After a hilarious morning selecting clothes at a specialist shop for dancers, where the shopkeeper was puzzled by their total ignorance of dress and shoe sizes, Rego and Nunes returned to the studio. “This chair is always in the middle of the studio and I just sat on it and Paula asked me to put my arms up and she did a drawing,” recalls Nunes. From there, in Rego’s words, “the work took on a life of its own.”

Drawing transports Rego back into a childlike frame of mind because, as an only child, it was her chief solace. With The Ostriches she became so engrossed she soon discarded preliminary studies to draw Nunes directly. Awkward positions of neck, arms or legs were supported by cushions, props sometimes included in the picture. Nunes is assimilated rather than portrayed. Sometimes her head is replaced by another; and one or tow different characters creep in, particularly in the backgrounds. The ostrich women are made stockier, emphasising their ludicrous attempts to defy age and gravity, to ‘fly’.

There is caustic, bucolic, peasant, even black humour in this; that fine line between comedy and tragedy. “Ballet, of course, is an abstraction in the way of movement, of story telling,” Cluhane quotes T. Hee, director of the ‘Hours’ sequence. “Chaplin often said that he walked a tightrope with comedy on one side and tragedy on the other; if he tipped to one side, it would be tragedy; if he tipped to the other side, it would be comedy.” Nicholas Willing’s first reaction on seeing The Ostriches was to burst out laughing: “I thought they were the funniest things I’d ever seen. I laughed for a very long time and she laughed too – it was surprise and recognition all at once”.

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