Dance Review

Sarah Kaufman, The Washington Post
Posted on

Divas infuse humor, character in dances

In an unsettled time, it’s somehow comforting to know that men in tutus can still get a laugh. Barrels of laughs. In fact, Wednesday’s Kennedy Center audience sounded at times like a studio full of Jimmy Fallon’s faithful. Heck, even the spotlight got a laugh as it illuminated an empty Eisenhower Theater stage for a few silent, drama-freighted moments before one of the heavily jeweled and rouged members of Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo tippytoed out, in his extra-large pointe shoes, for a shattering rendition of “The Dying Swan” that resurrected this weary solo from its legacy of self-important soppiness.

The best part of the ribbing — true to its roots in divaliciousness — was the curtain call, wherein the knobby-kneed bull-erina, Ida Nevasayneva (Paul Ghiselin), blew effusive kisses, toppled over in his curtsies and fumbled his way back through the curtain, all with unshakable aplomb.

Laughs? He deserved a chorus of bravos.

By this point, midway through the Kennedy Center debut of the Trocks, as they are fondly known, the audience was primed for their time-tested (they have been at it since 1974!) brand of all-male, drag-show ballet parody. There’s the chest hair spilling out of their decolletages. The debutante gloves pulled up to hirsute armpits. The swans who don’t conform, who throw punches; the uber-lipsticked prince who blankly gestures “huh?” when Swan Queen Odette unspools a sequence of nose-in-the-air fingerplay and arm-waving that approximates a 19th-century mime sequence carried out with 21st-century flimsiness.

The New York-based Trocks have not changed much in 36 years. This program, which concluded Wednesday night, could have been culled from their early appearances: bits of “Swan Lake,” Act 2 (a big kick in the waltz knocks over one of the swans on the sidelines; after the bows, everyone fights over the bouquet); the pas de deux from “Le Corsaire”; “Go for Barocco,” founding choreographer Peter Anastos’s sendup of Balanchine tropes, and variations from “Paquita,” in addition to “Dying Swan.” For this reason, I didn’t find the performance quite as amusing as my neighbors, many of whom were left gasping for breath. But what I appreciated most — and heartily applaud the whole blue-eye-shadowed troupe for — was the picture that the Trocks present of what ballet would look like if ballerinas were allowed to be individuals. If character, and differences, were invited in.

Bust the mold! cry the Trocks’ pancaked grins. Technique ain’t everything! (Though theirs is not at all shabby.) In the Trocks’ hands, old-school ballet is live theater, not an antique shop. You have to admire the joy of one of the four men soaring through the familiar “little swans” variation from “Swan Lake,” his smile beaming to the balconies, wide-mouthed in exhilaration and — in contrast to his colleagues, who were shooting him well-timed disapproving looks — luxuriating like a little boy in the sheer thrill of flying through space. The tights be damned. His feet were trapped in satin, he was all trussed up in tulle — still, we felt his joy. What a glorious dance it was!

Likewise in “Paquita,” beyond the slapstick and the catfights, there were luscious moments of freedom: when one of the gents does a walkover in perfect time with the music and two of the dancers celebrate the finale with a sweaty chest-bump, their velvet bodices clapping together with gridiron gusto, a toast to sheer pleasure. That never gets old.