In the freak pavilion of Luna Park, a Showman opens a series of booths to display a three-headed man, a threelegged juggler, a one-legged ballerina and a six-armed man. After the first show is over, the freaks are revealed as fakes when, leaving their props behind, four normal human beings come out of the booths. They decide to abandon the circus for the outside world; the Showman returns and without looking, begins the second showing. Eventually the laughter of the audience makes him turn to check up and, horrorstruck at the sight of the props dancing on their own, he leaps into the nearest booth and pulls down the curtain.
Luna Park, a ‘fantastic ballet in one act’ was commissioned for CB Cochran’s London revue of 1930, and first performed at the London Pavilion in March of that year, with scenery and costumes by Christopher Wood, book by Boris Kochno, and choreography by George Balanchine. The scene is set in a freak pavilion in Luna Park. A showman enters and bows to the audience. He raises the curtain of the first four niches revealing a man with three heads; in the second stands a three-legged juggler, complete with billiard balls, while in the third a one-legged ballerina is posing, and in the fourth, a man with six arms. All the freaks dance in the respective niches, after which the showman bows to the audience, turning down the lights as he retires.
The showman gone, the four performers appear from behind the curtain of their niches, revealing themselves as normal human beings – the freaks were fakes – and proceed to dance an Adagio, followed by individual variations for the ballerina (Alice Nikitina) and the six-armed man (Serge Lefar). In the end they all decide to leave the circus and go out into the wide world; and so they silently slip away. However, the showman returns all set to give the second performance. He opens the curtain mechanically, without even looking, revealing, in turn, two heads, a set of billiard balls, a solitary leg, and four arms waving wildly. Laughter from the stalls prompts the showman to turn around to see what has happened. Horrified, he leaps into the niche behind him and pulls down the curtain.
The work has obvious links with Petrushka, La Boutique Fantastque, Coppélia, and L’Enfant et les Sortilèges in terms of subject matter. Musically, Berners produces a succinct score that matches the action, and gives distinct characterization to each of the characters. In the Adagio and first Variation, in particular, the composer mimics similar sections of Sleeping Beauty, and in the reprise Coda brings back the main themes in Broadway style. In this respect, the work could be said to be Berners’ equivalent of Stravinsky’s Scène de Ballet.
© 1994 Philip Lane