Big Guns

Glória Halász, Budapest, Hungary
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The dying swan shedding the feathers of its tutu, the ballerinas falling like dominoes from an unsuccessfully held pose, the muddled positions to be corrected on stage and the almost invisible jealousy games could all be parts, whether visible or not, of a serious ballet performance. It is exactly with these that the world-famous company hallmarks their legendary performances, which are intended to be frivolous with immeasurable seriousness.

The uniqueness of their repertoire and of the pieces performed in Budapest does not simply lie in their parody-like nature. The company of 16 male dancers pursue their trade professionally, and they make certain that it shows in their choreography along with their humour and acting abilities. The company, which was formed over 30 years ago could best be described as a Monty Python formation grafted onto dance: on the surface everything appears to be as normal, then the oddities begin to appear, the gags that are “just like the original but still different”, which in the end change the performance on the stage into something quite absurd and entertaining. The level of invention is so complex, that each dancer has alter egos, or more precisely they exist in their shape, with stage names of Russian ballet artists and ballerinas, who also have precise biographies. With the humorous academic introduction about the change of programme announced before the performance, it is not only the production but also the garnish that is a masterpiece. Although the biographies of the fictive dancers and deviations issuing from this cannot be followed very well in the performance, the real revelation essentially lies in the fact that beyond the style parody, which is the due of the often unnatural, dusty classical or modern ballet, which was meant to be avant garde, or altogether the dance profession, they enlarge human situations that are absolutely lifelike in a company. Since why couldn’t a figurant wish to be in the limelight, why couldn’t the artist playing the part of the prince be narcissistic, why couldn’t a ballerina fall over every now and then, why couldn’t the light effects man miss the dancer – we could continue ad infinitum, that’s almost what Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo do. And even so the programme does not become familiar for a moment.

The evening performance in Budapest included an adaptation of Swan Lake, a Pas de Deux, a Balanchine parody, the Dying swan performed by the emblematic figure of the company Paul Ghiselin and a piece called Paquita, the latter in the reinterpretation of Marius Petipa of a choreography first performed in Paris in 1846, which later “emigrated” to Russia. The arrangement of the evening is unusual since Swan Lake, which is obviously the best known, so the most likely to have great success, and the one with the most humour in it is performed first. Although it has a frenetic continuation later with the Dying Swan, but the most effective crackers of the firework display are set off at the beginning of the performance. The “Trockaderod” version of Swan Lake, together with holding an superb mirror to classical ballet, is an excellent choice, because it also displays typical characters. The very wicked magician Rothbart, the very princely and handsome Prince Siegfried, the ethereal Odette and the flock of swans bantering with each other and with the strangers. So they can pillory the simplicity of the characters, the naïve plot line, the didactic means of expression and the previously mentioned jealousy games. It’s a fine moment when the unexpected beam of light during the applause reveals the Prince and the ballerina fighting over a bouquet of flowers. A continuation of this piece is the above mentioned swan solo, brilliantly interpreted by Paul Ghiselin as a closing piece of the second part of the evening. The willowy dancer full of character, in his feather shedding tutu is a grotesque phenomenon in itself – the manyeth source of humour in the productions is obviously male dancers wearing a female face i.e. make up and clothes, and after that it is only a matter of shape whether somebody will be successful merely by his appearance. Even the introduction to the Dying Swan is brilliant, the spotlights sweep the empty stage, naturally missing the target, while the dancer begins the choreography in the dark. Paul Ghiselin puts a thousand colours into the production: his gestures reveal the tedium of the dance material. His desperation about it, the pursuit of success and applause alike. He is a prima donna, a ham, a comedian and a professional dancer in one. Just like all the members of the company.

The other two significant pieces of the evening, Go For Barocco and Paquita, work with partially different tools. The choreography, cracking jokes at Balanchine’s style, on his, according to the programme, “so-dark-blue-that-it-is-almost-black and white” period, largely operates with formal play by realising all the potential mistakes of mannered exhibitions of form, or greatly magnifying the unnaturalness behind the movements. After this chapter which is mainly reminiscent of water ballet on stage and which is comparatively the least sparkling, the piece entitled Paquita in the third part of the evening is again a bonus for the audience and a reward for Robert Carter, who was already excellent in the first choreography, and who shines as the pushy ballerina of the piece. The technical knowledge of the artist is particularly apparent in this choreography, both on the individual and the formational level, the frequent applause and bravos, which are very rare among the local audience is not for the jokes but for the performance. The two characters are a given again: the Ballerina and the Cavalier, which is an excellent opportunity to show the two-dimensionality and unimaginativeness within these figures. We also come across delicacies like the bespectacled and short-sighted ballerina and the Irish dance unexpectedly thrown in during the applause.

It is not its exotic character that makes the guest performance of Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo so memorable. It is mainly their attitude that is so unusual on the domestic dance stages. Naturally it cannot be claimed that all performances must follow the trodden path. But it is definitely thought provoking that success doesn’t have to be cheap, it can be achieved professionally as well. And as long as it is the audience that pays for the ticket and not the other way around, the depressing and dark largely boring clouds marked with the slogans of “self-realisation” and “art”, or gigantic and empty forms full of pathos definitely have a weird effect. Since success is nothing to be ashamed of, the audience does indeed exist, it’s no accident that Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo are famous.