There’s nothing particularly outrageous about a performance of “Swan Lake” featuring dancers in tights, tutus and toe shoes. Yet when it’s performed by the Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, things are rarely as they seem.
The fine and often funny moves of the cross-dressing dancers made for a silly and satisfying evening for the nearly sell-out crowd at Artemus Ham Hall at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas Saturday.
Two selections from “Swan Lake” were featured in a program that also included several more contemporary works.
The company, formed in 1974 with early performances past prime time in off-off Broadway settings, dances with tongues firmly in cheek. At the same time, all are classically trained and have spent time in other companies, from the Metropolitan Opera Ballet to Los Angeles Classic Ballet. Jai Williams, one of the featured performers Saturday, danced with Las Vegas’ Nevada Dance Theatre (now Nevada Ballet Theatre) before joining the Trockadero troupe in 1994.
As part of the fun, the program lists fictitious Russian dancers, complete with fanciful biographies.
The primary problem of the performance occurs just because the dancers are good. So much of the time onstage is over-the-top: a dying swan that sheds a flurry of feathers with each step, a male principal who can’t quite cope with a prima ballerina’s lifts and has to call for assistance. Yet there are passages that — once you get beyond the fact that those are males, not females, dancing on point — are simply fine, classical ballet. It’s not bad, but it’s not why the audience came.
Another minor concern was that one of the dances is already designed to be a comical piece. “Yes, Virginia, Another Piano Ballet” was performed by the Nevada Ballet Theatre in the past couple of years, and there it was extra amusing to see veterans being silly. Here, it was also funny, but it didn’t require any different moves from what are typically choreographed.
This stop was the second of the Trockadero 2003 season, which will see them dancing throughout the United States, as well as making a stop in Guatemala in February and spending six weeks in Japan this summer.
The company last performed here in March 2000, and was asked to return because of its popularity.
The evening opened with the second act of “Swan Lake,” with tall, lanky Williams as Odette. Dramatic in white tights and tutu, his dazzling smile and blue eye shadow could have been seen in the last row. He spent much time on point, punctuated with more than one series of lavish pirouettes. The six swans had many skills and many silly moves, too. They included pratfalls and a section where swans did what swans may do: ticking their heads and grooming their wings. Physically, few resembled ballerinas. One reminded of the late John Belushi if he had taken a turn as a dancer.
Some Trockadero dancers do take the parts of males, including three in this selection who provide noble support to the swans. Males as males do not always take second seat to the other dancers, including Grant Thomas and Yonny Manaure in “Piano Ballet,” each given time for a fine solo.
The evening concluded with “Stars and Stripes Forever,” a nod to a ’50s patriotic piece that was first danced by the New York City Ballet, with the company in a sparkle of red, white and blue sequins and bright and white tutus. It was lighthearted, yet appropriate — and proved that it is possible to dance on point to a march.
What: Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo
Where: University of Nevada, Las Vegas