When the Ballets Russes first presented Fokine’s Polovtsian Dances at Covent Garden in 1911, such was its orgiastic savagery that ladies in the audience were said to be genuinely terrified that its grease-painted warriors were about to leap off the stage and ravish them. The Mongol Khan, a great hit imported from Ulan Bator, may not induce genteel screaming, but it has some awe-inspiring moments and belongs in the same ersatz orientalist tradition as Fokine’s ballet – primitive Asiatic culture made colourfully palatable to western tastes.
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