Dangerous Diva

Sasha Selavie on the fabulousness of diva ballerina Svetlana Zakharova


Who in their right mind wants poxy, anaesthetised art, works so numbingly dull they’re instant passports to catatonia? Jesus, please leave that terrain to insipid, uber-dullards like Sam Smith, the pathetic, pedestrian wordsmith Ed Sheeran, and the unspeakably trite James Corden! Taken together – what a disgustingly repellent thought! – they’re a disturbing, current spearhead of cultural idiocy, a  ménage a trois of the crushingly obvious, the Holy Trinity of taste-free tat!

So, thank all the ragingly diseased souls and sexual revolutionaries prancing in joyously pagan paradises – hello, Caligula, Nero and the Marquis de Sade – that, quite remarkably, performers still exist who are pure transgression personified! Now outrage, of course – preferably shaped and directed with stunning aplomb and ethical fury – is completely gender-blind, but this week, we’re highlighting one shatteringly game-changing female diva – prima Bolshoi ballerina Svetlana Zakharova.

Is she dangerous to watch? Unquestionably! Oh, not in the sense of punters risking life and limb – after all, the joys of physical threats are so over-rated, except for fanatical, S&M queens – but in the far more thrilling sense of complete, artistic unpredictability. Self-evidently, Svetlana’s a shockingly affecting provocatrix of the highest order, epitomising what theatrical theorist Antonin Artaud aptly termed the Theatre of Cruelty. What he meant, of course, was creating provocative art that profoundly challenged, altered and disturbed cosy, dozy mediocrities, forcibly hijacking bourgeois smugness and giving a savage, mental enema to every watching dumpkopf!

And shouldn’t that be the point of all worthwhile art, music and theatre? Why subject yourself to an artistic experience that changes precisely nothing in yourself or how you view the world? In her book, The Year of Magical Thinking, the author Joan Didion explores the power of denial as a coping mechanism, that believing something automatically makes it concrete reality.

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Svetlana – quite beautifully – is a stunningly elegant riposte to wishful thinking, her inhumanly gorgeous physique rigorously moulded by sheer, non-stop effort, not instant, unrealistic whims. Unsurprisingly, she’s life-changing to watch, comprehensively redefining lazy assumptions of human limitations with every gesture.

Recently, she stunned London audiences with her triple-bill show, Amore. All plummeting swan-dives epitomising raw oestrogen glory, she’s occupying a beautifully indeterminate world. An ambiguous zone thrillingly shaped by artistic imagination alone. It’s a raging discipline that hacks flesh, quite remorselessly, into shapes, modes and capabilities magical thinking can merely pant, quite unattainably, towards. And there’s a passion throughout onstage that’s wholly absent from even the most accomplished British dancers, a raw, consensual and directed fury that’s utterly compelling.

Quite marvellously, this is art unspoiled by imaginative frontiers, or the constipated incoherence inflicted by timid, politically-correct, plodding puritans. And in gorgeous contrast to our current culture of frenzied, but artistically barren Brexiteers, the Bolshoi – and all the Russians fortuitously thronging London – are electrifying avatars of vibrant, multi-levelled excellence.

Let’s get specific. Opener Francesca de Rimini is a dizzying, metaphysical roller-coaster set in a Dantean afterlife, the astounding set pin-pricked by classical human sculpture suspended in space. Dancing to the lush, homosexual glories of prime Tchaikovsky, Svetlana seemingly elasticises space itself with martial arts precision, adrift in the slo-mo, unrequited emotional void of a claustrophobic, concentric-spiral Hell. She’s mirrored by the furious, whirling dervish frenzy of her male lover, eternally cursed to see but never touch each other, his nostrils, posture and body language ablaze with righteous, Cossack passion.

Rain Before It Falls explores externally manifested aspects of Svetlana’s conflicting desires, a trope brilliantly realised previously by gay choreographer Matthew Bourne’s Play Without Words, and the closing Strokes Through The Tail is pure, cod-drag brilliance. Epitomising current, LGBT orthodoxies, it illustrates that gender, clothes and behaviour are completely arbitrary, a profoundly erotic, imaginative playground. Our verdict? Stupendous! Please, Svetlana, ravish us raw!

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