Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo blend humour with athletic artistry

Stephan Bonfield, Calgary Herald, Alberta, Canada
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Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo in Go for Barocco / Sascha Vaughn

The Trocks were in town on the weekend for two sold-out performances at the Southern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium Friday and Saturday night. Hosted by Alberta Ballet, there could be no doubt of the popularity of the all-male ballet company, now in their 40th anniversary season, as they so completely delighted their audience while dancing in tutus and pointe shoes, equally comfortably as in full ballet cavalier.

Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo are not exactly the mad satirists of ballet that some claim. They are the best kind of artful parodists, capable of illuminating the most gripping sections of academic classical ballet, albeit via a wink and smile and the occasional well-placed shtick.

Despite the fact that such an international reputation precedes them, there were times when the ensemble took long breaks from their perfectly deranged, yet nuanced self-mocking humour, to bedazzle with a stunning virtuosity that I frankly can’t understand, at a physical level, just quite how they pulled it off. From every pirouette, fouetté, brisé, and stock classical ballet moment that would clearly have been meant for women to dance, they acquitted each movement with such aplomb, it made my body hurt just to watch them. I couldn’t imagine getting myself to do that for any sustained amount of time.

While several people at intermission could be heard to exclaim that their faces hurt from laughing so hard, for me it was my core that hurt the most, from marvelling at how hard — very hard — it was for each of them, from a feather-shedding Dying Swan to swan diving, to pull off such refined moves. For a man to dance like a woman is a truly difficult role to train for — both extraordinarily fun and extraordinarily difficult at the same time.

The Trocks are unspeakably talented, and there were times, many times, that their lines and execution could make you forget that these were not women, but men performing, and that captivated me more than their equally successful, wonderful humour.

Moving past dancing en pointe, which is hard enough for a man, I was impressed with their ensemble work in Go for Barocco set to Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto no. 3 in G, a parody of Balanchine’s Concerto Barocco (itself set to Bach’s D minor Double Violin Concerto). It is hard enough to dance to intricate counterpoint, but the Trocks’ Third Movement fugue was enthralling. At the same time, while the tribute to Balanchine was meticulously pulled off with an enviable poise that made the evening thoroughly enjoyable for me, I loved the mocking description of the dance found in the program, a perfect parody of academic and old-world journalese employed by critics, characterizing the work as a “primer in identifying stark coolness and choreosymphonic delineation on the new (neo) neo-new classic dance.”

That twisted language describes many of the Trocks’ best moments in their signature hit Swan Lake, Act II. It was a great way to lead off the show, stealing everyone’s hearts right away, while at the same time leading us through not only standard-bearer classical balletic language but also highlighting what that language is all about through a healthy degree of wit and charm. Occasionally, the show could devolve for a few seconds into slapstick, to the delight of many, such as an unwitting leg extension impacting an apparently unsuspecting member of the corps, and knocking him (her) momentarily unconscious. OR sometimes a few tutued swans would fall out of line, or just on the floor, from a little too much enthusiasm. The Trocks ended their presentation with astounding scenes based on Petipa’s Paquita, set to a stunning set of five unforgettable variations.

I realize I haven’t mentioned any names of the touring company, but in a way, their male and female aliases seem to be serious projected alter egos, blurring the dancers’ individual and collective identities. After a while, I wasn’t sure I could tell male from female, or parodistic pillory from serious artistic travesti. And at the end of the show, during the thunderous applause, all I knew was that behind the humour there were very always beautiful and aesthetically moving experiences, not too far hidden beneath the Trocks’ carefully concealed dual artistic identities of truth and travesty. Bravo!