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SPITFIRE (Choreographed by Matthew Bourne in 1988) performed at the 2006 Gala for Dance Umbrella’s 25th Birthday….

April 4, 2016

Spitfire – An advertisement  divertissement (1988) was Matthew Bourne’s first hit, and something of a signature piece. It places Perrot’s famous Pas De Quatre form 1846, made as a kind of diva-off for the four leading ballerinas of the 19th Century, (in order of appearances was based on age from youngest to oldest, to squelch further confrontations between them , Lucile Grahn, Carlotta Grisi, Fanny Cerrito, and Marie Taglioni. (The fifth great Romantic ballerina of the time, Fanny Elssler, was invited to take part in the gala event but declined to do so; the young Lucile Grahn accepted without hesitation). Spitfire takes place im the world of men’s underwear advertising and mail order catalogue photography. Both a celebration of male vanity and an affectionate comment on the preening grandeur of the danseur noble, “Spitfire” was last seen at the Dance Umbrella 25th Birthday Gala in 2006 in a 6 man version. Here it will be seen in its original 4 man version with all of the original solos restored.

Matthew Bourne's "Spitfire"

Matthew Bourne’s “Spitfire”

Matthew Bourne’s Early Adventures is a trio of works he made between 1988 and 1991, to celebrate his 25 years in dance making. In this remastered format for the digital age each piece easily withstands the test of time, most notably in that their strong sense of humor is retained. That it remains very funny derives from keen satirical observation merged with some good-old seaside postcard humor. Gentle fun is poked at nineteenth century classical ballet in Spitfire, a parody of a grand pas de deux in the form of a pas de quatre for four men, sporting stiff brylcreemed hair while advertising brilliant white underwear (a whole catalogue range of string vests, Y-fronts, boxers and long johns). With a patchwork of familiar pas de deux tunes from Glazunov and Minkus, the four performers satirized the aloof, elitist occupational “look at me” requirement that is common to both ballet principals and fashion models.a qui


Lithograph by A. E. Chalon of Carlotta Grisi (left), Marie Taglioni (center), Lucille Grahn (right back), and Fanny Cerrito (right front) in the Perrot/Pugni Pas de Quatre, London, 1845

Great Stars, Bitter Rivals: Pas de Quatre

(A Quick History of the Four Ballerinas and the Making of Pas de Quatre)

During the summer of 1845, the great ballerinas Marie Taglioni, Fanny Cerito, Carlotta Grisi, and the young Danish dancer Lucile Grahn were all simultaneously engaged at her Majesty’s Theatre, London. The enterprising impresario Benjamin Lumley conceived the daring idea of having them perform together in a single brief ballet, a Pas de Quatre of such brilliance that nothing remotely approaching it had ever been attempted before. Since the four stars were, of course, bitter rivals, it required diplomacy of the highest order to persuade them to agree to such an unprecedented proposition.

Agree they did, and French choreographer Jules Perrot set to work to create a series of dances that would display the most scintillating talents of each ballerina, without giving predominance to any one of the four. Perrot’s choreography must have been masterful, for it achieved a harmonious unity while permitting each ballerina to enjoy a personal triumph in steps exactly suited to her individual style. At the first performance, on July 12, 1845, the entrance of each dancer elicited a veritable hailstorm of bouquets, and at the final curtain the stage was all but buried under an avalanche of flowers.

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