The Buttcracker: Dragging Ballet into Queer Places.

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


    This chapter interrogates photography as an incitement to the construction of micro-performances in the poses its subjects make for the lens, and as an agent of drag in the manner in which filters and editing software objectify and exaggerate subjects into impossible versions of themselves.

    Since 2013, photographer Helen Newall and dancer/performer Mark Edward have collaborated to poke an irreverent finger at the gloriously ostentatious world of ballet and the contiguous domain of its glossy performance photography. Both participants adore these worlds, and yet find in them a pomposity in the over-the–top ‘life-and-deathness’ of its narratives and protagonists, as well as the elitist structures of being ‘othered’ by being the wrong gender, the wrong class, and with little access to the finances to follow such an art form. Though she had never shown an interest in ballet, Newall remembers being given The Princess Tina Ballet Book one Christmas, while Edward recalls having to conceal any inclination towards dance, and ballet in particular, in a strong male dominant working class culture. And yet, both are drawn to the fantasy of the satin and tulle costumes, and the perfection of being on pointe, presented without any outward hint of the corporeal reality of the blood, sweat and tears of the twisted feet. Ballet is thus about concealment and effortlessly being who you are not. Ballerinas are, after all, secret princesses, The Princess Tina Ballet Book attests to this. But we could only look: we could never be princesses; we were too dumpy, and of the wrong social class, and, in Edward's case, too male. The chips on our shoulders have taken decades to eat (salted with tears, and splashed with bitter British vinegar), but nevertheless they still demanded an irreverent, disruptive and subversive response: the first was Dying Swans and Dragged Up Dames, a visual interrogation of the tropes of an elitist art, and its representation in still imagery via the pomposity-pricking art form of drag. To make this interrogation, Edward, carrying too much weight, posed as international icons of the art form; the elfin prima ballerinas and lithe principle male dancers. Newall captured this in digital stills which were subsequently composited in Photoshop. The participants deemed the dragging up to be extant both within the costuming and make-up of the performer, and in the Photoshop treatment of the photography. In most instances, there was an inciting iconic image – of, for example, Margot Fonteyn as the Firebird (which became the Fired Bird), or a leaping Rudolf Nureyev (redubbed Rudolf Near-enuff). The result was a series of tragi-comic images, which exhibited in 2013 and 2014. The second phase, currently underway is The Buttcracker, which further interrogates relationships between photography and drag and performance, and queers ballet’s on stage and off stage narratives in its celebration of the performance of high art as pantomime. Performance work set in Carnegie Hall, Sydney Opera House, Covent Garden (among others) will be explored. Newall will discuss photography as an agent of drag. Edward will discuss posing as the dragged up performance of revelation

    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationDrag Histories, Herstories & Hairstories
    Subtitle of host publicationDrag in a Changing Scene
    EditorsMark Edward, Stephen Farrier
    Place of PublicationLondon
    PublisherBloomsbury Methuen Drama
    ISBN (Electronic)9781350104372
    ISBN (Print)9781350104365
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2021

    Publication series



    • Drag Performance
    • Performance Evaluation


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