The male Les Ballets Trockadero mixes athletic dance with grace and pratfalls
They are ballerinas.
Perhaps not the loveliest of ballerinas, but skillful. Precise. And, um, unusually strong. You might not think them the most graceful ballerinas you’ve ever seen, but grace can be a matter of context. Charlie Chaplin and Harpo Marx weren’t textbook images of elegance, but for their own purposes they had grace in spades.
Perhaps you’ve heard of Les Ballets Trockadero de Monto Carlo and are ready with the argument that these performers can’t possibly be ballerinas, because they’re men. Poppycock!
Yes, dancers Robert Carter, Paul Ghiselin and Joshua Grant are men. But the likes of Olga Supphozova, Ida Nevasayneva and Katarina Bychkova — the alter-egos these men inhabit when onstage with the troupe lovingly known as the Trocks — most definitely are ballerinas, regardless of chromosomal evidence to the contrary.
Wednesday night’s sold-out White Bird series performance at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall confirmed that the dozen or so Trocks really can dance, acquitting themselves more than admirably en pointe, especially in the bravura classical choreography of “Le Lac des Cygnes” (Act II of “Swan Lake”). Something’s inherently amusing about men — muscular men in tutus, no less — executing the delicate spins, extensions and other torsional marvels we’re used to seeing performed by 90-pound sylphs.
But I doubt I was the only audience member who occasionally quit being conscious of the gender bend and simply found the dance absorbing on its own terms.
The Trocks jockey for attention with back-alley bluster, inflating their gestures, mugging shamelessly and even sabotaging the other dancers midstep. Pratfalls and miscues stud the movement like punctuation. Yet, the copious chest hair of this “Swan Lake” Odette aside, they’re not doing drag. As artistic director Tory Dobrin told The Guardian newspaper last year, “We are satirizing ballerinas, not women.”
Not surprisingly, the most iconic repertoire worked best for this. “Swan Lake” was larded with the most overt sight gags, but it also had the greatest formal rigor. The tension between those elements created a crucial energy.
After all, grace under pressure is really the only kind there is.