“Giselle Act II,” “Le Corsaire Pas de Deux,” “Go for Barocco,” “The Dying Swan,” “Paquita”
Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo
The Joyce Theater, New York, NY
We’re all balletomanes here. We love ballet and find it moving. We also understand that you have to see it to understand it; on paper it’s ridiculous. The zone between that exquisite experience and the unintelligible-except-to-the-initiated conventions that go with it is the territory the Trocks inhabit with such skill. Their production of Act II of “Giselle” nails the absurdity and the affection exactly.
There are both plain old gags and the sharper satire of skewering expectations. After Hilarion (here Hans) came out and grieved at Giselle’s grave, a Wili rushed across the stage. For the uninitiated, her position, crouched with a pointing finger, was funny enough. But then instead of another Wili rushing the other way as people who know the ballet might expect, there was the same Wili in the same position . . . backing up.
The Wilis were killers in this version, with false eyelashes askew as if “La Cage aux Folles” met “Night of the Living Dead.” When one of them chased Hans, she did it like the monster that looks like a big furry tooth in Bugs Bunny cartoons. For insiders, the funniest joke was when the Wilis took little shovels and exhumed Giselle from her grave. On the right music, of course.
Larissa Dumbchenko (Rafaelle Mora) was a Kirkland-ish Giselle; goggle eyed and waiflike, even with a forest of chest hair. She was also a beautiful jumper, as any Giselle should be. R.M. “Prince” Myshkin (Fernando Medina Gallego) was a perfectly vain Albrecht who smoothed his hair, fussed with his cloak and then removed and threw it – right onto Giselle’s face. Myrtha was the substantial Minnie van Driver (Joseph Jefferies) who came teetering out on point with a single lily towering over her head, making the veil she was wearing even more hilarious.
I can’t possibly recount all the jokes in this version; I was laughing with pleasure and recognition the whole time. If you’ve never seen “Giselle,” one of the Romantic Era’s most beautiful ballets, fer gawd’s sake go and see the real version. If you know and love it even with all its conundrums for today’s audiences, go and celebrate it with the Trocks.
“Giselle” would have been enough to send me home happy, but like Ginsu knives, there was more. Yakaterina Verbosovich (Chase Johnsey) and Jacques d’Aniels (Scott Austin) performed the pas de deux from “Le Corsaire” mostly straight but with enough bits of absurdity thrown in to move it from gender illusion to comedy. D’Aniels pushed himself hard in the partnering (like many of the Trocks’ best male technicians, he’s short) and added a cud-chewing sneer for loutish characterization.
Vanya Verikosa (Brock Hayhoe) and Katerina Bychkova (Joshua Grant) sharpened the timing of Peter Anastos’ Balanchine parody “Go for Barocco” into a lethal duo between two outsize egos. Ida Nevasayneva (Paul Ghiselin) was coaxed into performing “The Dying Swan” for the 3,678th time – a solo that is Undead rather than Dying, but still funny with its tutu costume molting feathers and curtain calls longer than the dance itself.
The divertissement from “Paquita” brought the evening to a close with a potpourri of variations including Medina returning as Svetlana Lofatkina, a dancer with the most musical eyelashes around. The ballet was led with cagey incompetence by Marat Legupski (Giovanni Ravelo) and gloriously manic authority by Olga Supphozova (Robert Carter), whom I have never seen be funnier.
Ballet is in an era of increased technical virtuosity and thoroughbred, overbred dancers. The Trocks have a few of those in there, by and large the company is studious and well trained, and better still, actually look carefully rehearsed – the professional drilling of their bows puts NYCB to shame. And you’re talking about men dancing women’s parts – some of them do admirably, a few shock you with their chutzpah, particularly in turns. No one should go to the Trocks expecting the same experience as at a regular ballet company, but what the Trocks teach us is that ballet doesn’t have to be perfect to be perfectly imagined.