In Toronto on Saturday
The audience was roaring with laughter even before the performance began.
The off-stage announcer, in the most pebble-in-the-mouth Russian accent imaginable, rhymed off all the changes to the program – who wasn’t dancing and who was – and the very names themselves were enough to tickle the funny bone. The outrageous Trocks were back in town.
Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo is an all-male ballet troupe that began in New York in 1974. Each of the 17 performers has two personas – a female en pointe ballerina, and a male danseur noble. The company deliberately prints the wrong cast information in the program so this announcement of changes has become a beloved Trock tradition.
Whenever the Trocks come to town, I look for the cleverest names among new members. Catching my eye immediately were ballerinas Nadia Doumiafeyva, Minnie van Driver and Helen Highwaters. As for the men, Innokenti Smoktumuchsky, Boris Nowitsky and Stanislas Kokitch caught my eye.
There are two levels of Trock enjoyment. For non-dance fans, watching guys in tutus and point shoes is just plain funny, especially when they layer in slapstick shtick like positioning mistakes and temper tantrums. For the cognoscenti, however, the Trocks are pure ballet gold because the company is an homage to the art form we love. Every ballet and modern dance piece is a deliciously clever knockoff of a well-known work that the Trocks brilliantly perform in the style of the original.
On this particular program, Michel Fokine’s 1909 dreamy French-Russian fusion Les Sylphides to Chopin music, danced in long white tulle skirts, was set against the requisite forest backdrop. Ashley Romanoff-Titwillow was the most vacant, brain-dead Poet in living memory. Even Muse partner Lariska Dumbchenko had to check to see if his heart was beating. Ballerinas Gerd Tord and Olga Supphozova were the Poet’s other Muses of inspiration. The corps de ballet misbehaved as usual.
Go for Barocco is the Trocks’ witty take on George Balanchine’s spirited and quirky neo-classical Concerto Barocco, the master’s clever 1941 rendering of Bach’s music performed in his trademark practice tunics on an empty stage. The soloists were the very tall Tord and petit and pert ballerina Yakatarina Verbosovich, and the two competed in grand fashion.
The pas de deux of the evening was from Petipa’s showy Don Quixote (1869) in full Russian Imperial bravura style to Minkus’ music, and the special addition was Fokine’s The Dying Swan, choreographed to Saint-Saëns for the great Anna Pavlova in 1905.
In the former, Sveltlana Lofatkina and William Vanilla really did dance up a storm among their shenanigans, while Katarina Bychkova (a.k.a. former National Ballet of Canada member Joshua Grant) dropped more feathers than an entire flock of birds in her death journey.
But something new is afoot at the Trocks. When it came to Petipa’s 1881 divertissements from Paquita, the men dropped most of the jokes and danced their hearts out in a spectacular show of virtuosity. The audience, who had mostly come to laugh, was now loudly cheering in undisguised admiration.
Clearly, the Trocks are now hiring whiz kids who bring exceptional dance skills to the fold. One could say that the Trocks are now an exciting ballet company in the truest sense of the word.