece, at points, feel somewhat indecisive. Beyond that however, I am proud to declare Steel Ballerina one of the finest theatrical works I’ve seen this year. Bravo.

Steel Ballerina
Devised by Mel Dodge, Pagan Dorgan and Jacqueline Coats
Directed by Jacqueline Coats
With Mel Dodge and Pagan Dorgan
At BATS, 15—19 Sept 2009
Part of Dance Your Socks Off 2009


About the Author ()

Uther was one of the two arts editors in 2009. He was the horoscopier and theatre writer in 2010. Alongside Elle Hunt, Uther was coeditor in 2011.

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