Ham, Eggs and the Holy Grail

by Leigh Witchel / January 13, 2023.
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"Swan Lake, Act 2" (photo by Zoran Jelenic)

Way back when at the Ballet Russes, a crowd-pleasing program done again and again was nicknamed “ham and eggs.” Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo returned for its holiday visit to the Joyce, bringing eggs and plenty of ham. The bulk of the program was classics, three out of the four involving swans.

Act 2 of “Swan Lake” is one of the most bulletproof works in The Trocks’ rep. As usual, it was dense with jokes, some perennial, but the dancers also added their own spin.

Odette was danced by Varvara Laptopova (the female alter ego of Takaomi Yoshino. Each dancer has both a male and female character). On her first move in her duet with Vladimir Legupski (Duane Gosa), she forced herself into a beautiful penché in arabesque. You could sense the effort she was taking to not sickle the line. Later on and in the coda, she was screaming, literally. She was funny in a broad way, but broadness works here; it’s even necessary.

At its best, what makes the Trocks so beloved is the same thing that makes the best drag an art: when it’s more than just imitation but the Holy Grail of performance: a commentary on the notions and conventions of femininity that becomes possible because it’s conjured from without rather than within. But no matter how many sly in-jokes there are for the connoisseurs, the Trocks perform for plenty of people who wouldn’t know “Swan Lake” from a swan dive.

The jokes here touched on the most basic myths about ballet, teasing out the mix of beauty and desperate ego. There’s also always one loon among the swans in the corps. This time it was putty-faced Colette Adae (Jake Speakman) who got all the sight gags, making duck lips or manic smiles, and kicking her leg like a Rockette on ecstasy.

Most of us are too young to recall Benno, the prince’s friend, being more than what he is today: the soloist who gets the pas de trois as a consolation prize. This staging faked us out by putting him onstage alone at the beginning, so we might think he was the prince. The Trocks also don’t forget he once had a part in the main adagio. Tino Xirau-Lopez (Alejandro Gonzalez) had great comic timing, getting plenty of mileage out of droll glances and prissy walks.

Laptopova hit the arabesques in the coda, and then did a series of clean fouettés including doubles. She knew she nailed it, and she made sure we did as well. Amidst the imitations, one of the virtues of the Trocks we talk about less is its archival skills. This opening of the Act 2 coda is one of the most interesting versions for patterns and steps.

Where the staging of Act 2 is even funnier if you know the ballet, the pas de trois from Act 1, which bowed after intermission, is built on one universal sight gag: a Lilliputian guy (Speakman as his male alter-ego, Timur Legupski. There are several Legupskis on the roster) trying to manage two Amazonian women, Helen Highwaters (Gosa) and Eugenia Repelski (Joshua Thake). The punchline is that the women lift the man over their heads. Highwaters’ persona was elegant-funny more than manic-funny. When she stalked out for the coda gently swinging her skirt, she got applause just from the sashay.

The program was heavy on swans, with Olga Supphozova (the venerable Robert Carter, going into his 28th year with the company) wafting through “The Dying Swan.” Supphozova started off seriously with supple arms and an eloquent back, but of course things degenerated into a heap of feathers. The short solo may be ham and eggs to the Trocks, but it’s caviar for whomever gets to do it. Supphozova’s conceit was to take the dying part literally. She tried to sneak away from an offstage Death, miming that he couldn’t possibly be looking for her, and then reassuring us with a thumbs up that everything was hunky-dory.

Full review can be read here