WashPost Dance Critic Hails 'Haven for Gays' in Historic European Ballet

The Arts section of Sunday’s Washington Post was dominated by articles analyzing the cultural importance of the Ballet Russes and its role in European modernism. For Post dance critic Sarah Kaufman, it represented “The ascent of men, the haven for gays.”

This ballet troupe was a “tremendous force in modern art and modern mores” all the way back in the 1920s, as the focus on male dancers and the ballet's sexual sensibility could represent “one big orgy” or “a living wet dream”:

This new ballet company also drew an enthusiastic male audience of intellectuals and cultural sophisticates. Significantly, a good part of this audience was gay. (It’s not for nothing that Proust, reclusive and ailing, made the effort to attend the “Renard” after-party.) With Diaghilev, an acknowledged homosexual, as its leader; his lovers — Nijinsky, Massine, Lifar — as its stars; and the frank eroticism of so many of its works (“Scheherazade” was one big orgy; “Afternoon of a Faun” was a living wet dream), the Ballets Russes was an oasis for gay men.

“It gave them a cultural center that could not be articulated openly,” Garafola says. “It was a safe haven for gay men during a period of intense persecution.” At the Ballets Russes, “you could be gay, people knew you were gay, and it didn’t affect you. You were welcomed in the audience.”

Remember, this was at a time when homosexuality was a crime in London. When the curtains parted on a Ballets Russes production, they offered a view of Never-Never Land; a world of sensory pleasures that was gay, yes, and fundamentally human. The vulnerable but irrepressible human spirit, as seen in “Petrushka”; the effort to unlock the mysteries of fertility in “The Rite of Spring”; the pleasures of the body in “Scheherazade” — the Ballets Russes dissected the fullness of human experience as no theater had done before.

Kaufman wrote “the guest of honor was European Modernism, surrounded by the greatest rule-breakers of the day.” But a rule-breaker at The Washington Post would probably write something religiously or socially conservative.

Homosexuality Washington Post History Sarah Kaufman
Tim Graham's picture