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En pointe and on form

The Bangkok Post
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All-male ballet company pushes the gender stereotypes of dance

The all-male ballet company from New York, Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, did not fail to tickle the Bangkok audience on October 16. Men en pointe fully dressed as ballerinas may seem funny, but really, if that were their only joke, the company would not last three minutes. In five pieces artistic director Tory Dobrin brought us pure slapstick humour, witty parodies of famous ballets and some great serious dancing. The performers were such a pleasure to watch that I stopped identifying them as men in drag and saw them simply as dancers who were highly skilled and charmingly entertaining.

The night began with an unconventional version of Swan Lake Act II, where Prince Siegfried is clueless and his swan-maiden Odette is bossy and often frustrated by her ”saviour”. The act opened with Tchaikovsky’s grand score bursting in as the magician darted around the stage in all his evilness. Curling his fingers in like claws he zapped his wicked powers in time to the thundering music and flashing lightning bolts in the backdrop. Prince Siegfried and Odette conversed through a series of hurried and unrefined mime _ as straightforward as mime gets _ and ploughed through a pas de deux where the prince’s hopeless inability to lift his girl called for aid from his equally hopeless, staggering page boy.

Odette’s charming swan pose was my favourite. Instead of skimming on the tips of their toes and lining up in unison, the swans waded and heavily thumped across the stage. They even formed their own little fluff of a group stretching their heads this way and that as if engaging in the juiciest swan gossip. Twice a lone swan scurried to find a spot among her peers a few counts too late. Finally, the compositional highlight was the famous Dance of the Little Swans. Usually four dancers, attached to each other by holding hands, perform a complicated series of footwork and head coordination in perfect unison. But in this version, heads rotated in all directions and one dancer’s delicate footwork turned into frantic leaps in her attempt to keep up with the others.

Next on the programme was a reinterpretation of the virtuosic pas de deux from Stars and Stripes Forever, with music by John Philip Sousa and original choreography by George Balanchine. Again, the male character is helplessly uninformed while the female often ends up doing better without his support. In a display of technical skills, the couple took turns executing fouette turns in between all-American salutes and flex-footed marches.

Vivaldi Suite was another Balanchine parody with a laugh-out-loud surprise. The female role was performed by a wide and towering dancer who stood giant next to her male lead: A tiny person with an unassuming 13-year-old-boy face whose entire body was about the length of his partner’s legs. One could imagine the audience cringing every time our ballerina leaned back on her toes into her partner’s little arms or when she swept her incredibly long legs to the sides with others nearby. The corps flitted upstage of the leads unravelling from one group arrangement and weaving into another. One satisfying moment was when the female principal picked up her tiny partner and spun him into a mid-air somersault.

The Dying Swan, a solo originally choreographed by Michel Fokine, showed the last pathetic struggles of a melodramatic emaciated waterbird accompanied by Camille Saint-Saens’ sweet, yearning music. The swan’s legs wobbled and shook at every attempt at balances and bourrees and before finally succumbing to her final death, she gathered her shedding feathers and threw them into the air as if demanding sympathy (from her giggling audience) in the most dreadful yet poetic moment of her life.

Lastly, the group piece Majisimas, with music by Jules Massenet and additional choreography by Raffaele Morra, displayed the intricacies of classical ballet technique with little hints of flamenco. The men leaped around in circles while the women swayed their hips and weaved in and out of V-shaped spatial arrangements. The dancers gathered in couples and quartets, twisting their upper bodies and clapping to the rhythm of the music.

Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo erased from my mind the gender expectations inherent in classical ballet. It was a rare experience to see dances danced by dancers and not by men or women.