Graceful precision delivered in bulk

Eamonn Kelly, The Australian
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Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo. State Theatre, Melbourne, October 27. Until Saturday. Tickets: $49-$79. Bookings: 1300 182 183. Lyric Theatre, Brisbane, November 4-7; Theatre Royal, Sydney, November 10-15; His Majesty’s Theatre, Perth, November 18-22.

LES Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, or the Trocks, have been regular visitors to Australia during the company’s 35-year history and, on each occasion, they have been a box office hit.

Initially, their success seemed largely the result of humorous novelty value: the curiosity of seeing male dancers in drag, performing choreography normally reserved for ballerinas. However, the enduring interest in this cross-dressing frivolity derives not only from its physical comedy and gentle parody of balletic conventions but in the technical skill of the dancers and the brilliance of dance itself.

This program shows the company at its eclectic best. Over three acts and six works, the dancers traverse key balletic traditions: moving from an irreverent account of the great romantic calling card, Giselle, to a Merce Cunningham satire (Patterns in Space), a neo-classical nod to George Balanchine (Go for Barocco), a virtuosic Americana-style pas de deux (Stars & Stripes), a dose of Spanish-flavoured character dance (Majisimas) and a feather-shedding account of Michel Fokine’s Dying Swan.

Each style is rendered with precision, the humour based on comic timing and controlled physical expression rather than on the spectacle of muscle-bound, slightly hairy men dancing badly. With extensive work en pointe, the dancers capture every gender-specific balletic subtlety, from delicately poised hands and graceful balances to feather-light jetes, supple arabesques and dainty battements.

With technique assured, the comedy flows freely. There is self-parody that mocks the clumsy bulk of the male physique and industry parody that caricatures bitchy prima ballerina rivalries and bossy dancers. The absurdity of Giselle’s plot is realised by making the Wilis truly grotesque, while an accurate representation of Cunningham’s distinctive, rather esoteric style is completely upstaged by two onstage musicians who use a range of everyday objects to provide musical accompaniment. Often the jokes are subtle, delivered through facial expression or a slight physical gesture. As a result the audience is constantly scanning the stage, looking out for the next gag.

But while the laughs are plenty, the applause increasingly acknowledges the virtuosity of the dancers.

As Giselle, Raffaele Morra has a soft fluency and excellent line, while tall and bulky Joseph Jefferies delivers astonishingly good pointe work as Queen of the Wilis. In Stars and Stripes, Robert Carter wins the night’s fouette count and Giovanni Ravelo demonstrates incredible extension on his virtuosic leaps.

Brock Hayhoe and Joshua Grant show unwavering control and delicate hand work in Go for Barocco. The laughter becomes convulsive during Paul Ghiselin’s poultry-like rendition of the Dying Swan but his footwork is immaculate. And while the soloists draw rapturous applause, the corps provides a unity of ensemble and clarity of movement that would put to shame many a traditional line-up.

Most people go to the Trocks for a dose of belly laughs. However, it is difficult to walk away without having been thrilled by classical ballet itself, from the virtuosic to the expressive.

The final work on the Trocks’ program, Majisimas, is not a parody and contains very few gags. Instead, it showcases the vitality of ballet and the technical accomplishment of the dancers. No longer on a determined laughter hunt, this audience responded enthusiastically to what, in effect, was well-danced, classical ballet: applause remaining unabated through a half-dozen curtain calls.

In this sense, the Trocks are not so much detractors from ballet but one of the art form’s most accessible advocates.