Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, Peacock Theatre, London – ★★★★ Review

Clement Crisp, Financial Times, London
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At the heart of the Trocks’ saucy mockery lies a deep love for ballet 

“I think it comes off twangingly,” wrote Sir Walter Scott about a passage in a novel he had lately completed. My thoughts exactly as I left the theatre after the dear Trocks’ opening performance on Wednesday. There the chaps were, gorgeously caparisoned, mascara-ed to the limit, pouncing on their choreography with an eagerness that speaks of understanding as well as the ever-present ludicrous; chest hair for the most part in abeyance, and — in this first of two programmes — the Mariinsky Theatre a ghostly presence.

Rampant sauciness was on offer, but speaking of a love for revered choreographic texts. Swan Lake’s second act was taken to the cleaners and, even so, more honourable than a version seen this summer in London from a tedious Russian troupe. The glorious Paquitadivertissement was, alas, too earnest, and missing its comic possibilities: there are, also alas, dancers around the world who massacre it with deader pans, more errant manners.

I thought the account of the sextet from La Esmeralda — that haunting survival from the St Petersburg ballet of the mid-19th century — the triumph of the evening. Its narrative (shades of Notre Dame de Paris) concerns Esmeralda dancing and grieving as she watches her beloved Phoebus with another love. Generations of Petersburg ballerine, armed with a tambourine, tears and the occasional goat, have moped and drooped in the service of this old and splendid choreography. Alberto Pretto (as Nina Immobilashvili) gives it what-for with tremendous style — yearning and agonising with the best of those Petersburg divinities whom I have seen play it to perfection — and is vastly funny. (So too Matthew Poppe — as Ilya Bobovnikov — a spindle-shanked Gringoire to number among the best.)

The quartet of gypsy girls, furiously emoting from beneath wigs like the rear ends of yaks, were marvels. Admiration also for Laszlo Major (aka Araf Legupski), who roared ecstatically through the steeplechase that is the Corsaire duet. The whole programme is a mocking, loving, beady-eyed and wildly merry view of ballet. Not to be missed.