Molting Swans and Tradition With a Heavily Trilled ‘R’

Robert Johnson, New Jersey Star Ledger
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Ida Nevasayneva in 'The Dying Swan'. Photo Gene Schiavone

NEW YORK—Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo—the “Trocks,” to their many friends—have old-fashioned notions about classical ballet.

Hardly anyone still wears elbow-length white gloves in “Le Lac des Cygnes” anymore, for instance.

Come to think of it, no one ever did. The Trocks, who opened another wacky season at the Joyce Theater last week, get away with lampooning some ballet conventions that never were. “Chopiniana,” a bevy of “Swans” and now the bravado of the Soviet-era “Laurencia” are objects of their barbed, yet affectionate fun.

The principal joke, of course, is that these “ballerinas” are men who, without stinting on the eye-shadow, have not bothered to wax their chests. Yet the humor can be as subtle as those white gloves, or as broad as a well-timed belly flop.

What makes this satire poignant is the fact that audiences still adore the 19th-century ballet, whose fantasies have become treasured objects of nostalgia. Witness the popularity of the Bolshoi Ballet’s “La Fille du Pharaon,” an 1862 blockbuster re-concocted in the year 2000.

The Trocks pronounce these traditions with a heavily trilled ‘r,” yet in a strange way they give ballet audiences what they want. The music-box scores, the tarlatan and roses and the melodrama are all here. Despite their ridiculous stage names (people giggle reading the program long before the curtain rises), the Trocks also offer genuine star turns.

By now their shtick has itself become classic. Ida Nevasayneva, the skinny Dying Swan, molts pounds of feathers and then feels a sudden pang that makes her knees wobble. Pathetically she attempts to stuff the feathers back into her tutu before expiring. Yekaterina Verbosovich, the Black Swan, is a sexual Velociraptor who tries to mesmerize her prey with a bug-eyed stare.

In “Chopiniana,” the Poet (Viacheslav Legupski) wanders about so dazed that he needs to be helped off stage; while his partner, Lariska Dumbchenko, keeps shushing the corps so she can listen for forest murmurs. Marina Plezegetovstageskaya, as Taglioni in the “Pas de Quatre,” is decorated like a pink tea-cake, yet her cloying manner offers faint cover for an iron Will to Power.

The divertissement from “Laurencia” appears on the first of two programs, a showcase for powerhouse dancers created in 1939 but making its American debut only now. As with “The Flames of Paris,” it will take a visit by authentic Bolshoi stars before a mainstream company like American Ballet Theatre notices this Spanish-flavored gem. In the meantime, the Trocks offer us their own, demented version—faithful to the most difficult steps, yet artificially sweetened and subtly twisted out of shape.

The amazing thing is that even in this dubious homage, Vakhtang Chabukiani’s choreography retains its integrity. “Renversés” and attitudes that recall the Aragonese jota unify the design. Watching three ballerinas hunker down in preparation for a challenging pirouette “en dedans” is among the pleasures of this revival. Taxed (but smiling), Olga Supphozova throws back her head in “grands jetés” and seriously vamps the crowd as she pulls back in “balancés.”

Better to see “Laurencia” danced like this, than not see it at all.

New Jersey Star Ledger