“Ageing” and “queer” rarely appear in the same sentence without pejorative overtones
BY SOPHIE ROBBINS, IMAGE BY LUK MONSAERT
Age is just a number, say the sort of people who use quotes when they can’t be bothered to think (which is generally). And for the subset of such people belonging to LGBTQI cultures, age isn’t just a number; it’s a curse as well. “Ageing” and “queer” rarely appear in the same sentence without pejorative overtones, even from within the community. Fuck that.
Drag Queens. They’re everywhere. They’re on the telly; they’re on t’internet. An American friend of mine tells me she’s forbidden to phone her daughter on Friday nights when Drag Race is on. They’re a meme. They make money. Most of all, they’re (mostly) young.
Given this context, the packed house at Sadlers Wells for Gardenia: 10 Years On, were mildly surprised, at least, to be confronted at curtain up by a stage full of elderly men wearing smart but old-fashioned suits.
In a horseshoe round the stage were chairs used by the cast alternately as clothes stands and to observe the free-flowing action of a ballet based on a play based on the film Yo Soy Así, about the last days of a transvestite cabaret in Barcelona.
Belgian transgender performer Vanessa Van Durme created the original production, which was transformed into a ballet in 2010 by companies NTGent and Les ballets C de la B, under Frank Van Laecke and Alain Platel, and composer Steven Prengels. The show moved to the Wells a year later and scored five star reviews around the world.
So why revive the production a decade later, when the original cast of a story about ageing queens have themselves aged? One who has died is poignantly represented by a red spangly dress draped over a chair.
This is why: for two hours, eight Drag Queens, a younger man and a cisgender woman drew pictures of what it means to have lived a queer life in decades past with the grace of age; tempered by sorrow, but ultimately of such intense beauty as to take the breath.
In the Bolero sequence, the cast move around the stage in patterns, dissembling their male personas and costumes and gradually acquiring the tools of their trade – the eyeliner, the wigs, the boas and the frocks. On the final note, they pose triumphantly. It’s the ultimate spoiler alert – these artists truly did save the best till last.
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