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Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo

'Swan Lake (Act II)', 'Tarentella', 'Le Grand Pas de Quatre', Suite from 'Paquita'

by Stuart Sweeney

March 21, 2006 -- Peacock Theatre, London

The world is divided into two groups: those that do and those that don't.....love the Trocks, that is. It's not easy predicting who will fall into each category: Darcey Bussell enjoyed them so much she went on-stage to give them flowers, much to their delight, but Deborah Bull couldn't see the joke.

The big, boy ballerinas tour the world and have notched up 500 cities since 1974. I remember one Trocks dancer saying that some of his colleagues broke the hearts of admirers every time they left town. And then added the aside: "One of the guys is straight, but he keeps quiet about it."

The Trocks are back in London for the first time in 5 years and the first night audience whooped with joy at the deliberate mistakes and cheered even louder for every well-executed series of pirouettes. Almost inevitably, they opened with "Swan Lake (Act II)." The repertoire can be scored from 1 to 10 in terms of the pratfall quotient and some pieces have a remarkably low count, but "Swan Lake" scores 11. Even so, there is sufficient precision to make the mistakes funny: lines are usually straight, the corps dance together more than boys usually do, and in Odette's final variation Raffaela Morera's (Lariska Dumbchenko) only comedy is some over-enthusiastic smiles.

As for jokes, the old favourites are still there: after much precise work from the corps they line up on opposite sides of the stage in one group of 5 and another of 3, and one swan creeps nervously across the stage to make the two groups even; as the two large swans advance to the front with developées, one kick goes astray and knocks one of the kneeling swans to the side of the stage; and then at the curtain call, a bouquet is presented to Odette and it’s all smiles; but then the lights go up again too soon and we see the leads fighting over the flowers.

"Tarantella," with "choreography after George Balanchine" (do they need approval?) was played very straight and skillfully by Fernando Medina Gallego and Lionel Droguet. Actually I can remember greater mishaps in conventional performances - one pair of leading principals even managed to bash into one another.

Jules Perrot's "Le Grand Pas de Quatre," from 1845, created for the leading ballerinas of their day, is well-known by name and reputation, but rarely performed. I have seen it twice....both times by the Trocks. The main jokes here are the rivalry of the dancers and the aging Taglioni's demand for respect from the others, despite the fact that her technique is past its sell-by date. This performance had a number of differences from my earlier viewing -- gone was the head shaking as Taglioni fell off pointe, and Edgar Cortes' curtsey to the aging primadonna eventually ends in the splits here.

Paul Ghiselin, a company veteran who is now also their Ballet Master, gave us "The Dying Swan" and as he has danced this at every Trocks performance I have seen, I suspect that he should be in the "Guinness Book of Records" for even more performances than Pavlova. With a spotlight searching for the dancer, feathers falling everywhere, agonised expressions and gestures and Ghiselin's spindly legs and long nose, this is a hoot, and the curtain call lasts almost as long as the dance.

A suite from "Paquita" had a relatively low pratfall quotient and gave us the chance to admire Robert Carter's strong technique and comic timing as the heroine, especially with a partner who was made to do press-ups on-stage after a failed lift. But when it came to the complicated bits, Carter took them as seriously as is possible.

In the period since they were last here, they have added a lot of new faces and I missed a couple of old ones: Jai Williams and Carlos Garcia are still listed on the Trocks website, but have not come to the UK. Garcia even impressed one critic who hates the Trocks. I once saw him dance variations so well I could feel tears welling up. In that performance, he was also part of a superb joke; we were told that the next item was a pas de trois, but only two giant ballerinas came on stage and then separated to show their diminutive chevalier hidden between them.

Some newcomers made an impression - Bernd Burgmaier showed an elegant line as Siegfried and an icy disdain for her enemies as the aging Taglioni. Scott Weber and Chase Johnsey are both very convincing and danced with grace throughout the evening.

If I had one disappointment, it was that at least for the London season, the Trocks have forsaken spoofs of modern dance and their hilarious send-ups of Isadora Duncan, Merce Cunningham and others, which provide variety to the programming. But this is churlish. The Trocks still deliver with their performances and their jokes and this is one of the few dance events where I regularly laugh out loud. If you haven't tried the Trocks, do give them a test drive.

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