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Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo

Quad Bill + Some Stray Feathers

by Kate Snedeker

February 10, 2011 -- Winter Garden Theatre, Toronto, ON

(Note: A flurry of casting changes were rattled off in a suitably thick fake Russian accent just prior to the curtain. Your nearly frozen correspondent was not thawed enough to reach for a pen in time, and has been unable to get the casting updates. Apologies to any of the fine divas/danseurs who did not get the appropriate credit!)

The Trocks have hit Toronto … and what a collision! Though their Toronto tour dates were unfortunately scheduled simultaneously with those of the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, the Trocks managed to draw in a appreciative and enthusiastic crowd to the cozy Winter Garden Theatre. The quadruple bill of Swan Lake Act III, Patterns in Space, Le Grand Pas de Quatre and Raymonda’s Wedding - plus the ever-popular Dying Swan - showcased the best of the Trocks’ impressive technique combined with their humorous pokes, jabs (and outright impalements) at ballet. It was, as is always with the Trocks, the perfect antidote to all that ails in the current world of ballet.

Anyone who has traveled the ballet world knows that it’s littered with the carcasses of Swan Lake productions that range from just passable to truly horrific. Among the more unfortunate Swan Lake memories of this critic are the first scene (simulated) gang rape in Cranko's version, ABT’s swamp-thing Von Rothbart getting his claws stuck on Siegfried’s tunic, Tchaikovsky played at dirge pace and a scrim curtain stuck at half-mast. So it’s with absolute relief that one watches the Trocks’ totally tongue-in-cheek skewering of the classic.

Olga Supphozova is an old hat at the lead role, and conveyed a novel’s worth with a bat of her fake eyelashes and roll of her eyes. Yet, under the thick make-up Robert Carter is fine technician, able to whip off powerful fouettes and float delicately (well, as delicately as one with NBA-sized pointe shoes) across the stage. Boris Nowitsky (Christopher Lam) and Pepe Dufka (Raffaele Mora) held up their part of the bargain – and Supphozova – as Benno and Von Rothbart. However it was Ashley Romanoff-Titwillow (Joshua Grant) in the role of the swan-adoring Prince Siegfried who was most impressive. Prior to donning his Trocks, Grant polished his classical technique at both the Pacific Northwest Ballet and the National Ballet of Canada, and his years of experience showed in his refined line and solid bravura dancing. Despite the tiny Winter Garden stage, he tossed off a gorgeous ménage with beautifully stretched jetes, and partnered the none-too-tiny Supphozova with nary a bobble. Brava (bravo?)!

Heading off into more modern realms, the company took on Merce Cunningham and the music of John Cage in “Patterns in Space”. Many a dance-goer, I’m sure, has raised an eyebrow or two at what sometimes passes as music. There’s experimental and then there’s “what the heck?! My ears…my poor ears”. In “Patterns in Space”, neither the music nor the dance receive any mercy. Larissa Dumbchenko (Raffaele Mora) and Yuri Smirnov (Robert Carter) serve as the onstage musicians, complimenting Andrew Franck’s taped score with a smorgasboard of homemade noisemakers. The cacophony started with a wood block and tinker toy marimba, and went through everything from candy wrappers to hairspray to moos and clucks. It puts the low brow into what we’re often force fed as high-brow. Despite the musical romp on stage, the three dancers forged onwards in a distinctly Cunningham-esque style. Though the musical comedy duo often distracted from the dance, it’s worth noting the very fine performance of Dimitri Legupski (Claude Gamba).

Les Grand Pas de Quatre, set to music by Cesare Pugni, is a battle of four ballet-diva egos that is equal part expressive and humorous. It’s a battle of the bows that makes even the most diva-esque of the Russians look downright meek. Yet, in the true Trock style, there’s a dose of dang good dancing between and mixed into the comedy. (This piece was a particular victim of the cast change bug, so I fear that individual performances cannot be credited at this point, other than I believe Sveltlana Lofatkina was the totally delightfully passive aggressive Marie Taglioni. Never before has a fake-lashed glare been so powerful!) Of note was the tall, blond ballerina who performed a stunning slow motion lunge down to a split that would make most ballerinas drool.

As a special treat, Larissa Dumbchenko returned to grace us with a stage full of swan feathers in the ego fluffing – or rather defluffing - that is the Dying Swan. No Trocks show would be complete without this feather overload, and Dumbchenko does it to full delight. Kudos to the Trocks costume designers for figuring out the secret recipe to create a tutu that sheds feathers at just the right pace!

The evening ended with a well deserved skewering of “Raymonda’ Wedding”. Glauzunov’s music just screams “choreograph to me”, but Petipa’s Three-Act ballet has everything but a plot. The Trocks’ fabulous program writer delicately refers to it as “traditionally confusing”, but Raymonda is a ballet that not even the likes of ABT’s Marcello Gomes and David Hallberg can save from snooze-ville. So it’s a perfect target for the Trocks’ witty pointe shoes; and their excerpt kicks the original far off the map.

Ida Nevasayneva was a statuesque White Lady and almost the entire company filled out the top-notch cast. Of all the ballets, Raymonda best revealed the superb classical technique that underpins the Trocks’ humour. The fabulous acting, pratfalls, facial expressions and choreographic alterations that make the Trocks would not be possible if the dancing was not rock solid. And there’s no doubt that with a cast of dancers who have for the most part been with the company for years, that these men/divas/ladies can dance their pants/tutus off and then some. Again, there were casting changes, but I believe we saw Canada’s own Brock Hayoe as a youthful, brash Jean de Brienne. Whomever donned the shoes of Raymonda was most impressive, switching from frisky to romantic to delicate and back, all with technique to burn. Another unknown ballerina stood out for a totally kick ass series of beats, and I believe it was Joshua Grant as Katerina Bychkova who distinguished herself with beautifully full rotated double tours.

From Swans to Silly Sounds to Stare Downs to feathers galore and Raymonda for Dummies, it was an evening to remember. When the Trocks are in town, they will bring the house down!

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