Drag ballerinas assault the classics, claws sheathed
Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo
The invisible pre-performance announcer orders us to turn off our cell phones in an extravagant Russian accent, adding that the ballerinas of Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo are in “vyery good mood tonight.”
Temperament is crucial. The gentlemen known as the Trocks impersonate grand-mannered divas of another era, capable of scattering tacks on the stage before a rival’s solo. The delights of watching them perform have to do with layered transformations, e.g., Robert Carter as Olga Supphozova as Odette in Swan Lake, Act II. Much of the comedy proceeds from discrepancies—say, when tutu’d swans high-five one another, or a soloist’s developpé knocks a corps member out of formation, or when, in Les Sylphides, nearsighted Stanislas Kokotch (Tibor Horvath) founders under the weight of Gerd Tord (Bernd Burgmaier)—tall and willowy, with wonderfully fluid arms—as he totes her spread-eagled around the stage.
The classics lend themselves all too well to parody. The corps ladies in Mikhail Fokine’s Sylphides frame the soloists in sisterly poses, holding each for a very long time. The Trocks, in a staging by Alexander Minz, eventually keel over and fall asleep. In the 1895 Swan Lake, Prince Siegfried’s friend Benno assisted in the pas de deux (the original Siegfried being a bit long in the tooth). In Trutti Gasparinetti’s version, Benno is a tad too adoring, and Odette’s baffled to find herself repeatedly in the wrong guy’s arms.
The technical level of the dancing has risen strikingly since the company’s founding in 1974. Supphozova, Sveltlana Lofatkina (Fernando Medina-Gallego), and Yakaterina Verbosovich (Chase Johnsey), among others, can whip off scads of immaculate fouettés and pirouettes. Verbosovich is especially charming while executing the pyrotechnics in her Flames of Paris solo. They’re all so good that they have to work harder—sometimes too hard—to be funny. Lariska Dumbchenko (Raffaele Morra) delivers some exquisitely subtle takes and gestures as Marie Taglioni in Jules Perrot’s Pas de Quatre, but the pseudo-gracious maneuvering between rival soloists goes on forever. And sometimes the deliberate slips from loveliness into coarseness are too extreme, as with Supphozova’s disgruntled-caveman walk.
The troupe’s most recent acquisitions are Leonide Massine’s 1938 Gaîté Parisienne and La Cage, Robert La Fosse’s take on Jerome Robbins’s 1951 The Cage. Some ballets in the repertory stick close to the original choreography; Susan Trevino instead uses Massine’s characters, basic scenario, and a few steps to create colorful choreography of her own. The romantic mix-ups in a fin de siécle Parisian nightspot are blurry in terms of the relationships between characters. Mikhail Mypansarov (Damien Diaz) is beguiling as the bouncy little Peruvian visitor, but Supphozova’s glove seller lacks elegance, even before she gets sloppily drunk.
La Cage should suit the company well. Its tribe of spidery females, like the wilis in Giselle, slay every man entering their domain, and the Trocks temporarily “kill” their maleness to succeed as ballerinas. The piece’s modernity, however, challenges these “Russian” divas. La Fosse staged the ballet pretty straight, and the dancers are rightly uncertain about camping it up. The outrageously fuzzy wigs of the women (costumes by Kenneth Busbin, after the originals) are almost comedy enough, but the cast hasn’t quite decided the ratio between ritual viciousness and bloodthirsty glee. Statuesque Katerina Bychkova (Joshua Grant, who as Ashley Romanoff Titwillow excels in his Swan Lake solo) is tremendous as the queen, and Maria Paranova (Or Sagi) begins well, if not quite awkwardly enough, as the novice. But there’s no rapport or sexual tension between her and Yuri Smirnov (another persona of Carter/Supphozova).
In the end, what’s wonderful about the Trocks goes beyond parody into a realm where everyone onstage revels in the beauty of dancing and shows how dancing beautifully is the best ending for any fairy tale.