Curio Cabinet | January 05, 2022

Strange Beauty: Barbette and the Art of Transformation

In 1912, at twenty-three, French writer Jean Cocteau collaborated with some of the most talented artists in Europe when he wrote the libretto for The Blue God, a ballet performed by Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes. Nijinsky danced the title role, Reynaldo Hahn wrote the music, and Léon Bakst designed the set and costumes. A decade later, when Cocteau wrote to his friends about a terrific new performer called Barbette at the Casino de Paris, they took note. To the Belgian music critic Paul Collaer, Cocteau wrote, “A music-hall act called Barbette has been keeping us enthralled for a fortnight.” Cocteau described the young American from Texas as a graceful daredevil on the trapeze and one of the most beautiful entertainers in theater. “No mere acrobat in women’s clothes. He blends a tightrope dancer’s skill and perilous performance with the creativity of a poet. An angel, a flower, a bird. We all found him an absolute knockout.”

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