Mixed programme - Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo
Hippodrome Theatre, Birmingham, UK; November 5, 2008.
Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo has been with us for 34 years, and it says a great deal about them and, and probably about us too, that they still make us laugh and smile. That was certainly true in Birmingham, where the audience simply lapped up their jokes and not always so subtle mockery of classical ballet.
The starting point for their humour is, of course, men dancing en travesti
. Of course, this was once the norm; dancing on stage was quite simply something no respectable woman would do. And it’s hardly uncommon in British ballet or theatre today either. Think of Ashton and pantomime for starters. Like these, the Trocks are far more than men in drag
In Birmingham the company presented a ‘classic’ programme, opening with their signature work, Act II from “Swan Lake”. The tone of the evening is set immediately. Enter Lariska Dumbchenko (Rafaelle Morra) as Odette, as perfectly white as a swan should be. Then you spot the hairy chest peeking out from under ‘her’ tutu, and she gives us a look that says this is not a good night and heaven help any man who gets in her way. That man turns out to be Ashley Romanoff-Titwillow (Joshua Grant). If ever a name summed up a character, this is it, as he turns out to be a complete parody of the Russian danseur and as full of self-importance as is possible.
The slapstick comedy and visual gags come thick and fast. Odette is all fluttering eyelashes one minute but then looks like she could kill her partner the next. And when the carrot-haired Rothbart gets in her way, a few well-aimed kicks soon sorts him out. Swans get things wrong and fall over. They stand in the wrong place only to be yanked unceremoniously back into line. The cygnets start perfectly, but soon let the occasion get the better of them as the dance descends into something resembling a Parisian can-can.
“Swan Lake” was, if anything, a little over the top. But it did get the audience in the mood for what was to follow. As with all the Trocks programmes, while the humour is never far away, this one a little more serious as the evening proceeds. Svetlana Lofatkina (Fernando Medina Gallego) and William Vanilla (Joseph Jefferies) in the “Don Quixote” pas de deux gave us a perfect mix of Latin attitude and Russian style. The humour returned in “Le Grand Pas de Quatre”, Eugenia Repelskii (Camilo Rodriquez) as Marie Taglioni making sure we, and the other dancers, didn’t forget who was the star here.
Joshua Grant returned as the “Dying Swan”, moulting at such speed it looked like he (should that be she?) would soon be ready for the oven. Even the audience played its part. A little wave just before he died brought the obligatory ‘aaahhhh’ right on cue.
It is all very funny, even when you can see the joke coming a mile off, but these guys can dance can dance too. The humour comes in partnership with some seriously good technique - in both male and female roles. This really showed in the finale, “Paquita”. The dancers may not have the same extension or flexibility, but they can jump and turn on pointe just as well as any woman. Long-time company member Robert Carter’s series of fouettés were notably outstanding.
To dance deliberately badly or with such humour, you have to be able to dance pretty well. While each of the Trocks brings their own speciality to the party, they can dance. That is why they remain so popular. It is not only about men dressing as women and dancing women’s roles, they poke just as much fun at the men, but it is equally about dancing.
They do expose the pretentiousness of classical ballet, with the starchiness of the classical Russian style a particular target. But as Kenny Everett would say, “it’s all done in the best possible taste.” It is hilarious but the humour is affectionate and there is clearly a respect and a reverence for classical dance. In a sense they show us what ballerinas really are. They are not soft and dainty, but tough characters. The Trocks probably show us what Odette or whoever is really feeling behind that ballet smile.
If you saw the company regularly, I suspect the jokes would wear a bit thin. But they are great to come back to from time to time. The Birmingham audience certainly loved every minute. There are in-jokes that only balletomanes will get. But the great thing about the Trocks is that you can enjoy them on so many levels. In many ways it is old fashioned humour, but it is all done so brilliantly you just have to surrender to it.
Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo return to the UK in February and March 2009, presenting this programme in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Nottingham, Newcastle, Milton Keynes, Salford, Woking and High Wycombe. See http://www.worldwidedanceuk.com for dates.