Reviews

The Trocks revive a watery classic

Robert Johnson, The New Jersey Star Ledger
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What: Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo
Where: John Harms Center for the Performing Arts, 30 N. Van Brunt Street, Englewood
When: 7 p.m., April 13
How Much: Tickets are $25-$40. Call (201) 567-3600, or visit the website (www.johnharms.org)

Ballet fans are used to seeing strange things. Gypsies, fairies, and women in bird costumes count as standard scenery on the ballet stage.

Few things in ballet look as strange, however, as Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, a company with a tradition of drag performance, where audiences can see men dressed as women dressed as birds–and flapping for all they’re worth.

When this classical comedy troupe appears, Sunday, at the John Harms Center for the Performing Arts, in Englewood, it will skewer, and roast the ballet world’s most ubiquitous fowl in hilarious sendups of “Swan Lake,” and “The Dying Swan.”

The late choreographer George Balanchine joins Swan on the menu, when The Trocks, as they are called, strip down to Spartan practice clothes to perform “Go For Barocco,” a spoof of Balanchine’s neo-classical style complete with high kicks, and daisy chains that are far too clever for their own good.

Yet the most unusual item on the program will be new to the Trocks’ repertoire. This evening of thunder thighs, and equally hefty satire will conclude with an excerpt from “The Little Humpbacked Horse,” a fairy-tale ballet now rarely performed. The Trocks plan to give this piece its company premiere in Stonybrook, New York, the night before they appear in Englewood.

“It’s in line with the direction we’ve been going in,” says Tory Dobrin, the Trocks’ artistic director. “We’ve been using a lot of the ballets that are common in Russia, but not common in the United States, such as ‘Esmeralda,’ ‘La Vivandiere,’ and ‘Harlequinade’. ‘

As it happens, Dobrin says this turn-of-the-last-century staging of “The Little Humpbacked Horse,” with choreography by Alexander Gorsky and Marius Petipa, is hardly danced in Russia anymore. Elena Kunikova, a Russian balletmistress who remembered learning the ballet as a child, mounted it on the Trocks.

Dobrin says the ballet appealed to him, when he saw it on videotape, because of the possibilities for mischief.

The excerpt shows a divertissement in the Underwater Kingdom visited by the protagonists. Petipa’s contributions include a variation for a Goldfish, and a Starfish pas de deux. Gorsky is responsible for the pas de trois that features the Genie of the Underwaters, and two Corals. The principal ballerina, in the role of Queen of the Underwaters, heads a corps de ballet of six Medusas, or Jellyfish. In fact, the only characters missing from this seafood platter are Flipper, and Charlie the Tuna–although with the Trocks, you never know.

While this casting seems unusual today, in the 19th century the underwater ballet offered a counterpart to the so-called “ballet blanc,” featuring spirits, and other mystical characters.Underwater ballets were highlights of such Romantic masterworks as Filippo Taglioni’s “La Fille du Danube,” and Jules Perrot’s “Ondine.” Ironically, the underwater scene from “The Little Humpbacked Horse” contains gorgeous choreography, which balletomanes would appreciate seeing without comic embellishments. Dobrin notes: “All the variations are very different in terms of the combinations of steps. They’re very sophisticated, tricky coordinations that are challenging for any dancer.

“Those ballets are considered old-fashioned by the people who are running the ballet world today,” Dobrin says regretfully. He knows from his own experience, however, that ballet audiences feel differently. The Trocks performed an excerpt from “Le Corsaire” years before the ballet became a hit at Boston Ballet, and American Ballet Theatre. Directors who spurn the classics are simply out-of-touch.

Says Dobrin, “People who love ballet love these older works.”