Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The Trocks at the Kennedy Center

Image courtesy The Arts Desk

This evening Wanchuk and I went to the Eisenhower Theater to watch Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo affectionately know as “The Trocks.” What follows is a pastiche review I have cobbled together from:

I have always loved classical ballet. From the Kirov's Bayadere to the Royal Ballet's Don Quixote I've seen and adored hundreds of hours of this most venerated of dance forms. But I've always been aware that there's also something faintly absurd at the heart of ballet. For starters, the classical tutu is one of the most preposterous garments ever to grace the female form; and don't get me started on that dancing on the end of your toes business. I love ballet, but I love laughing at it even more. Fortunately, for fans of both ballet and comedy, that's a twin joy shared by Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo.

Born in 1974 in an “off-off Broadway” loft on New York's West 14th Street, the Trocks have taken the world by storm over the past three decades with their comedy drag ballet, a fusion that celebrates both the beauty and the essential absurdity of classical ballet. The idea behind a Trocks performance is simple—hairy-chested men in size 12 pointe shoes dance classical roles, exaggerating the diva glares, prima pouts, and comic melodrama of the Russian ballet tradition.

The company could best be described as a Monty Python grafted onto dance: on the surface everything appears to be normal, then the oddities begin to appear and change the stage performance into something absurd and entertaining. The level of invention is so complex that each dancer has both a female and a male alter ego, complete with stage names and hilarious biographies of fake Russian ballerinas and dancers.

The show begins with thickly-accented compere announcing the artists: “Nina Enimenimynimova” and “The Artist Formerly Known as Prince Myshkin”, signaling an evening of affectionate (and sometimes groanworthy) parody. However, this opening spiel in a cod-Russian accent, listing endless changes to the program and advising that “Natasha Notgudenov will not be appearing,” is surely due for a few fresh jokes.

A good deal of the Trocks' comedy derives from the sheer absurdity of masculine bulk balanced on a toe's width of blocked satin, but other aspects of ballet conformism are pointed up too. One of the Trocks wears glasses, another has a Cyrano nose, and another dwarfs her weedy partner, kindly giving him a bunk-up now and then. The humour wouldn't work without a technically proficient company, however—the Trocks train daily, have their own ballet mistress, and appear as comfortable en pointe as one could expect anyone to be. The arms may be more muscular and the chests bushier than might be expected of female primas, but the Trocks have plenty of ballon and extensions most would die for.

The program includes Act Two of Swan Lake, The Dying Swan, a pas de deux from Le Corsaire, Go for Barocco—a Balanchine parody, and variations from Paquita. The arrangement appears to be unusual in that Swan Lake, the most humorous piece, is performed first. Although it has a frenetic continuation later with The Dying Swan, the most effective crackers of the fireworks display are set off at the beginning of the performance.

Act Two of Swan Lake or, as the Trocks call it with their passion for old-style Ballets Russes glamour, Les Lac des Cynges, features a bleached-blonde prince (Ashley Romanoff-Titwillow, also known as Joshua Grant) and a bossy swan princess (the grand diva of the company, Olga Suppohozova, or Robert Carter) who, after she is captured by the hunter-prince, gives him a “don't mess up my tutu, sonny” look. Many of the jokes work on two levels—Swan Lake is one of the broadest, prat-fall-iest parodies the Trocks do, but as well as the limelight-hogging corps de ballet member, and the evil magician who gets lost inside his cloak, there were also wonderful balletomane-focused jokes, such as the prince who has to ask his swan-princess to repeat her mime, because he can't understand it— as, let's face it, who can?

Image courtesy The Arts Desk © Dusa Gábor

Ida Nevasayneva (the great Paul Ghiselin, who is also Ballet Master for the company) gives a memorable interpretation of Anna Pavlova's signature solo, The Dying Swan. Even the introduction to the piece is brilliant: the spotlight sweeps the empty stage missing the target, while the dancer begins in the dark. As with Pavlova, Ghiselin's performance leaves hardly a dry eye in the house, but for altogether different reasons—his sick bird, strewing feathers all over the stage and dancing a version of the Funky Chicken en pointe that has to be seen to be believed, has the whole audience rolling in the aisles.

© John Ross © John Ross

Le Corsaire pas de deux is danced (almost) straight by Nina Enimenimynimova (you try and type that stone-cold sober: sorry, I mean, danced by Long Zou) and Mikhail Mypansarov (Emanuel Abruzzo). Zou has a delicate grace and is the least dragged-up of all the Trocks, but here she had the manner down pat: her small head-tilt towards her partner, and the death-ray eyes that said, “You've missed your cue: just get yourself over here now,” while still giving the audience a demure, pained-ballerina smile, is worth the price of admission alone. Zou/Abruzzo performance coupled strong ballerina technique with laughs; however, the relationship has yet to fully blossom humorously. They have both joined recently and it was a real reminder that the Trocks hone and develop their comic skills over several tours.

“Go for Barocco” is set, with timing that makes every beat matter, to Bach. A happily devout lampoon of the mannerisms and devices of Balanchine's ballet classicism in general and of his “Concerto Barocco” in particular, it is so well constructed that jokes that refer, say, to specific details of “Apollo” and “Serenade” still work if you have no knowledge of those ballets.

© Dusa Gábor Image: Juana Arias for The Washington Post

In “Paquita,” after Petipa, the troupe appeared in a rainbow of tutus, some with extra small trunks to expose more buttocks. It took three to lift the principal ballerina, and the weakling cavalier took a quick break for some pushups. Yet, beyond the slapstick and the catfights, the piece had luscious moments of freedom: when one of the gents does a walkover in perfect time with the music and two of the dancers celebrate the finale with a sweaty chest-bump, their velvet bodices clapping together with gridiron gusto, a toast to sheer pleasure. That never gets old.


See Wanchuk's blog entry.

1 comment:

  1. This show was an A+. Technical yet entertaining. The troupe had the audience in laughter and the time passed quickly.