There is a whimsical banner on Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo’s website that almost looks like it could be for a vaudeville show. It says: “The World’s Foremost All-Male Comic Ballet Company.
Though initially it might be hard to envision classical ballets performed en travesti, it certainly was easy to sit back, relax and go just along – laughing all the way – with the entertaining show the company presented at the Duncan Theatre on Feb. 28.
Comedy in ballet is a rare thing. To do any comedy well (whether it is slapstick, satire, parody or burlesque) is difficult – to say the least. There are so many nuances that need to be mastered in order for it to be successful. The same is true with mastering the intricacies of ballet technique. Perhaps that’s why it is so unusual to see them performed so succinctly together. The Trocks have been performing their delightful spoofs on classical ballets for over 44 years and they have them perfected.
Showing off an uncanny comedic flair as well as very impressive ballet technique, they have managed to keep a delicate balance between showing the upmost respect (and love) for the art form of classical ballet and having a great time poking fun at it. It would be very easy to tip the scale and go overboard milking the laughs in slapstick fashion, but instead, the humor was carefully honed. As the mishaps and exchanges occurred onstage, one caught glimmers of the tough life backstage in the ballet world.
Every member of the versatile cast (with their made-up, Russian-sounding names like Innokenti Smoktumuchsky, Ludmila Beaulemova and Mikhail Mypansarov) dance male and female roles. When in full drag ballerina mode, they are quite the sight — all decked out with severe makeup, huge eyelashes, demure wigs, classical tutus and pink pointe shoes.
The show started with Le Lac des Cygnes (Swan Lake, Act II), the company’s signature work. Odette was danced by Alla Snizova (Carlos Hopuy). With a diminutive frame, red hair styled in a perfect ballet bun, and the most gorgeous legs and feet any ballerina could ever wish for, Hopuy was the epitome of a romantic ballerina. She/he was partnered by her tall and handsome Prince Siegfried, Vladimir Legupski (Duane Gosa). Hopuy, who has studied pointe work since he was 9, has amazing leg and foot leg articulation as well as terrific comic ability. In his role as Odette, it all impressively came together.
There was a modified corps de ballet that did a wonderful job with their ensemble, work and with the mistakes that would happen intermittently in their movement or formations. At one point while they were exchanging places, the eight swans – who were all wearing formal, long white evening gloves with their romantic, long white tutus – started to use breaststroke arm movements like synchronized swimmers instead of their classical ballet port de bras.
There was, of course, ample spoofing of ballet’s pantomiming which, in the story-ballets, can be very lengthy in order to explain the story line. It wasn’t long before the audience was completely caught up in the show, laughing at the physical comedy and loudly applauding the troupe’s technical prowess.
After the enchanted realm of women transformed into swans by an evil sorcerer, the company took us to “a postmodern dance essay.” Here, with equal finesse, the Trocks were able to poke fun at a whole period of modern dance. Patterns in Space had three dancers in crushed velvet unitards and blank expressions performing a series of movement phrases that repeated this way and then that way, over and over again.
They were accompanied by two seated “musicians” who pulled out a peculiar variety of items to make sparse percussive sounds. In the program, it said that the choreography was “after” Merce Cunningham and the live music was “after” John Cage, so we clearly knew at whom they were poking fun. The comic timing and interaction of Boris Mudko (Giovanni Ravelo) and Olga Supphozova (Robert Carter) in their roles as the musicians added the perfect contrast to the methodical movement phrases the three dancers kept repeating.
The least engaging work presented was Trovatiara Pas de Six. Choreographed by Peter Anastos to the music of Giuseppe Verdi, it had some humorous moments but it seemed to drag on – no pun intended. It was more of a showcase for the dancers’ technical skills.
Another very popular work for the company, Dying Swan, was also on the Duncan program. This solo is usually included on every program and can be performed by any of the dancers. The curtain opened with a spotlight focused on a wing. Nothing happened, so the round beam of light quickly swung to another wing. Still nothing, so it moved to another and then to yet another searching for the entrance of Carter, who eventually bourréed in rather agitatedly with arms flapping and losing vast quantities of feathers as she/he traversed the stage in quick traveling steps en relevé.
Carter (who has danced with Trockadero since 1995) had the most campy interpretation of his drag ballerina’s character. His performance of Anna Pavlova’s iconic solo was a throwback to the Trocks of yesteryear. whose small late-night performances were seen in off-off Broadway lofts during the 1970s.
The program closed with Raymonda’s Wedding: A Traditionally Confusing Divertissement in Two Scenes and it was confusing to me too, but here’s why. The role of the bride, Raymonda, was beautifully danced by Nina Enimenimynimova (Long Zou). Playing the role straight, Zou danced with such feminine grace and elegance that it was in a realm of itself. It no longer was campy or fun. It was the real thing. Zou’s variation was so convincingly female that it was both startling and thrilling at the same time. If he were in a performance of a regular ballet company company, I doubt that anyone would have known that this beautiful ballerina was a man. It almost felt like a deception.
Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo has a different twist now from the last time I saw them years ago. They present a spectrum of male dancers who range in style from drag to gender-bending, and they still play for laughs – but their technique is serious business.