Edge Hill University academics are challenging the image of ballet by re-creating and queering photos of ageing and fat dancers in The Buttcracker.

Rupturing the traditional image of thin, heterosexual, athletic, young dancers, Mark Edward and Helen Newall have constructed photos of famous ballets and songs renaming them Gaysell (Gisele), La Sifilis (La Silfide) and Sugar Bum Fairy (Sugar Plum Fairy).

You can see a slideshow of the images, with extended captions by Helen here:


Reader in Dance and Performance, Mark Edward, who appears in the photos in drag, said:

“This work is about shifting perceptions, looking at how we see traditional dancers and read the body through a queer and queered lens. No-one expects to see a fat, ageing, bearded man on pointe in a tutu. But it’s about disrupting the performance and aesthetics.

“Someone like me would be invisible in a mainstream classical ballet stage production yet I am a trained professional dancer who has worked in the industry for over 20 years. Standing on pointe is highly technical yet it looks effortless.”

Professor of Theatre Praxis, Helen Newall, who constructed, photographed and Photoshopped the images and appears in some of the photos as a drag king, added:

“I’m interested in how photographs capture reality and often misrepresent it, as well as the performances of identity which people make in front of a camera, something which has gone on from as early as 1839 when the invention of photography was first announced, and Hippolyte Bayard, who was piqued at having been excluded from the announcement, made a hoax self portrait of himself as a drowned man in protest.

“We think the camera never lies, but these photos, the drowned man, the drag queen, Mark on pointe, me as a male ballet dancer, they’re all performances for the camera. Here, we’re looking at the photographic depiction of ballet as a heteronormative micro-performance.”

Mark and Helen are currently curating a selection of photos which they plan to exhibit at arts venues, conferences, festivals, queer events and pop up shows across the country.

The Buttcracker follows on from their previous collaborative exhibition Dying Swans and Dragged up Dames which parodied iconic performance photographs of legendary dancers.

It also forms the basis of a co-written chapter titled ‘The Buttcracker: Dragging Ballet into Queer Places’ focusing on historical drag performance for one of two of Mark’s and Dr Stephen Farrier’s (from the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama) drag anthologies due to be published by Bloomsbury in 2019.