For if the Spanish Inquisition proved there was nothing new about fetishizing cruelty, it took a French aristocrat to give it a good name.
The term sadisme swaggered into Western civilization around 1834, twenty years after the death of its namesake, a pornographer with literary pretensions who was reviled in his own time but later venerated as 'the Divine Marquis.'
From the age of twenty-three, the French government locked the Marquis de Sade up for most of his adult life, inadvertently gifting him the time and boredom to crank out such masturbatory epics as 120 Days of Sodom and Gomorrah (penned in the Bastille just before the Revolution).
True to cliché, there's plenty of sex in Sade the ballet.
TITILLATING THE 21ST CENTURY
Like practically every other take on the man who married Madame Slap with Monsieur Tickle, the dance version is based on the porno-philosopher's last years, locked up in a mental hospital on the orders of Napoleon.
To satisfy his theatrical urges, Sade was allowed to produce plays starring himself and his fellow inmates—a case of a 'madman' running an asylum.
And at first, The Theatre of Fools is interesting enough, not least because it features one of France's most beautiful ballerinas, Marie-Claude Pietragalla.
Her small troupe from Paris starts out in tight-fitting asylum-wear—imagine if Danskin did straitjackets—performing poignantly disjointed pas de deux.
This being art, though—specifically, French art of the titillated 21st century—it's only a matter of minutes before the first dildo rears its ugly—well, you know—and the dancers start getting their breasts out.
Now that's what I call culture.
Over the next two hours (sadistically sans intermission), most of the major perversions get a look in, along with a few minor ones: there's lots of bondage gear, riding crops, chains and black leather, some cross-dressing, simulated group sex, rape and sodomy with a smattering of cannibalism and even a bit of ponyboy training, all amid much angsty yammering and stagey madness.