Last orders for Moscow mule

Ordinarily, a piece of carrot cake and a pinafore would be considered a pretty rubbish retirement present.

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Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

However, when the Mariinsky ballet in St Petersburg (better known as the Kirov) recently celebrated the retirement of one of its longest-serving performers, the aforementioned items apparently went down a treat. Although that may have been because the departing employee was Monika, a female donkey that’s spent the last 19 years ferrying around Sancho Panza when the company performs Don Quixote.

Not that Monika was any old beast of burden. Mariinsky star Anastasia Kolegova told Reuters that Monika was blessed with exquisite timing, and would often steal the show during her regular appearances on stage. ‘She sometimes nodded her head to the music, and drew some of the attention from the ballerinas. We sometimes told her off about that,’ she admitted. Clearly a donkey with star quality.

But don’t start thinking that her jealous co-stars have sold Monika to the local glue factory. Kolegova insisted it was a pity Monika was hanging up her pink slippers, but pointed out that ballerinas always retire early (hard on the old hooves, you see). That’s why Monika will spend the next 15 years or so frolicking in St Petersburg Zoo, taking only the occasional break to pass on her wisdom to the younger generation. ‘It doesn't mean that she will stop working altogether, and we hope she will share her experience with the new star, Alina,’ said Kolegova. Clearly there’s still plenty of life in the old ass yet.

What’s more, her departure could actually bring out the best in the rest of the company. After all, we’ve all seen teams that actually improve once the star employee decides to take their dominant personality elsewhere (Arsenal football fans may know this as ‘the Thierry Henry effect’). Monika’s retirement could turn out to be a boon for all concerned.

So it looks like a happy ending to a glorious Mariinsky career. And judging by the twinkle-toed waltz she apparently danced at her leaving party, Monika was even happy with the company’s choice of retirement present – which consisted of a piece of carrot cake, a pinafore and a hankie.

Just goes to show: when it comes to leaving gifts, it’s very much horses for courses.

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