‘Ballet is woman’ insisted George Balanchine, but ballet can also be a big man in a dress as any fan of Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo will testify.
The Trocks began life in 1974, dancing for a select few in pop-up performance spaces in Manhattan, but the troupe’s irresistible blend of low comedy and high art soon outgrew its coterie audience. By the mid-1980s it was a fixture on the national and international tour circuit. Japan, with its ancient tradition of cross-dressing onnagata, is practically a second home.
Classical ballet has long been a soft target for physical comedy — think of Freddie Starr retrieving a packet of Rothmans from the ‘lunchbox’ at the front of his tights or Morecambe and Wise joining the four little swans. The first few dozen laughs in a Trocks show come easily. The bogus cast-change announcements, the corps of squabbling swans and the bottle-blond premier danseur all serve to tenderise the audience in readiness for the ballet history lessons that follow. Tutus predominate but the eclectic back catalogue offers an impressive stylistic range, with sly pastiches of August Bournonville (a ditzy and delectable Napoli pas de six), Balanchine (Go For Barocco) and even Merce Cunningham and John Cage, who are mercilessly satirised in Patterns in Space set to a live score for electric razor, bubble wrap and aspirin bottle.
Last week’s mixed bill at the Peacock kicked off with a painstaking piss-take of Michel Fokine’s 1909 Les Sylphides, a love letter to the vaporous charms of the romantic ballet in which a fey young man in a beribboned velvet jerkin and Veronica Lake coiffure wafts around a moonlit glade with a bevy of mysterious maidens in white. The gags practically write themselves: steps are forgotten, entrances fluffed, stars upstaged. But just as the audience is relaxing into the comedy, Nina Immobilashvili (aka Alberto Pretto) unleashes her grand jeté, Nina Enimenimynimova (Long Zou) swizzles silkily through another pirouette en attitude and the realisation dawns: these jokers can really dance.