Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, Programme 1, Peacock Theatre

Graham Watts,
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Performance: 16 Sep – 4 Oct 08

With a worldwide shortage of good male ballet dancers, there’s a delicious irony in the enduring popularity of the ‘Trocks’, as this company is so affectionately known to its many admirers.  This is, of course, because the Trocks are a company exclusively comprised of very good male ballet dancers, each of whom dance ‘en travesti’, a much more cultured way of saying ‘in drag’. As an excellent history in the programme reminds us, the Trocks’ concept is a child of the 1970s, growing out of fun performances in ëlate-late shows in Off-Off Broadway lofts but, actually, they are the current standard bearers of a cross-dressing theatrical convention that was the norm until the eighteenth century, simply because the sight of real women on stage was understood to encourage immorality!  So this is really high art.

It’s too easy to pigeon-hole the company as being purely playful, although the humour is rife within their work, from the slapstick farce of dancers falling flat on their faces; to more subtle innuendoes pricking the bubbles of balletic snobbery.  But, they can dance straight and this programme starts with the Trocks’ trademark, hilarious version of the white Act from Swan Lake, containing almost no attempt at serious dance, to conclude with Majisimas, a Spanish-flavoured dance divertissement from an 1885 Massenet opera, which is danced with a clear reverence for classical technique, albeit frequently exaggerating the discipline to extract some parallel fun from this playful parody.  The humorous tag belies the extent of these dancersí abilities, even during the belly-full of laughs to accompany Odetteís tantrums in Swan Lake we should never underestimate the controlled mastery of technique that enables these performers to dance badly or to perform multiple pirouettes and fouettés and then throw in extra gestures to show their surprise.

Every Trock dancer has two alter-egos, the ballerinas that they become, and the few danseurs nobles that they need to accompany them.  Thus, long-time Trocs star, Paul Ghiseline is both Velour Pilleaux (the very ineffectual von Rothbart in Swan Lake) and the fading ballerina, Ida Nevasayneva, whose Dying Swan is another all-time favourite from the Trocksí box of chocs, complete with malting feathers and an impromptu toilet break, and continuing into ‘Idaís’ never-ending milking of the curtain call.  You also have to catch Fernando Medina Gallegoís performance as a petulant Sveltlana Lofatkina in the role of Odette desparate to be wooed by Ashley Romanoff-Titwillow’s obviously inbred Prince (aka Joshua Grant)!

What never ceases to amaze me is their ability to be obviously men dancing obviously as women; the big swans are HUGE and there is no attempt to hide weight and bulk (although some of the dancers are as small and as slight as any ballerina and there is extra fun in the contrast of a huge ‘woman’ supporting her pirouette with hands firmly pushing down on the heads of two tiny men).  Yet despite this, we get the optical illusion of large, muscular men dancing with feminine subtlety and gesture.† Marketing consultants will say, of course, that this is the USP of the Trocksí famous brand.†† The good thing is that you can love it whether you care for ballet, or not, and a visit to see them is bound to be fun.  This first programme runs at The Peacock until 20 September (and then again from 30 September to 4 October) and a new programme (including their take on ëGiselleí) is on from 23-27 September, 2008.

They are also touring the UK see