Despite four decades of critical recognition – including excellent reviews from The New Yorker and The New York Times – I can’t say I was expecting Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo to be my kind of humour. An all-male ballet troupe who perform the classics in drag and call themselves by multisyllabic Russian puns (e.g., Innokenti Smoktumuchsky and Nadia Doumiafeyva) sounds camp enough to send me into loops of adolescent eye-rolling. But not only was I charmed and entertained by the 17-member troupe’s ridiculous antics, I was also impressed by the cleverness of the comedy and the calibre of the dancing. The New York-based Trocks, who performed at Toronto’s Winter Garden Theatre on the weekend and will continue their three-city Canadian tour later in the week, are a fantastic example of satire that works.
Something that often rankles me with comedic ballet is when the humour feels tacked onto the dancing as a kind of supplement, rather than engendered by the movement itself. Not so with the Trocks. This is true physical comedy and accomplished classical technique rolled into one. The choreography is uncannily good at homing in on ballet’s underlying absurdities and parodying the form’s admittedly weird conventions. It’s slapstick and theatrical for those who don’t know ballet, complete with inflated tropes of good and evil, feminine chastity and masculine libido, diva-sized egos and virtuosic displays of athleticism. But the satire is so spot-on in a technical sense that I think it’s even funnier to those of us who know the form inside-out and can really delight in having the familiar exposed for all its bizarreness.