Ballet bowls ’em over with fun and finesse

Marc Shulgold, Rocky Mountain News
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Guys in tutus with pun-filled Russian names. To the casual, slightly bemused observer, that’s pretty much all there is to Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo.

Not so.

Oh sure, this is an all-male troupe that has spent the last few decades sending up the melodramatic silliness and formal contrivances of classical ballet – not to mention the ego games of those multisyllabic Soviet defectors.

But there’s so much more, as witnessed by the Trocks’ weekend performances around the state. Otherwise, the joke would wear thin after 15 minutes, much less two or three decades.

To the delight of a near- packed house in Gates Concert Hall on Saturday, January 26, 2008, in Denver, the company mixed high jinks with utterly serious ballet – winning over the crowd with both approaches.

I hear your skepticism: “Serious ballet?” Indeed. The evening ended with Majisimas, a lengthy splash of Spanish-style dancing, replete with fans, bullfighting gestures, etc. And all with hardly a trace of elbow-ribbing parody.

In fact, the intentional collision of senoritas seemed out of place. Through it all, the ballerinas (partnered by men portraying men) danced with more lightness and sweetness than many a real senorita. Performed to the ballet music from Massenet’s El Cid, this proved a welcome relief from the sometimes repetitive goofiness of the numbers that preceded it.

The divertissements in the middle of the program seemed in retrospect to serve as transitions between comedy and, um, seriousness. There was Gerd Tord (real name, Bernd Burgmaier) littering the stage with molting feathers in the company’s classic Dying Swan, shamelessly milking applause in the tradition of the prima ballerina. But she danced wonderfully.


Two other brief pieces also juggled buffoonery and ballet. The famous pas de deux from Corsaire was performed with maximum commitment, if minimum bravura, by Yakaterina Verbosovich (Chase Johnsey) and Tino Xirau Lopez (Roberto Lara).

The Grand Pas de Quatre, created to showcase four brilliant 19th-century ballerinas who intently disliked each other, found the foursome of Russian damsels Doumiafeyva, Bolemova, Lofatkina and lone foreigner Minnie van Driver playing the bickering to the hilt – while dancing and posing divinely.

The evening opened with the company’s signature work, Act Two of Swan Lake. It’s evolved over the years, with some delicious new comedic touches, but this arm-flapping masterpiece is as fresh and funny as ever.

Gerd’s alter ego, Pavel Tord, served as the crossbow-wielding aid to the super-blond Prince Siegfried of Ashley Romanoff- Titwillow (Joshua Grant), who is smitten by the beauty and shaved underarms of Odette, danced heroically by Lariska Dumbchenko (Raffaele Morra), who is under the spell of Rothbart, performed menacingly by Yuri Smirov (Robert Carter).

Ah, but those eight cavorting swans, posing and scurrying and hopping about in a fashion that would have made audiences swoon at the Bolshoi. OK, not really. But on Saturday, the gals in white induced roars of laughter. Which is almost as good.