Is There Anything That More Clearly Speaks to the Gulf Between Ballet and Modern?

Catherine Cabeen. Photo by Paulo Tavares.

From The Australian:

Perhaps the most famous tattoo worn by a ballerina is that on the back of actress Mila Kunis, in Darren Aronofsky’s film Black Swan. But in most classical dance companies, where uniformity of movement and appearance is everything, tattoos are still taboo.

Dance companies contacted by The Australian say they have no strict policy on tattoos, but ballet companies are more concerned about covering them up than contemporary dance companies.

Not only is the gap between between classical and contemporary glaring, but it’s also amusing that the most famous of tattooed dancers is…well…not actually a dancer.

But of course the root issue is that ballet, whatever you want to think of it, trades primarily in idealized forms, particularly of the feminine. As my friend Catherine Cabeen, pictured above in all her tattooed glory, once put it succinctly (though by no means is she the first to have made the point):

Pointe shoes are a very specific medium that say one thing well; women are to be light, frail and weightless. Even direct, sharp movement is made piercing and fairy-like by these apparatus that for more than 300 years have allowed/forced female ballet dancers to embody an “idealized” version of the female form. Ballerinas are to be slight and ephemeral next to the grounded power of the male dancer, who never wears pointe shoes, except in rare incidences of drag performance.

And speaking of drag, Cabeen, herself once a member of the Martha Graham Dance Company (whose 2011 season kicks off on next week on March 15 at Lincoln Center), will be performing at the end of March with Richard Move, when he returns to Dance Theater Workshop in Martha@…The 1963 Interview (March 30-April 2; tickets $20). Move offers up the grande dame of Modern dance through a performance in drag, coinciding with the twentieth anniversary of Graham’s passing, on April 1, 1991.

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