Review: Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo - programme 2 - The Peacock

Performance: 22 - 26 September 2015
Reviewed by Graham Watts - Friday 25 September 2015

Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo 'Don Quixote'. Photo: Bettina Strenske

Les Sylphides / Patterns in Space / Go for Barocco / Dying Swan / Don Quixote

Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo has been globe trotting for forty years, in which time it has honed to comedic perfection a formulaic structure of “pick and mix” from a growing repertoire that parodies the historic ideals and imagery of émigré Russian ballet. But, this is a professional dance ensemble that is so much more than caricature and comic mimicry: these are guys who dance extraordinarily well but who prefer to do so (mostly) as glamorous ballerinas. Combining drag ballet with dancing comedy gold is the Trocks’ unique mission.

Every show always begins and ends the same way. Starting with a deadpan announcement – in strongly Russian-accented English – about the indisposition and absence of the lead ballerina (a diva by the name of Notgoodenuv); and always ending with a danced encore that has some topicality to the venue or the times. Here it was a hilarious pastiche of the Irish dancing of Michael Flatley and crew. In between these staple bookends, there will usually be a “white” ballet; some divertissements (always including the ubiquitous Dying Swan and – often, as here – a neoclassical ballet and something modern) before concluding with a one-act ballet borrowed and adapted from the extensive repertoire of the Imperial Russian – or later Soviet – traditions; all laced with the trademark humour of exaggeration and pastiche.

On this occasion, the concluding ballet was the UK premiere of the Trocks’ own cut-down Don Quixote, so truncated that the title character is absent! Brilliant editing gives us all the iconic elements of the ballet: gypsies; street dancers; one-armed lifts; Amour and her romance-inducing bow and arrow; and the full grand pas de deux, but danced like never before.

Trocks’ veteran, Chase Johnsey, is glammed-up into an ultra-attractive ballerina, Yakatarina (sic) Verbosovich, to portray a sultry Kitri, whacking out 36 fouettés – in singles and doubles – with the seriousness of his dance technique aligned to the parallel comedy of his facial expressions. One of the newer recruits, Paolo Cervellera, dances Basil in the guise of Vyacheslav Legupski with an erectile quiff protruding from the front of his wig. The irrepressible Robert Carter’s deliciously arthritic Armour is a sylph that has seen better days. The 16 members of the Trocks ensemble were supplemented by Lagavulina Skotchroksova (Graham Sheffield), who is billed as an “uninvited guest artist’! This is a hilarious new take on an old-fashioned classic that provides a fresh new addition to the Trocks’ facility for mixing madcap lampooning and exciting dancing.

The rest of the programme comprised several much-loved old friends, beginning with a unique version of Les Sylphides, which casts a surreal and slapstick take on this most ethereal of white ballets. Everything that can go wrong does, but with expert timing: “ballerinas” collide, they lose balance, high kicks are narrowly dodged by vulnerable heads. The soporific effect of this plotless ballet puts some of the dancers to sleep and the hapless blonde “poet”, Sergei Legupski (Gianni Goffredo) is barely awake throughout! The role reversal is completed by Goffredo genuinely appearing to be a ballerina in drag!

This was followed by Patterns in Space, the closely observed caricature of the work of Merce Cunningham and John Cage. Cunningham’s wide-legged, outstretched movement is cleverly captured but one is hardly able to watch the dance due to the front-of-stage shenanigans of the two “musicians”, making absurd musical sounds out of everyday objects. Carter (a Trock since 1995) brought tears to my eyes as the geeky Yuri Smirnov with high-waisted trousers up to his chest.

The Trocks then journeyed from contemporary dance to neo-classical ballet with Go for Barocco, a neoclassical pastiche of Balanchine’s Concerto Barocco, which was danced at a furious pace, led by the principal pair of Doris Vidanya (Matthew Poppe) and Eugenia Repelskii (Joshua Thake). The interval was approached, as always, by the staple ingredient of The Dying Swan, newly performed (for me at any rate) by Carlos Renedo (dancing as Maria Paranova).

The current ensemble is a rich mix of experience and freshness: in addition to the long-serving Carter, three other guys have been with the company for more than a decade, while seven (almost half) have joined since the last UK tour But while the people change, their alter-egos’ names carry on in a formula that has continued for many years without becoming at all jaded. In former iterations, Minnie Van Driver has been played by Trystan Merrick and Joseph Jefferies but “she” is now Matthew Van (joined May 2014); and the outstanding Cuban dancer, Carlos Hopuy has recycled the persona of Alla Snizova, once owned by Aviad Herman. New names also join the fun: I don’t recall a Helen Highwaters before (Duane Gosa since September 2013); or the orphaned Collette Adae (Christopher Ouellette since May 2014).

Whether reincarnating old “ballerinas” or inventing new ones, the continuing regeneration of the Trocks is an ongoing process of seamless joy! I once thought that it would be impossible for anyone to dance The Dying Swan but the incomparable Ida Nevasayneva (Paul Ghiselin) or his alternate, Lariska Dumbchenko (Raffaele Morra) but Renedo (a Trock for just three years) was just as impressive in this masterpiece of comic pantomime, physical theatre and classy dancing.

Continues at The Peacock until Fri 26 September

Not in London? Plenty of chances to catch The Trocks on their UK tour – until 11 November

Photos: Bettina Strenske

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