Batting Their Lashes Won’t Do It All; They’ve Got Big Tutus to Fill

Claudia La Rocco, New York Times
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Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo The troupe performing "Paquita" at the Joyce Theater on Thursday. Credit Andrea Mohin/The New York Times

Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo at the Joyce

Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo serve largely as a critique — however loving — of the conventions and traditions of ballet, many of which can look awfully musty to modern-day eyes: the tiaras, the fairy tales, the hierarchies that flourish onstage and off.

Yet this all-male company can now seem musty itself, particularly in its handling of gender. On the eve of 2013, the Trocks’ delight in, and reliance on, campy drag speaks as much — if not more — to a wider history of cultural expectations and stereotypes as it does to ballet-specific ones.

Of course, this isn’t to say that the charms of false eyelashes aren’t evergreen. On Thursday night, when the Trocks performed the second program of their three-week run at the Joyce Theater, they garnered cheers and catcalls.

“Le Grand Pas de Quatre” (1974, after Jules Perrot), a dance for four divas in Mike Gonzales’s fabulously pink and puffy costumes, showed off the Trocks’ steely point work and vicious infighting. Showbiz is not for the weak of heart, and the ability of these gals to cut one another dead with their eyes is as startling as it is giggle-inducing. (Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but this probably isn’t the show for the ardent feminists among us.)

Paul Ghiselin (as Ida Nevasayneva) had the stage all to himself for his feather-molting, garishly made-up “Dying Swan.” I was reminded of “Opening Night – a vaudeville,” which the American choreographer Mark Tompkins (long based in France) presented at this year’s ImPulsTanz dance festival in Vienna. Mr. Tompkins created an elegiac, show-must-go-on portrait of an aging drag performer, while Mr. Ghiselin channeled more of a “Golden Girls” joie de vivre. He did it marvelously. Still, it would be nice to see these performers stretch themselves emotionally in other ways.

But the behind-the-scenes intrigues, triumphs and heartbreaks (which of course often occur onstage in dance) do undergird the silliness of the Trocks. Much of the interest in “Les Sylphides,” staged by Alexander Minz in 1976, lies in the human architecture of the corps de ballet.

As the pancaked, bewigged ladies tried and failed — mightily — to sustain poses, falling on their rumps, showboating and knocking into one another, I couldn’t help thinking of “Véronique Doisneau,” the solo work Jérôme Bel made about that Paris Opera Ballet dancer on the eve of her retirement. In this deeply affecting piece, which is another critique of ballet, Ms. Doisneau talks about the toll of serving as a flesh-and-bone backdrop for the company stars.

Everyone gets to be a star in Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, which tend to take aim at the funny bone rather than the heart. Perhaps not surprisingly, the moments when these male dancers, still heavily made up and sometimes in Ken-doll wigs, perform male roles are the most striking and poignant. Here is a portrait of gender far more fluid, fraught — and beautiful — than man versus woman.

Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo run through Jan. 6, 2013 at the Joyce Theater, 175 Eighth Avenue, at 19th Street, Chelsea; (212) 242-0800,

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