A Flower of Precocious Depravity
October 4, 2018 2:02 PM   Subscribe

"The formerly upright ballet had taken on the role of unseemly cabaret; in Paris, its success was almost entirely predicated on lecherous social contracts. Sex work was a part of a ballerina’s reality, and the city’s grand opera house, the Palais Garnier, was designed with this in mind. A luxuriously appointed room located behind the stage, called the foyer de la danse, was a place where the dancers would warm up before performances. But it also served as a kind of men’s club, where abonnés—wealthy male subscribers to the opera—could conduct business, socialize, and proposition the ballerinas.

These relationships always involved an unbalanced power dynamic. Young female members of the corps de ballet entered the academy as children. Many of these ballerinas-in-training, derisively called “petits rats,” came from working-class or impoverished backgrounds. They often joined the ballet to support their families, working grueling, six-day weeks." - The Sordid Truth behind Degas’s Ballet Dancers
posted by Anonymous (11 comments total)

This post was deleted for the following reason: Poster's Request -- frimble



 
The novel The Painted Girls is a fairly good rendition of what it must have been like to be Marie van Goethem. It is not kind to Degas. I wonder if, in real life, she left the ballet out of shame. I find it so difficult to see what contemporary viewers saw in her face that was so horrific. She wasn't doll-faced or plump, as the times required, but she was perfectly fine and perfectly toned. Today, she could wear whatever she liked and be proud.

The novel suggests that Degas's callousness (preferable though it was to sex work) was inspired by scientific racism. I can see that Marie does look a little like a caricature of an Irish person from the period, although those seem to have little enough to do with actual Irish people. But why she did not inspire at least the tenderness felt for ill-clad beggar waifs in Victorian art, I can hardly see. Maybe it's because she's capable and absorbed in her work. She is not acknowledging the viewer; she has no self-consciousness, and certainly no shame. Compare the positive critical view of the four-thousand-year-old Dancing Girl of Mohenjo-daro, one hundred years later: "We may not be certain that she was a dancer, but she was good at what she did and she knew it."
posted by Countess Elena at 2:26 PM on October 4, 2018 [19 favorites]


This fits right in: "Historian solves mystery of a Gustave Courbet Painting".
posted by acrasis at 3:53 PM on October 4, 2018 [13 favorites]


No stories but just don't pretend it stopped in the 20th or current century.

It's quite clear in the ballet history books, tutu's were designed to show off the legs for the, cough, gentlemen in the front row.

Some differing opinion on terminology The students, affectionately referred to as “les petits rats” (a name probably inspired by the sound of their pattering feet on the rehearsal studio floor, once located in the attic above the Palais Garnier stage),
posted by sammyo at 4:59 PM on October 4, 2018 [4 favorites]


I'm sure most of you know this but the NYCB in the last 18 months has pushed out it's artistic director for abuses and in the last month had a scandal involving three principle male dancers and a donor exchanging nudes of ballerinas and videos of sex with ballerinas in the company.
posted by JPD at 5:10 PM on October 4, 2018 [19 favorites]


This fits in oddly with my mental image of ballet (which is not informed by much contact with the culture, so take this as a snapshot of one woman’s stereotypes). Like, it gels well with the “eating disorders” part of my mental tableau, but not so much with the “wholesome hobby for privileged kids” part.

What about male dancers? Where did they fit in this scene, in the late nineteenth century?
posted by eirias at 5:54 PM on October 4, 2018 [3 favorites]


I have no evidence to support the conclusion, but I wonder the ratio of male and female dancers in 19th century ballet lines up with the ratio of wealthy male supporters attracted to men or women.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 6:31 PM on October 4, 2018 [5 favorites]


At one point, somewhere (my History of Ballet course was a long time ago in ballet school), pink or flesh-tone tights were banned as too salacious, so all the corps would be in green or yellow or red tights instead.

I also remember hearing about la Lôge Infernale, aka the Devil’s Box, a curtained seating box in the theatre where men would relieve themselves (or bring a dancer for the purpose).
posted by sixswitch at 8:34 PM on October 4, 2018 [4 favorites]


I can see that Marie does look a little like a caricature of an Irish person from the period, although those seem to have little enough to do with actual Irish people.

Flemish surname. Flemings were also looked down upon in France.
posted by ocschwar at 8:41 PM on October 4, 2018 [5 favorites]


I had a girlfriend that danced with American Ballet Theater. They would attend gala parties for the big supporters, and she said they would get a little talk beforehand, both male and female, about how going home with donors was not discouraged.
posted by StickyCarpet at 10:53 PM on October 4, 2018 [21 favorites]


But why she did not inspire at least the tenderness felt for ill-clad beggar waifs in Victorian art, I can hardly see.

Tenderness for beggar waifs is not noble, it's predatory. One of the things you learn from being a woman in the world is that expressions of noble tenderness often have vicious cruelty behind them once there's no one around to witness the Grand Kind White Man Show. You're not a valid witness, see, because you're a waif no one actually cares about except as a prop in their performance of genteel tenderness.

Flemings were also looked down upon in France.

Are. They still are.
posted by fraula at 12:28 AM on October 5, 2018 [23 favorites]


Definitely still happening: Bolshoi ballet was 'giant brothel' claims former dancer
posted by aperturescientist at 1:49 PM on October 5, 2018 [2 favorites]


« Older Nobel Prize winner Donna Strickland & physics'...   |   "The idea is for humanity to be attracted by its... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments