Originally designed to better show off a ballerina’s virtuoso legwork, the tutu derives its name from the French slang for ass. First introduced to stages in the mid-1800s, the short, stiff skirt earned its name by giving front-row audiences a perfect view of the dancers’ cucu at no extra charge. Normally considered ladies’-only attire, the entire National Ballet company (men included) will don the revealing garment for Watershed, the upcoming piece by José Navas.
From his earliest works as a soloist to his recent retelling of Giselle as a gay love story for Ballet BC, the Venezuela-born, Montreal-based choreographer has long been subverting gender through art. Naturally androgynous in his features and movements, his exploration of the subject has become more conscious over time.
“It used to really bother me that people always saw a comment on gender in my work, because it wasn’t my intention,” he says. “But I’ve come to see it as important, today more than ever. When you look at what’s happening in Russia and homophobia around the world in general, it’s important for us to talk about the fact that we’re not all fully masculine or feminine. Some of us are somewhere in the middle.”
When it comes to his current production, however, dressing men in traditionally female garb has had an unexpected result. Assuming the boys would look either feminine or funny, Navas was pleasantly surprised by the overall effect when they tried on their tutus for the first time.
“There was something so gorgeous about seeing all those bare, muscular torsos and strong legs together, accented by the disk of the tutu in the middle,” he says. “It was far from delicate. They actually look like a group of warriors going into battle.”