When Peter Schaufuss looked up the word ‘diva’ in the dictionary and saw it to mean a ‘very great female singer’, in his mind the three women undoubtedly most deserving of this title were Edith Piaf, Marlene Dietrich and Judy Garland. Taking their music and unique personas as inspiration, the Peter Schaufuss Ballet recreates the glamour of the iconic performers in a glitzy and unashamedly camp production. Charlotte Marshall was in the first night audience.
The first act sees British ballerina Caroline Petter in the lead role of Piaf, the French singer famously reported to have been born on the streets before being sent to live with her Grandma in the brothel she ran in Normandy. Set to the singer’s powerful vocals and emotionally demanding music, Petter uses one of the three metal chairs on stage to make an impressive beginning to the evening, only her muscular arms and legs visible to the audience. Constantly adapting to the tone of the music, the dancers flit between jaunty Moulin Rouge-inspired numbers with elaborate, colourful dresses, to duets where the female dancers entirely surrender control as they are glided around the stage by their male partners, never failing to create a sense of French opulence and romance.
Dietrich’s elegance and style is instantly evoked in the second act – gone are the ruffled dresses in exchange for sequins, fur, stockings and waistcoats. Having now moved to Berlin, the audience is treated to camp Nazi soldiers bouncing around the stage and numbers evoking the dark sex appeal of a 1930s cabaret club. Although Schaufuss didn’t intend the show to be in any way biographical, there is a strong dialogue running through the act as we end with Sag Mir, Wo Die Blumen Sind (Where Have All The Flowers Gone) in which the dancers portray the tragedy of the loss of so many young soldiers in the Second World War.
The final act opens with Irina Kolensnikova sporting red ballet shoes and what appears to be a Star Trek-inspired uniform. The latter is slightly confusing, but the iconic red shoes are an instantly recognisable nod to Garland’s most famous role in The Wizard Of Oz. In a more whimsical and fun end to the evening, the dancers channel Garland’s theatrical style, with songs including I’ve Got Rhythm and Meet Me In St. Louis, Louis providing the perfect opportunity for some jazz hands and the jauntiness contemporary ballet allows.
Divas, however much not attempting to tell the story of these icons lives, cannot escape the autobiographical element supplied purely through their music, all of which balances intense joy with tragedy and sadness, mirroring the rollercoaster the three women endured in their own private lives.