Mark Monahan relishes his encounter with the world’s greatest ballet parodists
How can you not love a troupe whose stage names include Ludmilla Beaulemova, Maria Paranova and Nadezhda Bogdownova? Formed 34 years ago in New York, Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo are the world’s greatest ballet parodists, combining rock-solid classical technique with a blazing love for the art form and a fiendish eye for its conventions and pretensions.
The all-male company’s trampling over ballet’s strict male-female divide makes for terrific entertainment, their specific target being a particularly Russian strain of hubris that they prick as much with their pseudonyms as with their dancing. And certainly, their dancing is a joy.
Take the Trocks’ signature piece, Swan Lake Act 2, with which they launch programme one of their current tour. As Tchaikovsky’s famous, luminous score soars over the stage, evil sorcerer Von Rothbart (Velour Pilleaux) leaps about until he virtually has a coronary and then, purely to set the scene, yanks a cardboard swan on a skateboard across the stage.
When Odette (Sveltlana Lofatkina) appears, “she” adopts a perfectly swan-like stance, before jerking her face towards us and flashing a grimace that’s half-way between ecstasy and the look of someone who’s just slammed their hand in a car door. In fact, camper still than “Lofatkina” (who’s comic timing is a constant joy) is her Prince Siegfried (Ashley Romanoff-Titwillow), a complete doofus with an Andy Warhol wig and so much slap it’s a wonder his head doesn’t snap off under the weight.
Essentially, everything’s just slightly wrong: an errant swan in the corps has to scarper 15 feet to stage-left to get in the right line; the four cygnets start by executing meticulous, dainty entrechats but collapse into Vegas high-kicks; the mime is at once meticulous and magnificently exaggerated.
It’s all perfectly judged, quite hilarious, and, like all the best parody, entirely self-explanatory – ballet fans will adore it, but so will complete novices.
Later in the evening, there’s a lovely echo of this Bolshoi-baiting in an unbilled Dying Swan, with Ida Nevaseyneva shedding a blizzard of feathers from her tutu and taking a curtain call longer than the average production of Lohengrin.
Yet, by Majisimas, the troupe are playing it pretty much entirely straight, some of the boys being very boyish, the rest still in their frocks.
Inevitably, this latter section isn’t remotely as funny as the Swan Lake. But the dancing, while not world-class, is still good enough to be enjoyed for its own sake, and the sense of fun that fizzes from the stage is impossible to resist.
You’ll be very glad you went – but you’ll also relish your next encounter with a swan that doesn’t have size 12 feet.
In London until Oct 4, 2008 (tickets: 0844 412 4322), then touring.