Ballet is enjoying a cultural moment, high at the Ballets Russes exhibition at London's Victoria & Albert Museum, low in the campy horrifics of Black Swan.
Tipping his cap to the trend, John Galliano ambitiously settled on primus ballerinus Rudolf Nureyev, a figure who effortlessly bridged both extremes. Rudie was a Tartar and a tart, which makes him perfect fodder for Galliano's own taste for the grandly barbaric and the lushly homoerotic. And this time, the ever-changing drama of Mother Russia provided the backdrop. So the show opened with a harried horde of Russian emigrés in great big coats, tufty shearling, and military jackets (more tips of the cap to flavors of the moment). Then Nureyev defected to the West and started wearing tightly tailored pantsuits and caps as a curious analogue of Judy Garland (in Galliano's eyes at least), all the while working himself into a lather at the barre. That gave Galliano the opportunity to parade sweat-soaked workout wear on Simon Nessman, though the model was surely grateful to be wrapped in a chunky puffa.
The final passage of eveningwear garbed the dancer for glittering, embroidery-crusted nights on the town in the kind of Cossack finery that would once have been catnip to Galliano. Why, then, did it feel less than exuberant? In fact, the whole show had a flat, low-budget feel. That wasn't even induced by something as banal as commerce compromising creativity. More likely, it was a simple matter of Nureyev himself not being such perfect fodder for Galliano after all, too real perhaps to sustain the kind of blinding fashion fantasia the man has unleashed on us in the past when's he looked to the Ballets Russes for inspiration.