Payment for Pleasure

Alexander Kuprin’s Yama (1909-15) is a grim Russian realist novel about life in a Kiev brothel. The title is usually translated as The Pit, though other English-language options are available.

This might seem unlikely material for adaptation as a ballet, but in 2016, trainee choreographer Olga Terskikh took it as the basis for her student project at the Chelyabinsk State Institute of Culture in Russia. She started work on it in May, and the finished ballet, entitled Payment for Pleasure, was performed in December.

The issue is, how can you represent what goes on in a brothel in a way that’s not only appropriate to the delicacy of ballet, but also compatible with some basic conception of public decency? That’s easy…

So when some young men visit the brothel, some of the girls drape themselves onto their laps and lean back. The boys then spin them over into spanking position.

It’s essentially a brief bit of symbolism, a way of portraying sex indirectly rather than literally, and there’s no literal spanking, either; ballet is, after all, a very stylized medium. But it shows how spanking (or an allusion to it) can still function as a substitute for sex, just as it often did in the last century.

The video is here. It’s timed in at the OTK moment, but it’s worth watching the whole short ballet – especially if you also like girls showing off their bloomers!

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