Male ‘ballerinas’ get the ‘pointe’ across

Laura Bleiberg, The Orange County Register
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Review: The all-men troupe Les Ballets Trockadero presents its entertaining satire with such well-researched and executed humor that gender lines start to blur.

A goodly bit of Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo’s program Thursday in Long Beach was devoted to the obviously absurd, slap-stick comedy that audiences love.

In the evening opener, “Le Lac des Cygnes” (“Swan Lake,” Act II), the bulky, hairy-chested Odette (Lariska Dumbchenko, aka Raffaele Morra) accidentally kicked over a fellow swan and bullied the prince’s friend Benno (Christopher Lam).

It took both Benno and Prince Siegfried (Bernd Burgmaier) to heft this solid Odette about the stage. The eight swans of the corps de ballet preened and fussed in their long white gloves. Von Rothbart (Robert Carter) circled the stage like a track star, until, that is, he ran out of breath. The fact that in serious versions of “Swan Lake,” Von Rothbart often wears a get-up even more absurd than Carter’s costume, tells you a thing or two about “real” ballet.

And that is the point of Les Ballets Trockadero – to point out all the customs that we take for granted in classical dance. Satire like this might appear effortless, but it’s harder than it looks to get outside the thing that is intimately known, and present it back in all its glorious ridiculousness.

“Le Lac des Cygnes” is a classic of the Trockadero repertory and the “ladies” did it exceptionally well Thursday. The same must be said for the group’s “Dying Swan,” beginning with its spotlight on an empty stage, a recreation of an actual homage to the passing of Anna Pavlova. Just as the 1907 Fokine-Saint-Saëns’ “The Swan” was Pavlova’s signature, the Trock’s molting creature has become Gerd Tord’s (Burgmaier’s) calling card. “She” perfectly captured both the serious and the laughable aspects in this historic piece d’occasion – from the rippling arms and the smoothly flowing bourrées to the endless curtain calls.

The rest of the Trockadero program was a more subtle affair, if it’s possible to use that word to describe men costumed and peacock-painted to be women. When the Trockadero does a number seriously, with skillful attention to style, it becomes a gender-bending optical illusion.

In “Vivaldi Suite,” Katarina Bychkova (Joshua Grant) was a lyrical giantess; in the closing number, “Majisimas,” Grant was Ashley Romanoff-Titwillow, a studly male partner. My brain was so confused by that point, Grant looked more like a “real” woman impersonating a man.

The Trockadero dancers performed both “Majisimas,” a Spanish-flavored trinket to music from Jules Massenet’s opera “El Cid,” and the Balanchine homage, “Vivaldi Suite,” with impressive detailing. We were also treated to two pas de deux: the slave duet from “Le Corsaire” and the grand pas de deux from “Don Quixote.”
Jacques d’Ambrosia (Scott Weber) ably fulfilled his slave duties, though his leaps had rather low elevation. He made up for that, though, with a string of gymnastic back flips and with his turns á la seconde.

His demanding partner, Yakatarina Verbosovich (Chase Johnsey), performed “her” solo with aplomb to unfamiliar music (another Trockadero reference to actual practice among ballet troupes in the former Soviet Union).

In “Don Q,” Sveltlana Lofatkina (Fernando Medina Gallego) demonstrated mastery of pointe work and fan manipulation, while William Vanilla (Joseph Jefferies) leapt ferociously about the stage.

The encore pleased as well – a jitterbug finale with a spinning disco ball. The Trockadero don’t miss a trick.